Death Midwifery for animals is much the same as it is for humans – we help create a sacred container for dying to happen with ease and grace and we guide the family through rituals to help process grief.
I have known and loved this beautiful Gypsy Vanner mare named Freya since she was a foal. Recently she was diagnosed with Laminitis, a difficult condition affecting the feet of horses which is extremely painful and often untreatable. The horse becomes unable to bear weight on the feet and lays down much of the time.
Catherine, Freya’s dedicated owner spent weeks in her stall, doing everything humanly possible to keep her comfortable and praying that the powerful meds and tender loving care would take effect and correct the disease.
Sadly, it became clear that euthanasia would be the kindest option, so reluctantly, Catherine booked the vet and invited friends to say goodbye and offer treats. It was an all too familiar scene, reminiscent of loved-ones coming to the death bed to pay their last respects, only this time the blessing was a carrot from the garden.
Freya was only 11 years old, a gentle soul in otherwise good health but suffering intractable pain. We were helpless to do anything but bear witness and be a calm, loving presence. It is all there ever is to do.
Freya’s body died peacefully in her stall. A painful illness, a painless dying and a good death. The relief was palpable.
When we guide a family through the process of a home funeral, the most challenging part is carrying the body downstairs or perhaps through a narrow hallway. Moving a 3000 lb horse from a stall to a grave took this challenge to a whole other level.
The wonderful thing about rural living is that there is always land available to convert to a grave, almost always a friendly neighbor with a backhoe and always a few good friends willing to help move a body. Finding a large enough area without bedrock is another matter. A horse needs a very large grave. Ray excavated two enormous craters near the paddock but was forced to abandon both because of rock so we moved into the forest where the earth was softer.
It took four human’s combined strategizing, brute strength, ingenuity, patience and a John Deere to get Freya into her grave.We first tied her legs together and dragged her gently out of the stall with the tractor then Ray scooped her into the bucket and carried her into the forest.
I watched until the burial was complete then picked a bouquet of wild flowers and laid them on the grave. It felt good, and right and AOK.
Catherine helped me cut hair from her mane and tail and later that evening I washed them and laid them in the sun to dry.
My granddaughter joined me in creating a final mandala ritual with Freya’s tail, mane, elements from the earth and a little statue from Nella’s playhouse of a horse guardian angel. A magical ending to a magical life.
Thank you Freya!