They say that it is better to have loved and lost then to never have loved. But unfortunately, if you love, then you have to learn to grieve.
For any psychologists amongst us, there is the Kubler-Ross model of grief, made up of five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model was first developed to describe the emotions of a terminally ill person. But I think it applies to grief of any sort – be it physical loss or mental loss.
I think I’ve been going through this process recently. I’m not mourning the loss of a person, but the loss of … not a relationship as such … rather the change of a relationship. That is, the loss of riding Otis. The fact that we will no longer go galloping confidently round cross country courses; the fact his athletic abilities are from now on limited. It’s always been such a big part of my relationship with him. I’ve always said that I bond best with a horse once I’ve ridden it. The last ten years have been a journey; building a relationship, training, teaching him, learning myself, proving ourselves, and having fun. Riding Otis was like my happy pill, it finished a bad day on a good note and distracted me from life’s woes. Now I’ve lost that aspect and, ultimately, I miss it.
Stage one is denial. But I think it’s also hope. You can’t believe what’s happening. You think you will wake up and it’s all a dream. You search for answers, and you grasp hopelessly onto hope after hope as they’re brutally ripped away. This stage was most noticeable in the recent Manchester terror attack, with families appealing online for missed ones, searching the hospitals desperately.
Stage two is anger. But I would also add guilt. I think I was most angry at myself, mixed in with a lot of guilt; that I’d broken Otis and I haven’t managed to fix him. I then had a lot of “what ifs” and wondering if I’d chosen not to go to that competition on that fateful what would have happened, or what if I’d booked the vet for a different day, would it have been a different vet who gave a more correct diagnosis. Frustration ties in closely with anger: that feeling of wanting to scream and shout. To kick down a door. To punch a punch bag. To curl up in a ball and cry.
Stage three is bargaining. I thought that if it didn’t matter if I didn’t event anymore, I’d do anything to just have him rideable again – on the flat, on a surface, arena jumping. This links back to hope, because you think thatif you settle for second best, there’s a chance you might get it, even if second best turns out to be harder to cope with than the initial, worst scenario.
Stage four is depression. I think I’ve had that the last few weeks when I’ve been a tearful mess every time I’ve seen Otis. But along with depression is the remembrance; flicking through my mental album of memories. Logging the best ones, highlighting the important ones, sharing them, and locking them away for future reference. This is the therapeutic part, when you start to heal.
The final stage is acceptance. In my book it’s also resignation. You accept, happily or unhappily, that the future has changed and your assumption that you will grow old together, doing everything you do now in ten, twenty, thirty years time, has crumbled and vanished. That’s the tough part. Acceptance is also when you decide on the future.
I may not have definite answers from the vet yet for Otis, but over the weekend I’ve looked at the cards in my hand, have worked out what the vet may lay, and know which cards I can lay in response. Which has made me surprisingly calm. I’m still processing everything, but now I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve I feel somehow stronger.
So bring it on vet, I’m ready to hear the news.