Photo Challenge: Growth (of a Kind)

Euthanasia is never easy, but it can be less punishing.
The secret is to focus on love instead of loss.

Donkey Wings

It’s a cold north wind that blows through
my ribs today. Like a stand of quaking
aspen, my bones are held together by
proximity and not connection. My heart
hurts and I am joyous. She was someone.

A rescue came here to die early last year.
Instead she grew fat, made friends, woke
us up to a braying serenade. She was tiny; a
a small standard, in donkey terms. A mighty
presence, defined by hooves and quirkiness.

Decades of holding her ground brought her
to this fair state, vision and hearing nearly
gone. The pain hidden for so long, undeniable.
It must stop. She needs a predator to come
for her. Perhaps some fearful moments but

then free. It would be a good trade. Her
long ears droop awkwardly, her eyes are
deep-still. Independent, she keeps a bit
off from the herd. Like I do, together but
apart. I hoped her ancient heart would let

her go but still she stands, shifting pain
from one leg to another. Fetlocks quiver,
can’t hold weight long. She lost her taste
for canned pears two days ago. Nature is
dependable, if not kind. The pain of saying

good-bye is equally balanced with fear of our
own passing. Pause. Sharing life with animals
means keeping death close; welcoming mortality
inside. She deserves calm breath, not selfish
tears. Dear old girl, I’ll be your predator.

I’ll come for you in the full warmth of the sun,
without regret. The vet bends quietly to feel
that ankle and gets a kick for asking. One last
profanity. My teeth catch the air with the precious
joy of knowing her. Cantankerous, I’ll keep

that part for me. With one hand on her halter,
one hand scratching her forehead, the way she
likes. Keep focus; her impossibly soft whiskers.
She leans to my side so slowly, the weight
grows just a pound at a time. It’s a moment

to cherish. She’s not trying to escape, she’s
trusting my strength to lighten the weight on
her old legs. In her way, she’s letting me hold
her. Then it’s time, we breathe together, and
both of us, just a pound at a time, release all.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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115 comments

  1. I can only sit here and smile, thinking of gifts: yours to her, hers to you, yours to us, ours to you. It always seems to arrive at the moment that it furthers my clarity toward becoming a more effective human being, and for that, I thank you.

      • I will respectfully disagree. She may have been leading the dance, but a good follower is part of the partnership. You had the discernment to listen to what she said. I love that, and that you share it with us, with the choice that we can dance or not. I’m good with Lilith getting top billing though–donkeys are vastly underappreciated.

      • I will say this; if I was crying and feeling sorry for myself, I would have missed the best part. It’s bittersweet. Thank you.

  2. Oh, Anna, thank you. I have a mean old mare (31- had her from 6 months old) who makes me work hard for any sign of acceptance. She’s always wanted to do her job, and then be left alone. She lowers her head to allow me to wipe her eyes in the morning, but then, that’s it. Has never said NO to anything I’ve asked, except petting. I will miss her so much when the time comes. Thank you for giving me another way to look at the inevitable. I love your ability to so beautifully put words to things felt so deeply.

  3. You are my sole instructor in the brave, kind art of letting go. Everything in me fights death as unnatural; I don’t believe we were created for it. But for now it is inevitable, and so I sit at your feet to learn the lessons of how to make it easier, kinder – not for me, but for THEM.

  4. Lilith, nevertheless, she persists. Anna, kind predator, full of grace. Breath of life, sigh of release. Bless you on your journeys.

  5. Thank you Anna. Your words, wisdom, and love never fail to fill my heart to over-flowing.

    Warm regards, Carol

    “Awakening Hearts & Inspiring Potential Through The Wisdom Of The Horse” Carol Marriott Ravenheart Farms Equine Assisted Learning Centre & Retreat Raven Horse Wisdom Life Coaching & Consulting http://www.ravenheartfarms.com

  6. Textures? She was very fortunate to have been with you in her last year,…. to have been seen and appreciated (not forgotten) for the capable, sturdy, sometimes cantankerous donkey that she was. How fortunate that you came to know,… to “see” her,… and how fortunate that you were there in her passing,…
    And we are fortunate to have your thoughts, your words,… sharing your regard for this dear old soul and the experience,…
    Thank-you

  7. Rest in peace dear Lillith. Hugs to you Anna. I started crying yesterday afternoon on my walk by the empty pasture and I cannot stop. I am so grateful for all Jade and Squash shared with me. And to have been able to give them the peaceful release. Kind preditor, fitting, not an easy burden but one we take on out of love and respect.

  8. I will miss her little life, she mattered. Had some work left to do with you Anna…..

    Sweet release Lilith

  9. God speed LIllith, may your bray be loud, may your courage be steadfast where ever it is that you land this time.

    Anna, my condolences to you, it never gets easier.

    • Thank you, Holly. and it isn’t easy, but in my life I’ve been in this spot more often than most. It’s hard but weirdly, practice helps. I get better at breathing. Thanks.

  10. My ancient Shetland left us just this way last month, slowly sinking into my embrace as his eyes softened. I did not want to weep, because his release was overdue and it was time. (But of course I did.)

  11. I LOVE this post. Thank you. It spoke to me to the depths of my soul. I put Annie, our cat, down just a few months ago. Yes, focus on Love – it was an act of Love to let her go. She was done. She was ready to go. And now the beautiful cleansing tears slide down my face. Thank you!

  12. No matter what we tell ourselves – making the decision is so very hard. But you know – she had a whole year of being cared for and treated as family. THATS what counts. Part of that caring is giving her peace – which she deserved. Doesn’t make it any easier tho, does it?

    • It wasn’t a choice; she couldn’t hold herself up. It was easier than some, she gave me to much that I wanted to thank her and this was the best thank you I had…Maggie, thanks for your kind words.

  13. Because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t make it easy or less painful. We can only look upon it as our final kindness. Thank you for being so kind.

  14. Beautifully written… love reading about Lilith- lived large I’d say. Your perspective of needing a Predator to free them from their pain and that we are that Predator has stuck with me from when you first mentioned it. I have been in that role many times as I’ve fostered senior rescue horses til end of life. Theyre all special and it’s an honor and privilege to know them, help them have some good times and then have the sacred duty to help them cross over.

    Even though they’re physically gone, I still feel them around from time to time. Hope you have the gift of feeling. Lilith around – free from pain and fully her feisty Self.

    Bless you, your writing gift, and your compassionate heart.

  15. What a beautiful tribute to a full and rounded character. Hers sounds like a life to celebrate. We have so much to learn from them. I hope the enjoyment of remembering her will overtake the sense of loss sooner rather than later. Thanks for another spectacular piece of writing that goes right to the core of the matter.

    • A few moments of passing can’t over take the time we share with them. She was here 20 months, and that’s 20 months longer than we thought she would be. We were lucky. Thanks Tracey.

  16. Anna,

    Tears! You have a huge heart. Thank you for sharing all parts of it. Thankful the little donkey-dear had a wonderful ending to life.

  17. When we love them, we must love them enough to let them go. No selfish decisions, just love them and release them. Death is as natural as birth. It just sucks where with birth, we rejoice. She is pain free now and can truly rest. Bless you Anna. I’m so sorry for your heart.

    • It’s such a wonderful thing to help the elders. I might be trying to buy myself some old age karma…might be trying to figure it out for myself. Thanks, Lorie.

  18. I’ll miss your Lilith. Thanks for sharing the flip side of being a rescuer with as much wisdom as heart. I’m seeing the Old Girl braying and basking in love, pears and endless, pain-free pastures now.

  19. Oh my goodness, that brought on a choke and a gush. I guess I’ve had to say goodbye to too many treasured souls.
    The willingness to continue to take this role on, speaks to the depth of love and gratitude that I/we have for these almighty beings.
    Thanks Anna, for reminding me that my heart remains open and isn’t hardened by the losses.

  20. Better a loving, compassionate end with someone who cares there with you, touching you, letting you know it’s all right to leave this life. I’ve been there with humans and dogs. It’s the little lives that slip away most gently I’ve found. They live in this moment, do not anticipate tomorrow or brood about yesterday, they accept the now. I will miss Lilith, and I know you will too. She was truly a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad her death was gentle. You told us beautifully.

      • I understand. I’ve found my dogs the best teachers and the few horses I’ve been around are too. People are too wound up with being people. Right now Smoky is sleeping a lot because of age and the bitter weather. He still makes sure to give me kisses every day – on his terms. I don’t ask, I did learn to just hold still and accept the gift, even if it is dog slobber.

  21. It was special to have her leaning against me, not in full trust but I guess just thinking that it felt right. After some time of patting, I didn’t even think about not touching her ears. Then when she let me, I learned that it was a first. I loved that old gal, but the time was no doubt right…as you always know. Thank you for writing the perfect good-by to my friend.

    • She did like you, Chaz. Most of all, she liked it when people move slow, and you and Peggy and I moved sweetly slow when you visited. Thanks for being her friend. And be grateful you weren’t the farrier, who also loved her.

  22. wow – just wow. One of the most eloquent and real expressions of love and loss. I met a lovely donkey the other day – perhaps he’ll channel Lilith’s courage and spunk. She had a good life with you.

  23. This was absolutely beautiful. Having had to be a kind predator twice this past year, I resonated with the growth of moving from selfish tears to just holding. Not an easy growth but one you captured perfectly in words. Thank you for sharing your experience and I am hoping a new cantankerous girl finds you soon.

  24. Oh, Anna. Now she can watch over you … as any kind mentor would however you define the term. I’m certain she will and just in time to be there on your travels. Her gratitude, and yours, will keep her with you.

    Mine is/was named Isabel – no trust left for people, old but with a kick faster than lightening, ridiculous to catch but I could (eventually), most farriers wouldn’t touch her. She stayed in this world far longer than her body wanted her to. But I know Isabel is with me, always. As that wise old donkey is with you. Maybe all mentors should be a different species.

    Safe journeys. Please add my own gratitude to everyone else’s!

    • Dear Cheri… Oh this makes me smile. I didn’t know about Isobel but so glad you are haunted by her. And her hooves. I mean that kick… really! I think I saw the “mentor” in her the first day. Now that I think of it, the best are always another species. Thank you, my friend.

  25. Thank you, Anna, for your kind and knowledgeable wisdom so perfectly put into words today and always. I’m that kind predator you speak of in my job in veterinary medicine, and I quietly tell those humans who love their animal so, how kind they are being in that moment. But inside, it’s hard to breathe and be the strong one. ” Sharing life with animals means keeping death close; welcoming mortality inside.” I needed those words today. As my own ghost herd has grown over the years, I’m so thankful for every minute I’ve had with them, and they haunt me in a good way. Thinking about your little Lilith and you. Thank you for loving your animals so much, and helping us all to just breathe.

    • Amanda, thank you so much for commenting. Your job is harder than mine and I know it takes a toll. Thank you for doing it; thank you for telling people the truth. There are so many things worse than a kind death. (If you are like me, you know the emergency euthanasias are so much more stressful for everyone, especially the animal.)Thank you for breathing along. Give the ghost herd a nod from me and mine. Thank you, Amanda.

  26. Go Lilith and kick some ‘ass’ on the great prairie in the sky!
    Thank you Anna ….from them all
    love and respect x

  27. What a beautiful post. You are amazing. May she and all our dearly departed animals RIP. What a gift we can give to them.

  28. This is so beautiful Anna. Thank you for loving this beautiful old soul and sharing her with us.

  29. Anna, this is lovely. It really helps to think of euthanasia of a beloved animal as a predator doing what nature intends. Thanks for this.

    Jane McGarry, Paonia

  30. Thank you for this. Tomorrow morning, if nature doesn’t do us a kindness overnight, I’ll be helping a beloved and lovely old broodmare get her wings. As many times as I have walked this road in 45+ years with horses, it’s always both burden and gift. The choice, although it makes itself most times, is an awesome responsibility and a reminder of what it is to be steward and keeper of another’s life.

  31. My thoughts are with you as you both grieve and celebrate the passing of another life you were so blessed to spend time with. Lilith was fortunate to live the end of her life in a kind environment. I find there is always enormous weight on my heart when I help a beloved animal leave this life…every one takes a piece of my heart with them. However I always feel grateful that I can help ease the pain and potential suffering of any animal and in a way help their human as well. Take care, Anna.

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