“The realization that I handled the entire horse responsibility on my own with no missteps was joyous and revelatory. The what-to-do-with-a-horse instinct was firm within me. I did it all – even while carrying sorrow. I was going to be okay, no, I was okay.”
This is my first attempt (besides answering sympathy cards) to put words on a page since my husband died in May. We had a great horse ride in March. By May 18th he was dead of pancreatic cancer. Thirty-five years of love, adventure, companionship, partnership and, yes, irritation, gone in a shocking flash. Jerked into the astounding unknown of a mystery life – add COVID-19, our dog dying and a menacing stock market — I didn’t know who I was.
I was surprised by how disassembled I was. “I’ll never write again. It’s done. I have nothing to say.” Then: “I can’t ride anymore. That person is gone. Will this person be able to manage a horse?” Keep in mind that I’m not a wilting daisy. I’m a Helen Reddy – I can do anything – woman of the ’70s, 80’s and ’90s. Yet, now I’m alone. There’s no one to know if I don’t return from the barn. I could fall off and decompose in the arena and no one would wonder why I was late. I know that’s crazy, but your mind on grief is crazy.
Sometimes my husband and I would take lessons together. I could see him striding up the hill all decked in his riding gear. I could see him trotting in the arena. I could feel us at the bar at our post-ride-debrief restaurant pouring over the videos our teacher had taken of him. My feelings were a puzzle of shock, confusion and fragility.
Besides watching re-runs of Law and Order, going to the barn was all I wanted to do. “What if” voices barked at me the entire 35-minute drive. I called a friend to ask if I could call her when I was finished riding so someone would know I was okay. She said she and her single friends always called each other. She’d be my “I’m okay” person. One worry gone, I was getting sort of excited. But, what if I forgot everything? What if Amber (schooling horse) knew I was a mess? What if she took advantage? The worry-barking quieted as I turned into the drive past the heron pond.
Cutting to the soul of the experience, I fell onto Amber’s neck and cried. I copped to being unstrung, but to, please, trust me. Ambs only cared that I was performing her long-awaited massage. I tacked, mounted and we ambled into the dressage arena. If I ended up on the ground for some improbable reason, someone would surely see me there.
No big expectations. No driving challenges. Just ride. Well, okay, let’s trot. That went well, how about some transitions. Hmmm, side steps? Let’s try some side steps. Just a short canter? Lovely. Thirty-five minutes was enough. We took a mosey around the duck pond then to the barn. Un-tack, groom, “thank you” massage and Amber and I walked back to her pasture. The chains around my heart (and self esteem) melted.
I checked in with my friend. Thumbs up, I’m not dead. Felt brave enough to face the emotional landmines at the grocery store – all the items I used to buy for my husband that I no longer needed. I coughed back a few tears but breezed through the gauntlet.
The realization that I handled the entire horse responsibility on my own with no missteps was joyous and revelatory. The what-to-do-with-a-horse instinct was firm within me. I did it all – even while carrying sorrow. I was going to be okay, no, I was okay.
I cringe at the morose “How ARE you’s” and sticky, little books on grief meditation. No puppies or “Do you want me to sit with you?” No, don’t come unless you bring ice cream and hedge clippers or help me forge the mountains of legal documents. That said, a friend sent the following to me – twice. I ignored it the first time. The concept is useful and supports my getting back to riding (and writing). To you, kind and supportive Horse Nation readers:
“My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Take another step.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.”
– Elena Mikhalkova