Grief is a weird thing. I’ve heard it referred to as a weight. Others describe it as a burn. For me, it felt like drowning in the ocean.
As a child in Florida, I was in the ocean a lot. One particularly long day in, I got hit unexpectedly by a wave. It wouldn’t have normally been that big of a deal, but the wave was followed by an undertowing rip current. I spun, heels and head rolling around under the water. I relaxed, letting my body settle for a moment. Then I kicked myself up to the surface.
Imagine my shock when my head made rather sharp contact with the sandy bottom. Up was down and gravity suddenly meant nothing. Obviously, I eventually righted myself, but that experience always stayed with me. I’m not a particularly skilled swimmer, but I’m athletic and capable. Yet in that moment I felt the panic of oxygen deprived lungs.
I’ve somehow managed to go this far in my life without losing anyone particularly close to me. Deaths happened to friend’s relatives, friend’s friends once removed. And then Monday, April 11th happened.
I work in marketing and graphic design. Three years ago, I was headhunted for a job. I had no idea at the time, but it would end up being the perfect job for me. I spent almost seven weeks proving myself up to the task of the job. My first mock-up materials were stamped with the name and image of a man I would later come to know well. R was present at my first interview. He was a tall, fortress of a man. His personality was perfectly tailored to him. He was dry, kind, and often inappropriate in the best possible way. Before my interview was over he called me a “smart cookie,” and that simple compliment is one of the one’s that mean the most to me. I impressed R, and I got the impression he wasn’t easily impressed.
Over the years I’ve worked a lot with R. We have a running Holiday card where I’d merge/Photoshop his image with a different, very recognizable character. It was one job out of many and it ate up hours of my time. But I loved working with him. We had great plans for this year’s card. There’s a part of me that wants to mock it up, on my own time, but I’m not sure anyone will want that reminder 8 months from now.
I feel a bit silly, to be honest. There are so many people who knew R better and longer than I did. And still, I couldn’t stop myself from this feeling of drowning. One of the owners of the company I work for wrote a note to me and my department along with a gift of a pot of dark pink calla lilies. I took them to my grandmother, so that they can become a yearly part of of her garden. I was afraid they would die under my care, but nothing is ostentatious enough to die under my grandmother’s green thumb. I need something alive to properly commemorate my remembrance of R.
Grief has a way of magnifying other things we’ve lost, in an oddly selfish way. Losing R reminded me that I’d recently lost my dream of owning my own farm next year. It made the loss of my last childhood pet a week after R, that much harder.
And then there’s Star. The Thursday after R died, I got on Star and everything just felt wrong. I had a couple different people advise me that it looked more like stiff muscles than our existing hoof issues. The longer we worked, the easier everything went. But I got off with the distinct impression that we were back to the same problems we were having before the Gisborn Clinic.
Turns out that Star not only had mud fever in all four legs, she was back to super thin soles up front again. I was right about her being off, and our farrier ordered a week of stall rest. It was quite a terrible realization, that I had forced Star to work through her pain. But then I realized something else extremely important: Star finally trusts me. She trusts that I will help her through this. She will endure pain to please me. It’s more than I ever wanted from her, and I’m humbled by it.
Being grounded from Star might not have meant as much without the death of R and my old dog, Bear. It might not have made me so sad. Because of it all, I feel like I just dealt with the worse two weeks of my life thus far. I noticed myself making stupid mistakes. Misunderstandings and simple errors like forgetting to attach an attachment in an email. Anytime anyone mentioned R, Star, or Bear, I started crying. I realized on Thursday, that I needed to cry—by myself in a dark room. My family and friends make me feel better, so being around them was a bit of novocaine for the sadness. I didn’t feel it as much, so it felt like I was getting over it.
As soon as I was alone, I’d feel it again. Not just the sadness, but the grief. Suddenly I was drowning again and didn’t know the right way up to breathe. After crying in the dark for a while I found myself feeling a bit more like me.
And today? Today I went to the barn and Star felt better than she has in days. I asked her to trot around our indoor and she chose to gallop. I once again worked oil and sulfur into her pasterns and watched the scabs and hair fall away.
Sometimes life is hard, and that’s okay. We live through these moments so that we know what a joy it is to move past them and into the good. I will say, though, that I am sorry to those of you who had to deal with me these last two weeks. I was not my best and I promise to do better.
I feel like I’ve been tossed around, and now have finally been able to break the surface and take a breath. Thank you to all of the wonderful people (and animals) in my life for letting me grieve…even if you didn’t know I was grieving in the first place.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Trillium Jumper Circuit. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.