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What matters

Some people face a lot of loss in the form of death in their life while others face comparatively little. I fall in the latter camp. As the decades pass, it has not gone unnoticed that I'm fortunate in this regard.

I've lost my great grandparents, my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and a first cousin who was only 18 years old when he passed away. He suffered from cystic fibrosis his entire life. Still, he lived a vibrant life thanks to my incredible aunt and uncle, who supported him in every way imaginable.

For the most part, I took a pragmatic, if not somewhat removed, approach to these deaths. I held death at bay until nine years ago when a woman who had become my best friend passed away from breast cancer. We spent nearly all our free time together during her last four years of life. I enjoyed her company tremendously. Her passing brought grief to me in a way I had not experienced.

A gaping hole in my heart that nothing could fill. Life took on a dullness; even the most beautiful natural things didn't look as pretty as they did before her passing. I walked a fine line of holding myself together. It took almost nothing to send me into an emotional tailspin. There was seemingly nothing I could do to control grief's trajectory. It just was. And then, one day, I woke up, and the dark cloud was gone. I could breathe again.

Let's pivot to animals and death. Animals had an essential role in my life. They offered me, unconditional love. They provided me with security and comfort; I could count on them. They provided me with things the humans in my life failed to deliver. For this reason, whenever I contemplated one of my animals dying, I immediately felt overwhelmed. Pain grew in the center of my chest and I became gripped with fear.

Maybe the animals I had over the years sensed this fear. Every one of them died when I wasn't around. My friend with cancer even died before I could make it to the hospital to be with her. She knew the pain her death would cause me, and I think she wanted to spare me the reality of witnessing her final breath.

A friend of a friend lost their horse last week. He was a handsome 27-year-old chestnut. His role for the past year was as a companion to a new horse his owner got when her other horse passed away. Even though he was retired, he was in physically good shape, sound, and had plenty of sass. A week before he passed away, she posted a video of him being ponied around her arena by my friend. He was bright-eyed, ears flicking away, and appeared happy to be included.

The night he died, he ate his dinner and appeared to be his usual self. When his owner did night check, she found him down in his stall. He had colicked, and a couple of hours later, he passed away. His loss has been devasting for his human and the other horse. They are navigating the hours since his last breath as best as they can. I'm certain the dark cloud hangs heavily over them, and the things they usually find joy in seem dull, their hearts heavy from the loss of their dear friend.

My heart aches for them since the mere flicker of thought about Rudy's death sends shockwaves through my body. Pain instantly descends upon my chest, and I fight back the tears. Without his big personality, deep-eye stares, gelding shenanigans, the sweetness he shows kids, and his wise lessons, I cannot imagine my life.

Death instantly cuts through to what matters most in one's life. All the silly things we busy ourselves with daily fall by the wayside when loss rocks us. When we grieve, the dullness of everyday life paradoxically is matched with clarity over what matters most to us. And for a while, we prioritize the things we most care about.

Death brings the impermanence of life clearly into view. It is a stark reminder to spend our finite time doing the things that matter to us with the souls that we hold most dear. Rudy is one of those souls for me.

Written August 15, 2021

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