‘I’d like to work with Ruby’, Cathleen said, as she approached the herd who were munching on hay around the small stone barn. But Ruby had other ideas and sidled away from the woman, disappearing into the barn and taking up position behind the herd leader, Winston, who was toasting himself in the autumn sunshine.
This perceived rejection brought up difficult feelings, tears came and overwhelm threatened.
I guided Cathleen out of the herd’s immediate space, asked her to close her eyes and began a short meditation, inviting the release of the self-judgements which the situation had triggered. Meanwhile Millie, the youngest of the herd, was observing events as they unfolded with what I might describe as mild curiosity. Suddenly her ears shot forwards like two arrow-points, and she bounded into a trot covering the ground between her and Cathleen in a couple of seconds. Enough time for the woman to open her eyes and exclaim a delighted ‘Oh!’
Millie is a pearl-white Connemara pony with a scintillating, vibrant energy. She is rarely still and if I was to liken her personality to a human trait I might say ‘guileless’. She will rush headlong into contact with others (both horse and human) without worrying about the consequences. This particular quality often results in reprimands from the more senior members of the herd and she sometimes carries the scars to show for it. But now with Cathleen she had found a willing playmate. They moved about the paddock together lost in their game. When it finished Millie stood with her chin pressing down lightly on Cathleen’s shoulder, nuzzling and nibbling her head and her long hair. The woman was radiant.
‘This is wonderful’ she beamed, ‘Millie has made me feel how I used to as a child – always curious and playful and lively, yet grounded as well. And trusting. How wonderful that used to be, to trust. I used to run at the world with arms open shouting ‘Hello World!’, unafraid of how I’d be received. Then it all stopped. I can’t remember when or how I ended up being this person who believes that I have to work so hard putting myself under constant pressure. I tell myself I do it to get things done, but really it’s about pleasing others and trying to make people like me. It’s about me feeling worthy, this way of life I have constructed.’
I let Cathleen’s words settle into the autumn silence as she gently stroked Millie’s neck. Then she turned to look at me ‘I miss that person, you know, that person I used to be. I didn’t realise how much I miss her!’ And it was as if, as she uttered this phrase, she claimed that person back, that part of herself which had been lost.
In the days that followed Cathleen’s words echoed in my mind…. ‘I miss that person!’ Slowly it dawned on me that there were parts of ME I had greatly been missing.
Almost a year ago I experienced a difficult bereavement. My younger brother took his life at 58 years old. Cathleen’s words helped me to see just how much of myself had died too in the painful complexity of this event. I realised that perhaps now I was missing myself as much as I was missing my brother.
I’ve been missing the ‘me’ who dances in the kitchen just because she feels good. Who feels buoyant for no reason, rain or shine, who laughs unguardedly and wears a smile for no-one but herself. Who wakes each morning saying ‘I am glad to be alive today’ and not ‘Why didn’t I see it coming?’ I’m missing the me who writes with joy, who cooks delicious things for pleasure, who has energy for life and soul. I’m missing the me who likes to play, with a lightness of energy, a sense of mischief.
Could this be the beginning of my healing? Of reintegrating the parts which were splintered and smashed in the emotional carnage of the suicide?
I can’t shed grief, just like that, because I am tired of it. But I can create small opportunities for the overshadowed parts of myself to step into the sunlight and sing again. Understanding this is enough to invite gentle transformation. I can choose to nurture my essential self in small ways, investing as much in honouring myself as much as I invest in honouring the lost life of my brother. Through the confusion and doubt and regret and the most profound sadness I can learn to be truly kind to myself, accepting that I am imperfect and the best that I can be.
So should you pass my house early in the morning before the day dawns, you might now see a crazy figure bopping around the kitchen table. I don’t always feel like it, but somehow once my body starts to move my spirit finds a way of following. You might see me sat in my hay barn with a warm drink, smiling as I look up at the Little Owl which has nested wisely in the eaves and who likes to peer down on me while I work. Or you’ll notice me out in the meadow amongst the horses, allowing myself to dwell in the soothing embrace of nature. And if I am not there you’ll find me sat at my beautiful desk, designed and made by the gifted hands of my brother, bringing words together once more onto the page in a blanket of healing love.