Healing Line

Healing Line

A Lesson in Grief

by Judith MacNutt
March 1994

The day was August 2, 1993, our daughter Rachel's 12th birthday. We had just returned from Marywood Retreat Center where our marriage had been blessed by Bishop John Snyder. Several close friends had stayed over at our home to celebrate Rachel's birthday. Only one possible birthday gift had been discussed in our home for the last two years... a horse! Considering the responsibility of owning a horse we had been very prayerful about this decision. Finally we decided to take the plunge.

Two days before her birthday a friend of ours, Elaine Flaherty, had located and moved "Big Red" secretly to a stable near our home. Big Red was a beautiful 16–hands, eight–year–old gelding who was personality plus. As Rachel approached the stable, supposedly to look at a possible horse to purchase, she noticed her dad (Francis), and David, her brother, and other friends standing around what looked like an empty stall decorated with balloons, birthday banners and streamers. She innocently asked, "What's going on?" When Rachel looked more closely at the stall, Big Red lifted his head through the half–door stall and suddenly they were face to face.

She said, "Big Red, what are you doing here?" (she had looked at him a week before). She turned to me with a questioning look. I said through tears of joy, "He's yours!" The intense joy that enveloped her entire being erupted! She ran from Francis and me, to Red, to friends laughing and crying at the same time. Her dream had come true!

They became fast friends! Rachel spent every spare moment grooming, feeding, and riding him. She talked about him constantly! I teased her that she was in i'ove. Wonderful transformations took place in Rachel and in Red during the next five months. They settled into a training schedule with lots of extra time for fun and carrots. (He would give her a kiss for a carrot!)

Two days after Christmas while visiting Red at the stable we noticed he kept trying to lie down. We called the vet who came immediately. Over the next nine hours he worked with Red. Around 2:30 a.m. the decision was made to send Red to the vet hospital two hours away. He had a severe case of colic. The surgeon operated on Red immediately on arrival, but it was too late. At 8:39 a.m., December 28th Red had to be put to sleep.

The loss of this beloved horse has been shattering to our entire family, but especially to Rachel. She lost her best friend. We have been going through a grieving process which has been much deeper than we expected.

God, however, had prepared Rachel for this great loss.

The night before Red's death Rachel woke us up around 3 a.m. I heard her ask Francis if I was asleep. She asked me to come into her room; she needed to talk. She told me that she had awakened and seen a woman dressed in a white gown sitting at the foot of her bed. The woman had long brown hair and seemed to be praying. Rachel couldn't see her face but thought it was me. Then, after a few seconds, the figure mysteriously disappeared; Rachel wasn't afraid but wanted to know what I thought.

We prayed together and thanked God that He had sent an angel to Rachel. After a short time, Rachel drifted off to sleep. I continued to pray, slowly realizing that God had sent this angel to strengthen Rachel. At that time we were totally unaware of what was to come. I thank God for sending this angel. Rachel has been deeply saddened by the loss of Red, but at the same time she has also experienced a remarkable grace.

A few thoughts about grief. When my mother died twenty years ago, I reacted with anger and guilt. I remained very private, denying the comfort and healing that were necessary. As a result the grief and anger remained locked away deep in my heart (and body). It has taken many years for God to heal my broken heart because of my own loss.

When Red died, the grief was overwhelming for our entire family. This time, however, we turned to each other and to close friends for comfort and prayer. The difference in the two ways of approaching grief was remarkable! Our loving, supportive community has helped us carry our loss, making the burden so much lighter.

A few have said ... "He was only a horse!" How many people we have prayed with over the years who lost "only" a dog, a cat or a horse and years later, because they were denied their grief they still carried deep and painful memories about the loss. Dr. Wallace Sife, Ph.D., states in his book, The Loss of a Pet, that society is more than ready to acknowledge the death of a human family member as a legitimate cause for mourning, but it is slow to sympathize with those who lose companion animals. The loss of a horse or any animal can be shattering, and according to Sife, such a reaction is perfectly normal, but because such a loss isn't accepted as a reason for prolonged grief, we may need help in learning to mourn the loss of such cherished friends.

A sad statement on our society is that we have to be given permission to take the time we need to mourn the loss of beloved friends, especially human friends, but sometimes animal pets as well. Grief is a major wound that takes time to heal. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a loved one. It is God's way of healing our broken hearts. Grieving is not our enemy; it's a friend, but it does take time.

Scripture reminds us to comfort those who mourn. To those of you who have already been a source of love and comfort we thank you. You are His Body on this earth, our precious friends and family. Please continue to pray for Rachel. She knows something good will come out of this; she hasn't wavered from that belief She also knows that Jesus has redeemed all of creation! If you have a story or verse of comfort you would like to share with her, please do so!

Judith MacNutt Judith MacNutt is author, teacher, conference speaker and co–founder of CHM. March 1994 Issue