Posted on Oct 21, 2016
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Last week was a hard week. Our beloved Maddie passed away who has been with us for thirteen years. Also, our master teacher, Biscuit, left us after ten years. I know they had wonderful lives. I know they lived well past their time. I know they would not have existed as long if not for the love and care they received here. I know that they were ready and knew they were loved. So, if I know all that, why does my heart feel so heavy?!
Every morning I wake up and look to see if Maddie is up and then I am hit with the reminder that she is no longer here. I go downstairs to feed the dogs and take out her bowl, only to remember that she is no longer here. Then, I go out to the barnyard and walk into Biscuit’s bedroom out of habit, excited to get my morning cuddle with him, only to walk into an empty stall to remember that he is not here. It hurts!
Because they were both seniors, caring for them was such a large part of my day. I carried Maddie down the stairs each morning, took her out to pee and then carried her back into the house again. I spoon fed her and wiped her mouth after breakfast. I checked on her every hour to bring her water. When I opened the back door, I would hear the thump, thump of her tail wagging before I even entered the living room, and when I kissed the top of her head in greeting, I would melt from the radiance of her smile.
Every day for the last year, making sure Biscuit was ok was a daily focal point. We shared cuddles each morning. I talked to my staff and volunteers throughout each day to make sure Biscuit ate, got up, walked around, and was kept comfortable. On hot days, I made sure he was fly sprayed and had time in his pool. On cool evenings, I always tucked him into bed with a kiss, a lullaby, and a blanket. For the past ten years every single group of school children, private tour, or special needs group, film crew, and celebrity paid a special visit to Biscuit to rub his belly, look into his eyes, and hear his story. I posted about him all the time on social media and he had fans all over the world who loved him, even though they had never met him yet.
Jay and I have lost so many angels over the years that one would think we would get used to it. We have not gotten used to it and it has not gotten easier. Each time we say farewell to an elder, it feels like the first time. It feels like a kick in the stomach and a tear in our hearts. I try to smile and give myself to my work with kids and animals, get up in the morning and get used to my new routine without them. I try to be positive and grateful for all the blessings in my life, but my heart feels heavy.
I look at life like a cruise ship. We are all together on this great adventure, sailing ahead with hope and promise. We think that the same group we are sailing with will be the same group we will land with. However, every now and then someone will jump ship. When it happens we are shocked and scream and cry and shout to stop the ship and go back and get them. We look backwards at where we last saw them. We cry and we grieve for them. The ship continues to sail forward and eventually we can no longer see the spot where our beloved jumped off. Ultimately, we turn our attention from our lost love to looking forward again towards the horizon to enjoy the journey once more with our cruise mates… until the next time someone jumps ship.
In the end, we are all left with memories about the journey and the ones we shared it with. My head is full of memories of soft noses, wagging tails, smiling faces, warm tummies, happy eyes, galloping hooves in play, and the personalities of every single animal we have saved, healed, and loved. It is those memories that fill my heart with joy and gratitude. I eventually get out of the grief because eventually the grief turns to gratitude. I feel deeply blessed for knowing them, for loving them, and for having the opportunity to work by their side. I put their framed picture on the table along with others we have said goodbye to, and I honor them every day by remembering the good times we have had.
Maddie and Biscuit greeted guests, opened hearts, enlightened minds, and changed the world with me for a decade. Their memories are not only in my heart, but now in the hearts of thousands of people around the world. Their stories are on the lips of thousands of our guests who had the privilege of meeting them. They will live on in all of us who have chosen a plant-based diet in their honor, who love animals a bit more or who have found ourselves because of them. Where the grief slowed me down, the gratitude strengthens me, allows me to square my shoulders, raise my head, smile with joy, and get back to work, get back to life!
The Gentle Barn