Posted on Jan 14, 2021
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Throughout the 21-year history of The Gentle Barn, our animals have come and gone in waves. Sometimes we have many rescues, one after another, like at the beginning of the pandemic when we rescued eight cows in a row from the slaughterhouse. Sometimes we have a series of goodbyes, like this week with Alice and Brave Heart. However, after an animal's transition, there always seems to be an animal waiting to have a turn with us. Sometimes we get calls or emails about animals needing rescue the very next day after someone leaves. When our twelve-and-a-half-year-old pig, Zeus passed away, we got an email about Menorah and her babies the very same day! This week Alice left us very suddenly and unexpectedly. I was so lucky to have been there to hold her head in my hands and tell her that I love her as she went. And two days later we received a call about two turkeys who had nowhere else to go. The intelligence and perfection of the universe astounds me!
When animals are ill or preparing to pass, I have a hard and fast rule to never get emotional in front of them, but be laser-focused on them. I can sort through my feelings later, but in the moment, I am brave, strong, loving, and nurturing. I want them to know everything is alright, to feel safe and loved, and I want to hand them to the angels in peace, joy, and light. When we can do this for our beloveds, they can go home in harmony. In an emergency, Jay and I become very calm and talk more softly than we normally do. We make decisions quickly, but we hold onto very stable energy to soothe the animal. I never make what’s happening about me, I’m not sad, I’m not angry, and I’m not reacting emotionally. I stay even-keeled until the animal is gone, and then and only then I can cry, grieve, mourn, and process what happened for myself.
Once the animal has passed, I cry and share the news with the people who loved them with me, like my staff, volunteers, and followers. I usually become pensive and quiet, remembering my favorite times with them and trying to stay connected. Usually that night I think of them throughout the night, sometimes dreaming of them, or just saying their names when I toss and turn. I practice self-care by indulging in a bath, a tasty treat or meal, or a nap on the couch with my pups. Our other animals always make me feel better and pull me forward. The sorrow stays with me for some time, but I try very hard to turn the grief into gratitude as quickly as I can. Because at the end of the day, I am so thankful to have known them! They could have been anywhere, but they were in our barnyard. They could have loved anyone, but they picked me. And no matter how much it hurts, I would not trade a second of knowing, loving, or caring for them for anything in the world! I am so grateful to have raised Brave Heart since he was three months old, taught him to trust humans, snuggled with him every day, and given him bedtime cookies each night. I am so thankful that Jay and I got to save Alice from slaughter, heal her, and turn her into a cuddle turkey and an ambassador for animals everywhere.
At The Gentle Barn, Jay and I and our staff wear many hats and work very hard. But out of everything that we do daily, the most important work that we do is help animals cross with dignity, peace, and love. It is the most important work we can ever do! When lightning strikes and a beloved is ready to go, whether expected or sudden, we focus, quiet our minds, and hold that sacred space for them to take their last breaths. It is the same honor and privilege as being in the room when someone is born. It is just as special and holy. It is only in the misguided society that we treat “death” as a tragedy. But what I have learned from every single animal I have spoken to is that passing away, no matter what it looks like, is a transition out of form, but the life force and energy still lives on. I’ll never forget watching our cow, Buttercup says goodbye to her sickly, seven-week-old baby calf. She quietly whispered in his ear “I love you”, licked his face, and told him it was ok to go. She cried for weeks afterward, but in the room with him, as he was leaving, she was quiet, calm, and completely attentive to him and his needs. Animals instinctively seem to know what to do in the face of “death”, but I think it is something the rest of us can learn and emulate.
If we can accept the concept that we don’t know how long any of us are going to be here; If we can love our animals unconditionally no matter if they bless us with a day, a month, or several years; If we can know that they are always with us and never leave us; and if we can grieve the loss of the physical relationship but celebrate the gift of knowing them; we can keep being opened to love. Losses at The Gentle Barn knock us to our knees, but because of these beliefs, we get back up and keep on going, keeping our hearts open to love again, and again, and again.