The Old Yin
Over the last few years I have 'baby sat' a pet sheep for a friend of mine. The sheep doesn't have a name although he is often referred to as the 'old yin'. When I first met him a couple of years ago, he was around 12 or 13 years old. This summer, I took my camera along to take some photo's of him. When I entered his field he was at the far corner. I lay down on the grass, to get down to his level, and asked if I could take his picture. The sheep ambled up to me on his stiff old legs as if to say 'of course, how close do you want me to be?' . He then proceeded to slowly walk around me, chomping at the grass occasionally as I started snapping. It really felt like he was saying ' what about this side?' 'how about this'. We had a great time together and I was pleased with the shots I got.
Was it time to go?
Some time later I got a text from my friend, saying she was worried about her sheep and asked if could I communicate with him remotely, to check in with how he was feeling. He was by now 15 years old and he had started to fall down a lot, and was unable to get himself back up without help. The weather had got very cold and there was snow on the ground. She was thinking it might be time to call in the vet to put him to sleep.
This is the sort of thing I want to be able to do, to help people with their pets. Animal communication is one of the tools I want to be using. But I hadn't practiced for ages. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I got the wrong answer? Jill is a really good friend. I wanted to help her as much as I could, so I agreed to have a go.
I took out one of my pictures of the sheep and tuned in. It wasn't difficult to feel a connection. I got the feeling of him being very tired, of aching all over and I felt he was saying he was ready to go. I gave Jill my impressions. She had already contacted the vet, who was due to come over in a couple of hours and she accepted my offer to join her.
When the vet arrived she checked him over and agreed that she it felt like his time. She explained what would happen. She would give him a sedative first to calm him down, followed by the second injection when he was lying down.
The first injection was given as Jill and I watched. The sheep, who was already quite slow and unsteady on his legs got slower and stood still for some seconds. He turned his back on us and took a couple of wobbly steps away from us. He stopped for a moment and then continued, hesitantly, moving toward the farthest corner of the field. At first I thought he was trying to put as much distance between him and the vet as he could. But after going that direction for some 50 feet he slowly started to turn until he was very slowly walking back towards us. He seemed to be taking a slow deliberate last look at the views he had enjoyed all his life before moving on.
I was there with the main intention of supporting Jill. I found the experience deeply moving, and unexpectedly, I found it beautiful as well. It felt like a true ceremony and he was in control of it. A couple of robins were flitting about nearby, and came to rest on the top of the fence, overlooking the proceedings. I stood there feeling my heart expanding with love for this special old fellow, a smile across my face as I experienced his strength of character.
As he got weaker and slower, he was gently helped to the ground where he was given his final injection, Jill sitting at his head and stroking his chest while I sat at his rump. I noticed a pair of small birds diving and soaring above us - they moved like swallows but it could have been the robins. It reminded me of a Red Arrows display, as if in honour of the 'old yin's' passing.
I felt very honoured to be part of the proceedings. It has left me with a very special memory.
Shortly afterwards we were given some homework on my Counselling Skills course: to reflect on 'loss' and what it meant to us. It was a strange thing. Previously, when thinking about loss I experienced strong feelings and my eyes would well up with tears. I just knew it felt bad, empty, upsetting and to be avoided. The Old Yin' had taught me to experience death differently. It felt more like the end of a stage, to make way for the beginning of a new one and as a natural and important cycle of life, one to remember always.