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.
Last week I got a text from my friend, saying she was worried about the sheep and could I communicate with him remotely, to check in with how he was feeling. He was by now 15 years old and he had been falling down a lot over the last few weeks, unable to get himself back up. 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
Oh blimey, I was panicking. 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? It was quite an important subject. Jill is a really good friend and I wanted to help her as much as a I possibly could. 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 he indicated he was ready to go. I fed the results of my communication back to Jill. She had already contacted the vet, who was due to come over in a couple of hours and she accepted my offer to go over and be with her.
The vet arrived that afternoon and after checking the sheep over she agreed that the most humane thing was to put him to sleep. She advised that 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.
I was there with the main intention of supporting Jill. I wasn't expecting to get upset myself, and I didn't. But I did find the experience deeply moving, and unexpectedly, I found it beautiful as well. 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, taking steps toward the far 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 circle until he was very slowly walking back round to us. I had the distinct impression that he was taking a slow deliberate last look at the views he had enjoyed all his life before moving on. 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 and a different approach to death than I had experienced previously.
At my Couselling Skills course last weekend the homework we were given included reflecting on 'loss' and what it meant to us. It was a strange thing. When I first started to think of loss I experienced strong feelings and my eyes would well up with tears. I didn't really understand what I was tapping into with these feelings. I just knew it felt bad, empty, upsetting and to be avoided. With the passing of Jill's sheep I didn't feel the death as a loss. It felt more like the end of a stage, to make way for the beginning of a new one,. a natural cycle of life and one to remember always.