January was a challenging month. So many friends died. I almost typed "departed" or "passed away," but I have been trying to not mince words when it comes to death. Our language around death obfuscates, sometimes designed to stave off or mollify the grief we experience or witness others experiencing without actually engaging it.
I reference and reread the below linked article from Elephant Journal writer Ed Preston frequently, because it is a reminder of how important our words in relation to death are, how they can shut down or cultivate connection.
Preston discusses the language of "loss" in particular, and shares why that concept may not invoke the empathetic connection actually needed. I catch myself typing or saying "I'm sorry for your loss" in many instances, fumbling when I remind myself to engage versus this response ingrained in us, but that fumble reminds me to be present to the suffering the individual may be experiencing.
It is a presence of mind I have to practice with my own grief as well. I currently have several blog posts in the works to celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of some of these friends, but my brain is not allowing me to finish them. Earlier in January Mr. Ed, the magnificent Brahman bull with whom I spent many years, was euthanized when his physical pain could no longer be managed. His death did not feel real until just yesterday when Farm Sanctuary finally released a tribute video to him.
In what felt like quick succession, and actually starting on December 30th when part of my Maryland pack, Jesse dog, died, death came to Mr. Ed bull at Farm Sanctuary, Lucia goat of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Jake goat of New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary, Ogie steer and Vanna goat at Indraloka Animal Sanctuary. There are beautiful tributes to these individuals linked with their name, followed below by portraits I am privileged to have created of these magnificent people. Sharing these portraits helps me process my grief due to the absence of some rather amazing individuals.
I am sure there are more individuals about whose death I have yet to learn just from this last month. However, as I will continue to discuss throughout the life of this project and blog, death is a natural and inevitable, and often frequent, companion in the sanctuary world. It will bring suffering in its wake, but also, with dedicated work and thoughtful support, healing and deeper relationships with the beings around us, even after death.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. In the meantime, may our dead friends be remembered and our suffering be acknowledged, and may so much joy find you, not despite death, but because it reminds us how beautiful life is.