As some of you may know I am writing a book for kinship foster carers, with a working title of ‘Difficult Endings’. During my counselling training, we explored our emotions and feelings around endings. Endings could mean a range of things, from being made redundant to finishing a good book. I once knew someone who would not finish a book they were enjoying, so that way it never ended. I also knew a couple of people who would read the ending shortly after getting into a book, so they would know what they were investing in. But we can’t press pause on time and we don’t know what the future holds when we invest in something.
Most endings that we discussed involved various forms of loss and grief. When a counselling course ended, we, as a group of students, decided how we wanted to acknowledge our last day. These experiences were aimed at creating an opportunity for an ending to be positive experience, all feelings and thoughts were valid. There was always ceremony to mark the ending. It felt like the key was to hold a space for those involved to have acceptance, acceptance of the ending. This was training for counsellors to have an ability to hold a space for future clients requiring the same opportunity. Even more simply, to end sessions on time and to end counselling sessions as agreed. When I first started out as a counsellor I noticed that a number of clients would not turn up for our last session. After some time, I began to see this pattern change and clients would turn up for the last session. This may have been coincidental, but as a counsellor is always self-reflecting I wondered was this a change within me about endings? Did I find them less difficult?
One ending this year was withdrawing from my masters (MSc). My MSc had begun to clash with my work hours within the first month. There was a hidden compulsory attendance module or failure. I needed to give three months’ notice for any leave, and would only be possible if no more than three people were away. I managed with some effort, to find a group which clashed less with my shift pattern and get transferred; aware that this left no room for illness or other ‘shit happens’ stuff.
In another module, from the second lecture, there were several in-depth questions posed from a 35-page scientific paper. They were posted out on Tuesday evening and ready for discussion Thursday morning by students. I didn’t have a neat Mon to Fri week, so after sleeping off a night shift briefly I logged on for the lecture to find this alarming challenge starting in 20 mins. I felt the immediate stress response, and I put myself through winging it as I had managed to read the paper that week. That said, I wasn’t sure what I had read at all. Shake it off, I’m sure there will be a taught lecture next week. Nope. Same again. Out of character for me, I closed the laptop essentially walking out of a lecture. I didn’t want to wing it, I wanted to learn it. How were other people managing?
Disheartened I wrote an email to end the MSc. I was offered a choice of an end or a sabbatical. I chose the latter. I am not sure why even now. I know I really wanted to learn those topics, and yes, it was a waste of money if I didn’t. Bottom line, the same issues would be there in a year. To do the sabbatical I would have to pay the rest of the year’s costs at start of spring term. Are you willing to lose more money because you can’t end this? Two days before spring term, I ended things. I felt annoyed that I hadn’t just ended it cleanly back in autumn term. I stayed with the fantasy of a graduation ending rather than accepting reality. The ego self-criticism scripts began: I had failed. I was not intelligent enough. I could not cope. OK, I thought as I challenged them, IF they were true statements about myself, I could accept them. I didn’t implode.
My second ending this year was resigning from my job. At work one morning in January, a colleague complained that there was no leave until end of October, it was all booked up. Work had made sure the summer holidays were equally offered to employees, so I had presumed there wouldn’t be an issue with booking leave at other times. I hadn’t realised the standard was ‘first come first served’. My training provider at the start of this job had suggested to our group that we made sure to have leave booked every three months for mental well-being as it was a stressful job. I had taken her at her word, and this tactic worked for me. I reached my leave each time and it was a welcome break to a stressful environment. I looked at the leave calendar myself, my anxiety rose as I realised my coping mechanism had been taken away.
I had a solution; I submitted an application to work part-time. If I had less days in work, I perhaps would feel able to balance my life out on my rest days. I had wished to be part-time from the get-go, because I already recognised two things: 1) this was a stressful job 2) I was a spouse to someone with Complex PTSD. At my interview however, we were informed we had to be full-time whilst in training. My role would take a year to complete. I had reservations, but I had managed to gain a job in lockdown and would have to make this work. Ten months in I knew my training was not near completion due to covid restrictions, but I learnt a long time ago in a teaching career far far away, no job is worth your mental health. My application was likely to be rejected by senior management I was told after coming back from my last bit of leave. I needed to write more detail as to why I need to be part-time. I was confused, see my two points above. Do they want a-day-in-the-life kinda detail? I was beginning to understand why when I was a freelance counsellor for blue line services I didn’t get one referral. Mental health was not a priority, push on through. I put more details on my application and resubmitted. I would never come to know if it was to be accepted or not due to my third ending.
One morning in February Jac, my horse, was suddenly not able to move well. I was on a late shift and had limited time for ‘shit happens’ which is risky with horses, because it normal does. It had been the usual hard graft in winter, and trick was not to lose your sense of humour. By February most horse owners struggle. I was no exception. For those of you reading that have a strong connection with animals, I don’t need to explain the following because you know. For those of you reading that don’t get that animal connection; Jac is my best friend and soul mate. In a financial choice of my home or my horse, I gave up the bricks and mortar, Jac was my home.
I recall the vet was being vague about whether he was going to come that day or not. Jac was in pain and I wasn’t completely sure what I was dealing with. I couldn’t leave him like this. Overwhelm hit me, I had a cry, took a depth breath and called work to say I wouldn’t be in.
Another vet saw Jac, diagnosed laminitis and took bloods suspecting Cushings or EMS as the underlying cause. Each day that passed with no progress, I realised it was going to take longer than a week off work. I began to feel this was the beginning of Jac’s end. A workplace that didn’t understand why I may need to be part-time wouldn’t understand time off for a sick horse. So, I resigned. I didn’t give it a second thought. I had a feeling now and again that I wouldn’t be there long, but I put it down to a possible burn out. I certainly didn’t know that early shift would be my last because of my horse.
As Jac’s last month progressed, he had his first panic attack when I did a routine thing of putting his head collar on. It was distressing to watch him so scared and trying to get out of his stable windows until his whole body shook hard. An emergency vet came out, but as the panic had subsided, he just wanted to focus on the laminitis. I half listened because he half listened, he didn’t know Jac, his suggestions were things that weren’t helpful to manage his other conditions of blindness in one eye and arthritis. He even mistook the wonderful hairy welsh coat for Cushings, which the blood results confirmed he didn’t have. He had high insulin levels. I was more concerned about the panic attack and the state of his heart afterwards and this happening when I wasn’t there. Jac was a horse who hated stables, and now he didn’t leave it. This wasn’t his normal. Last year I had a feeling I wasn’t going to have him around for much longer, and I wondered if this meant now.
A friend, who is also a spiritual medium, relayed that Jac wants me to listen to him, really listen. I am trying, but feels like I can only hear my own worries in my head that he isn’t going to recover. She told me to trust my instincts. I reached out to Calista, about not being able to sort what was instinct and internal chatter. She suggested to get out in nature to help with this. At it was late in the evening, I listened to Calista’s audio book ‘Unicorn Rising’ when I awoke, I knew what Jac was saying. He wanted my acceptance that this was his ending. It would happen, with or without it. His body was tired and he wanted my help to leave this world with dignity and respect. I accepted. A horsey friend called Weldons for me in front of Jac. They are an animal collection service, who euthanise, collect the body, cremate, and return the ashes. Jac perked up after the call and I went to get him some decent hay, as the soaking could stop now. I text my niece and a close friend who was Jac’s back up human if anything ever happened to me. My friend walked out of work immediately, drove an hour and came to sit in his stable to let the reality sink in. ‘I thought I had more time with him‘ she said with tearful eyes. I nodded. We had three more sun ups together. So I called on my experience with planned endings in all those counselling groups and held space for Jac to spend those days how he wanted. I spent each day with him and stayed with him whilst he crossed over.
“We are not separate, there is no you or me, there is only ‘we’. Within your heart is the gateway to our connection”Jac Snorkles
One of the last quotes he gave to me for my magazine article was that we weren’t separate, there wasn’t a you or me, that there was only ‘we’. We are all connected. Most days I do feel this and am happy for him. Some days when I feel separate I am heartbroken for me. I miss his physical presence, I miss his smooshy face, I miss his beautiful thick tail that he held so high, and I miss the funny things he did. I just miss him. I am so grateful I had the time I did to plan an ending, a plan he was involved in. It was an immensely powerful, sad but positive ending.
Two days ago, I handed my ID card and uniform back which due to my thinking about death, was not as impacting as it may have been otherwise. This process did help in terms of energetically withdrawing from a job that will soon become someone else’s beginning. My energy can now be used to focus on being ready for my next role. Seeing another horse in Jac’s old stable is a reminder life continues, his ending created the space for a beginning. So, I figure that beginnings can be as difficult to accept as endings. More accurately it is change that is difficult to accept. When I don’t move with the flow of change I always find life becomes more of a challenge which can end in uprooting. One of my most challenging times remains the end of placement when I was a kinship foster carer. Even though both my job and Jac bought my niece back into my life, which is another story. It still doesn’t heal that ending, my old self, the only thing that will is acceptance. I was able to learn in the years that followed about how to accept and move with the flow and repair my foundation. This has been transferable to other areas of life, which means change, because life is movement. I am looking forward to sharing my book with other kinship foster carers who feel they may need this type of medicine.