On Death and Dying, the Dance of Bitter and Sweet: Tribute to Winston



Making the Decision

There she stood on the other side of my gate, with her face looking peaceful, and her eyes and cheeks glistening with gentle tears. She looked especially lovely, a certain feeling of purity emanating from her that seems to come with the grieving process, and was reflected in a large bouquet of narcissus and daffodils she was holding, the first of the season. My friend and neighbor had come to tell me that she had just laid her dog, Winston, to rest. He had been failing for the past months and the time had been nearing. Last week she and her partner had dug an earth bed for him in the pasture under one of his favorite trees near the thriving beehive.

Struggling to know what was best for Winston, she had been asking him for some clarity. This morning he’d let her know that the time had come. She’d had a dream during the early morning that he was a puppy again bounding across the pasture freely and joyfully. She’d awakened knowing he’d never be able to do that again in this lifetime, and that he was asking her to release him. To help make the final decision, there were other personal and synchronous signs including a timely book by animal communicator, Penelope Smith, Animals in Spirit. I just happened to find it while cleaning that very morning all crumpled up under my bed. I’d felt an urgency to literally run it to my friend’s house, not knowing yet about her dream. Winston’s answers to her searching questions were coming in multiple ways. All the pieces had come together, and she made her decision from a place of sacred knowing. Conflicting emotions tore at her, understandably, but underlying the taunt, she knew he was asking for help. It was the right thing to do.


Winston was a special dog. A friend had said of him that he was the best dog he’d ever met. He would sometimes appear on my doorstep when his person had gone to work, and would sit on my feet when I came out to pet him. A black lab with beautiful brown eyes, he appeared and disappeared like a shadow of an angel. He’d frequently make a brief visit to the barn, offer a warm greeting for the humans, and then slip away to head back home, never one to roam on his own.

His only vice was barking at bicyclists that rode by in front of his house, and chasing them if he found a way through the gate. I always wondered what he would have done, gentle natured as he was, if he’d actually caught up with one. In the years I was privileged to know him, he captured my heart with his quiet spiritual qualities that I’ll never forget. When one of my horses was down for 7 hours and couldn’t get up, Winston came to the barn and stayed right next to her the whole time. I don’t recall him leaving to eat, drink, or to take care of other bodily functions. It was amazing. At one point his position mimicked hers. (Long Night… Into Light, Part 2)

A Generous Sprinkling of the Sweet

The horses honored his gentle spirit and mystical qualities. The week before, they had gathered ’round when preparations were being made for Winston’s final bed under the apple tree. Today they did the same when it was time for him to go.

They pressed in close to Winston and his people for one final goodbye, and then they turned and walked away led by the most unlikely horse as a leader, but the most appropriate in temperament. It was Tal, the Talisman, the one who comforts those who are grieving. No doubt reflecting his compassionate nature, he wanted to leave the humans and their dog alone for their last moments together, and whispered the suggestion to the rest of the herd. They obliged.

They walked reverently away to an adjacent pasture nearby. Then like human beings filing into their places in church pews, the 6 horses took their places standing in formation lined up side by side to pay their last tribute to Winston and to offer loving support to his people. They stood at quiet attention, and respectfully pointed their heads in Winston’s direction until all was finished and he was lovingly covered with the blanket of earth.

Shortly after, perhaps by divine design, I stepped out of my cabin across the road, during the last few minutes of their final salute. As if cued, the whole herd turned en masse with a gentle burst of energy, and spontaneously choreographed a dance up the gentle slope of the pasture with a playful step and lightness of hooves that made my heart skip along with them. No doubt they were trying to catch up with Winston as he was having a free spirited run on his way to his new world, the playful puppy again, moving freely and painlessly with the renewed exuberance of his youth. He and the horses in their pageantry in the world of the seen and the unseen offered us parting gifts of joy that make sorrowing just a little bit more bearable.

As my friend continued to share her story with me, we noticed that one horse lingered nearby the two of us. It was Tal, the Talisman, the one who always appears when a human is grieving. What a beautiful comfort. He was doing double duty this day, having spent the last few weeks hanging out close to me as I navigated through this and two other deaths in 3 months time.

A Heaping Tablespoon of the Sweet

The horses’ magical gifts continued riding the waves of grief. The next day my friend came to tell me that when she’d gone to visit Winston’s place of rest, she saw that the horses had been there ahead of her. They had left their hoof prints in plain view in the fresh soil near his bed, perhaps their own way of leaving flowers strewn about in remembrance, a comfort for her in knowing they had been there. And then in another blossoming of joy, she discovered one large hoof print carefully placed inside the fenced area around Winston’s memorial bed. (Look for it near the bottom, right of center, in the pic below). Because of the size, we suspect it was Tal’s. She felt in her spirit that the hoof had connected with Winston’s heart. It wasn’t until I downloaded my photos that I noticed that the natural outdoor shadowing, or was it the shadow of the angel, Winston, that made the one lone hoof print appear as a heart. One more taste of sweetness my friend has yet to experience.

"heart to heart"

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