Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fear: you die before the dog...or the donkey...or the pig

Living life in fear is not only unhealthy for the spirit and body, it truncates new experience. If you are afraid to get back on the horse, you will never know that view you might have seen if you had taken another ride.

But we all have fears and some are hard to shake.

I posted some images recently of a story idea I'm pondering-about an elder dog who lives with an elder couple; the man dies, and the woman is comforted by still having the dog, but she grieves. In his own way, the dog grieves. The woman dies, leaving the elder dog. What will happen to him?

It struck a cord with many people. Who of us has not thought about this? As someone who takes in animals that are often elderly, and often have had an elder owner die, I think about it. I don't think I am stunted by fear from it, but I do think about it, and of course, I have a lot of animals. In Oregon, we made our will for the obvious reasons, but I was propelled to do it when I saw so many cases of people dying and there was no directive for caretakers on what to do with the animals. Goats were left in the backyard while the grown children just tried to grapple with selling the parent's home, or medical bills. The idea of Martyn being left with the animals was one thing, but what if we died together? Who would come over and do what was best for the animals? Who, God forbid, would take on The World's Grumpiest Pig? Would they know that Pino and Lucia were bonded, and that Paco would be distraught without his herd [he would...as much as animals carry on, Paco would really be shaken by being taken away from his herd]. Would they know that White Dog and Marcella should be together, and probably let Earnest the pig go with them too? So I made this huge list, with names of people who could help anyone coming in should we die. It gave me some comfort. Note to self: must revise will now that we're in Maine.

But the reality is, when someone dies, there are many, many details to attend to. And often the animals' needs are not front and center. It doesn't mean the caretakers don't care, it means they are overwhelmed with the details of the death and all that goes with it. I suppose some people don't care, but all in all, what I've seen is people do their best in cleaning up after a death. If you've read this blog for anytime, you know I have no tolerance for people that feel free to bash humans who might have only been doing what they could for their animals-at the time within their unique situation.

I did these images and I enjoyed doing them...I liked them. But I also found them so emotive in their rawness and simplicity that they broke my heart. So I took a brief break from them. Maybe the inspirations comes from the elders I visit, who talk about past pets,or mates. Or I think of my father's dog who outlived him. That little dog said goodbye to my father about a week before my dad died. He separated himself from my father's hospice bed, and began sleeping elsewhere. He did not venture into the room much that last week. And my father did not call for him. It was a beautiful, touching time, really. You could say a sad time, but to be present in any creature's final days is really an emotive experience. And the animals-at least in my experience-carry on much differently during and after death. They understand what is happening, I believe, long before the humans in the house do. When my mother told me Sammy the dog had suddenly started sleeping in the living room away from my father, I knew he'd said his goodbyes.

As I did the drawings, I wondered why I felt so compelled to do them, and would they go anywhere, or should they? Maybe I was meant to do them for myself only. I don't know if there is a project or not in them, a little story book perhaps, maybe a wordless one. Sometimes, you put something out there, people react and encourage the idea, and I get influenced by that [yes, this artist likes encouragement]. But I've learned to stop for a bit, appreciate the encouragement but then give it some time...and see if the idea is real, and worthy of more time...or if it was just a nice little spring shower that gave a drink to those in its path.