It has been sometime since I heard from Old Man Guinnias. If you have followed along here, you know Guinnias was the first elder goat I took on at our old farm in Oregon. To say he became a crucial companion, and precursor for things to come, is an understatement. He was a muse, but caring for him also allowed me to navigate through my elder father's death, who was in home hospice in Minneapolis, and I was not able to be there with him as he took his final journey off of Earth.
In my dream, I was helping someone pick up some rescue animals, and there was a huge goat, who looked like Stevie, but this goat was the size of a bull and he had huge testicles, and I thought an intact animal that size would be problematic for our farm. There was a small kitten. And then, there was Guinnias. I was so happy to see him, and I thought to myself,
Well, he is coming home with me.
It was a clear message to me, that he is there, and here, and he never really left. The reason this dream was important, at this moment, is I have been pondering my role in how I work with elder people, and I began doubting myself this past couple of weeks. Doubting oneself leads to more doubt, I find, and the hot weather with humidity also makes me go into less optimistic frame of mind. I began to wonder if I was doing enough for the animals, and was I able to keep a healthy boundary when I work with some elders who I get to know as people. I began to look back on all the animals I had taken on, with open heart, but also a realistic understanding that they might not last long. But working with animals that I know are not long for this world, is different than working with people that are not long for this world-for many reasons. For one, I am the sole caregiver of the animals, I call the shots, along with Mother Nature of course. I know what happens to them, I bury them, I get to have that immediate and important ritual. In my work with visiting elder people, I can walk into a place and not know where someone went, they just disappear one day, and privacy laws don't allow me to know. Even though I've reached out to some staff about my feelings, they have not addressed them at this point. So I am grappling with how to create healthy boundaries for myself, and I'm searching for role models to help me.
And then Guinnias came to me in the dream, and he walked right over to me, without doubting me, like he knew I was safe and he was safe with me. And I had no doubts in the dream of what to do.
Guinnias came to us at age 15, horribly thin, crippled, and we knew that 15 is already a very old goat. I thought he might last a year. He lived until 21 or more. He had been sent off to a goat rescue at 15 because the boy had gone off to college and the parents were tired of the goat showing up on the porch and pooping. Too much trouble to put up a fence I guess. As sad as it is when elder animals are abandoned, and often the ones that end up at shelters, in my mind, are abandoned [and some come from caring people who have tried to find good homes, or have had a sudden life change-a death of a spouse, or illness], I am glad they sent him to the rescue, because he came to me, and he was a conduit for my current life's work, and I also loved him, and yes, I believe he loved me in his goat way.
When I worked with Guinnias, many things seemed to relate to what my father was going through in his final days. And everything also took me back to conversations and memories of my father–Guinnias was crippled and his falling increased over time, and it made me care for him ever more tenderly because I knew from my father, how scary it for an elder to start falling. Once that happens, all sorts of restrictions can be put on them, and often they become home bound. In some ways, Guinnias was my conduit for letting go of my father. I knew he was dying, he had had a good life and was almost 84. He didn't want to die, and after many heart issues, and other things related to the failing heart, there was nothing left for the doctors to do. He had tried to get into a last ditch effort for some experimental program with Mayo Clinic, something that would put oxygen back into him to help his heart. But the heart was too weak, and they had to turn him down. My mother told me about that day, and she could feel his resignation in his silence as they drove home together. His number was up, and he knew it.
I had said my goodbyes to my father, about three months before he died, when I was back visiting over Thanksgiving. At that point, he was still up and about, could eat and drink and carry on pretty well. He was himself. But I knew this might be the last time I'd see him, since I lived on a farm out West. Getting away was expensive, and difficult. We did a lot of important things those few days, always with the knowledge of his pending death hovering around us. We watched 'Charlotte's Web", and held back tears, as so many conversations of the animals were the things we probably wanted to say to each other. As spiritual and emotional as I am, my family was not. They were loving, but were a pretty stoic bunch, with stock from strong farmers and scientists. When I went to leave, my father was on the couch. I sensed this goodbye could go quickly emotional, so I leaned down to kiss him good bye on his sweet old bald head, and as I neared his face, our eyes were locked on each other for seconds, intense seconds.
"Bye, Bob," I said, and he said, "Bye, Honey." We had wet eyes, but I high tailed it out of there and cried in the elevator instead. It was a moment and a sensation nobody experienced but us. It was our moment as father and daughter. I knew we were saying the goodbye
When the final days of his life were apparent-hospice had been called in about two weeks before he died-my mother and I talked every day from a distance. She said he had fought the hospital bed, but once it arrived, she felt he gave in. I asked if she had told him it was okay to go, this is something I had learned, and I always told an animal it was okay to go. She had. And she said to me, "It's time for him to go." She had reached the point when a loved one is dying, where she knew having his body in the room was not what was important anymore, it was setting him free. His body had simply worn out, as they always do if you live long enough, and he was attached to a realm he had spiritually already left.
One day she said his little terrier, Sammy, quit going to be on the bed, and I knew that was it. I've seen this over and over, an animal senses when the person is now more spirit than body. A couple days later, he died.
Perhaps Guinnias just wanted me to know he's okay, and that he would welcome coming back to my care if he was on Earth. And maybe my father is okay too, it's just that Guinnias was more able to tell me. Whatever it all means, I was so happy to hear from him.