March 1, 2015

When Your Friend Doesn’t Make it to Her 16th Year.

courtesy of Jess Sheppard/author's own

Warning: Light swearing ahead.


Death is never easy.

(No shit.)

But when it’s slightly unexpected, it’s always harder.

And when you haven’t been physically near enough to that soul, as much as you used to be or want to be, it creates a quick and deafening vacuum.

And when it’s someone who was graceful enough to show you the ropes and be kind and reassuring (despite occasional relapses into Diva-ness) it’s especially poignant.

And thinking back, over the years, and waxing poetic to your own quiet, grieving heart you begin to feel that throat tightening, eyes welling wave come over you…

And when you try to explain to someone who didn’t know and have to finish with the sentence “she was an amazing groundhog,” things get even more blurry.

While the passing of any soul is harder than hell, animals will always be up there near the top for me.

They are innocents.

They don’t get stuck in our human bullshit.

They do them and let you do you.

And if they don’t like you they tell you in their own way.

And if they really like you (as was the case with a particular porcupine and me) they find ways to tell you, too.

Being lucky enough to not only live with animals, but work with them day in and day out, has taught me so many valuable truths. Some are written above—loosely translated: enjoy the life you’ve been given, don’t be shitty to people behind their backs, be up front with them, and if you love, then fuck it, love.

Because all you have is right now.

In hearing the passing of my dear friend, I wasn’t shocked or surprised—15 years old is getting up there in groundhog years—and she had a great life.

But I was still deeply saddened.

And the more I sat and thought on it, the harder it became and the sadder I was.

Perhaps it may seem silly to those who haven’t found a relationship with our wilder brethren, or only see them as nuisances and intrusions (incidentally, that’s generally how they see us!). But for anyone who has felt the warmth of the forgiving, empathetic neck of a dog, the purring reassurance of a cat, the mood-lightening repetitive games of a parrot, or even the silent recognition from our quieter herptile friends, then you can better understand where I’m coming from.

This groundhog had a personality.

She had likes (bananas!), and knew when she was done with shit for the day.

She was funny, and loved her job (so long as it suited her and the rodent chow was flowing!).

She had a home, friends, fans (people knew her!) and love.

She had a name.

She was an excellent teacher, a TV star and a hell of a friend.

People like to bypass the awkward and uncomfortable—or put less importance on the things that they can’t understand or have an aversion to because they won’t understand, for whatever reason.

But being lucky enough to work (and live) with so many different types of animals in my life I feel blessed.

I feel like I’ve been lucky enough to be a student in living.


courtesy of Jess Sheppard/author's own



Author: Jess Sheppard


Photos: Author’s own

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