American culture stumbles over death and grieving. Sadness, fear, and avoidance often substitute for care and healing. Grief is supposed to be short-lived. How to show up for people grieving is not commonly taught. But holding in these emotions has consequences.
A recent mental health story on NPR's "All Things Considered" focuses on the Saleh Carefarm, located just outside Sedona, Arizona. Host Ailsa Chang begins the segment:
"A grief counselor in Arizona who has a heart for abused animals started a sanctuary for grieving people. She calls it a Carefarm. Ryan Heinsius of KNAU paid the farm a visit. And just a warning – the story discusses alleged domestic violence against children that some listeners might find disturbing."
As stated on their webpage, Saleh Carefarm "is the first carefarm for the traumatically bereaved in the U.S. It's a very special place on 10 acres of beautiful farmland where bereaved family members can come to both give and receive connection, compassion, and understanding. All the animals on the carefarm have been rescued from abuse, neglect, and torture. Our grieving families know what suffering means, and so do these animals."
The origins and history of Carefarm emerge from the necessity to heal and find healthy ways of engaging grief, as well as kindred people sharing ideas about how to help people survive loss.
"In April of 2015, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore rescued a pack horse in the Grand Canyon from horrific torture and abuse. She named him Chemakoh. Grieving clients with whom Dr. Jo worked were deeply moved by Chemakoh and found their time with him to be ineffable- very powerful. She eventually began to research an idea: Connecting tortured, abused, and lost animals with traumatized humans in a therapeutic carefarm environment. That's when she met Dr. Rich Gorman in the U.K., who was already researching care farms. The two of them met in Sedona, Arizona and for two weeks planned the first carefarm for traumatic grief in the world. Now we have more than 40 animals rescued who live in our sanctuary and welcome grieving people and families from all around the world."
Click here for several videos about Saleh Carehouse, the volunteers, and the impacts on people. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University and the author of the award-winning book Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief.