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Grieving mom creates Carefarm to rescue animals to aid healing and hope after losing daughter

Determined to help others in similar situations, she pursued a Ph.D. in traumatic grief and later established Selah Carefarm in Arizona.

Grieving mom creates Carefarm to rescue animals to aid healing and hope after losing daughter
Cover Image Source: Instagram | Selah Carefarm

Losing someone you love creates immense grief and trauma to be felt and lived through. Joanne Cacciatore lay in a Phoenix hospital bed, eager to see her newborn baby girl for the first time. Her happiness vanished when she found out that her daughter died at birth in July 1994. Cacciatore recalls, "I can't even begin to describe what it felt like." For the then-29-year-old mother of three, the period that followed was unbearable. She sought help from counselors but admits she felt worse after her sessions. Needing good support to heal is natural for someone grieving or bereaving. "I wasn't sleeping and I couldn't eat because it felt like I had a grapefruit stuck in my throat. I descended into a pretty dark place," she told PEOPLE.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Selah Carefarm (@selah_carefarm)


 

Despite her despair, Cacciatore decided there had to be a better way to assist grieving people like herself. So, she enrolled in college for the first time and earned a Ph.D. in traumatic grief in 2007. By 2016, she had established the Selah Carefarm, a 12-acre sanctuary outside Sedona, Arizona, where she had assisted thousands of people whose lives were turned upside down by the violent or traumatic death of a loved one.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Selah Carefarm (@selah_carefarm)


 

Cacciatore says the goal of her grief counseling and activities like gardening, yoga, and time spent with the farm's dozens of rescued goats, horses, and dogs isn't to make her people feel better--it's to help them feel. "Grief is made up of countless little emotions that we've been taught are bad: anger, despair, rage, sorrow and confusion," says the 57-year-old, an Arizona State University professor and mother of five. "If you can let yourself truly feel your grief if you can fully inhabit it, you can be transfigured by its incredible energy. It's a tragic gift that they [the dead] leave behind if we allow ourselves to access it."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Selah Carefarm (@selah_carefarm)


 

Cacciatore's pastoral haven began in 2015 when she rescued an abused, starving horse on a hike and brought him back to her property. Soon after, one of her counseling clients, a Native American woman whose child had recently died, asked if she could sit with the emaciated animal. As Cacciatore incorporated more rescue animals into her counseling work, more people reached out for assistance. "When these grievers are crying," she says, "the animals just come up, sit beside them and put their head on their lap. It becomes a relationship between two beings who have looked death and suffering in the eye and see each other."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Selah Carefarm (@selah_carefarm)


 

Cacciatore, along with five other grief counselors, three farmhands, and a "human-animal connection specialist," is now working with those who have suffered the murder, suicide, or death of a loved one. "The vast majority have lost a child," she explains. Some come for a day, while others stay for weeks. The purpose of Selah Carefarm is to provide comfort. It has an artesian spring flowing through the peaceful landscape and a mango tree with strips of cloth tied to the branches made from favorite shirts and pillowcases of those who have died.

Cacciatore is determined to spread the Carefarm philosophy across the country while providing a safe place for brokenhearted people to explore their emotions in the days ahead. "This is holy ground," Cacciatore says. "We just do grief here. That's why we refer to our counselors as 'grief counselors' instead of 'therapists.'"

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