October 2009
4-H Extension Corner

Dealing with Death…. and Life on the Homestead

 

Biscuit, Suzy Geno’s 14-year-old house cat, who died recently.

I dug another grave this morning.

That’s three weeks in a row death has touched my little homestead.

Today it was our 14-year-old house cat, Biscuit, who has overseen almost every word I’ve written during her tenure here, always warmly sitting on my computer’s printer.

Last weekend it was my dear friend’s six-month-old bottle-raised pygmy goat I pulled from the middle of the highway about a mile from here.

The week before it was our near 15-year-old dog, Jurdan.

   

Elvis Tebow, who died unexpectedly of urinary calculi.

 

Surely death is no stranger to any farm. Just as the seasons of weather go from spring to summer, into fall and then winter, the stages of life seem to be magnified when you live this close to nature.

But it is a subject I find myself pondering even more as I enter into what might be described as the "fall" of my own life.

When my own dad died back in 1987 suddenly of a heart attack while picking green beans here in the garden, it was a tragic shock that shook my family’s very foundation.

But our then six-year-old son summed it up pretty concisely when he walked outside the funeral home the night of the viewing and came back inside with a large, brown crystallized shell of a cicada.

He calmly walked over where my dad was "lying in state," held up the dried insect and proclaimed his Paw Paw was not there, that was his "shell in that casket," just like the shell of the insect he now held in his hand….

 

Gus, who died of tetanus shortly afer Elvis.

You can’t argue theology when it is presented so simply and truthfully!

Then again when my Mother died with me at her side two years ago, I was truly glad her spirit was freed from the pain-wracked body she’d inhabited here. While I miss her and mourned her, just like my dad I knew she was in Heaven.

But the theological tenet puzzling me concerns animals…. Sure I’ve read that "Rainbow Bridge" poem of how our beloved pets are supposed to be waiting "on the other side" for their owners. But I’ve found nowhere in the Bible to substantiate such a claim.

Some of you may not know my Bachelors of Science Degree is in "Religion" with a concentration in counseling. (I had a wise editor who told me once the best writers weren’t always those who graduated from college with a degree in journalism, but were those who broadened their outlook of as many parts of life as they could.)

So while I have that diploma saying I’m SUPPOSED to know a lot about religion, having attended two of the most stalwart Christian institutions in the nation, there is still something lacking.

I know animals were put here for our use and we are to have dominion over some of them, but is that really the purpose when God created the Garden of Eden? Weren’t we just supposed to eat fruits and other things growing there while animals were to be our companions?

   

The miracle of birth, Gus’ daughter Jenny and her mother, Gracie.

 
   

No, I’m not one of those radicals who thinks animals have the same rights as humans.

But several churches of different denominations have special services in the fall to bless animals. Some of them say they are honoring St. Francis of Assisi who took vows of poverty but lavished love and respect on animals.

So I still have a lot to think about; especially since this past spring my goat herd suffered two major losses.

First was little Elvis Tebow, an almost solid black Nigerian Dwarf who was to be my new little herd buck intended to intensify the smaller-size lineage in my pygmy herd.

He died unexpectedly of urinary calculi, which the vets said should not have happened because he was not a wether….

Then a short time later, I lost my other little Pygmy buck, Gus, to tetanus. He had his shot but not quickly enough.

Gus’ little premature daughter was born later and I feared losing her as well, but through the good mothering instincts of Gracie, little Jenny has thrived into solid breeding stock.

I am with many of my animals when they are born here on my homestead. And darned if I don’t CRY every single time at the sheer miracle of each birth.

I don’t see how anybody could witness a goat slide into this world and be nuzzled, loved and nickered into eating by his supposedly uneducated, small-brained mother and not marvel at the wonder of it all!

Several years ago, the very first time one of my Angora rabbits made a nest of her fur and deposited seven fluffy babies on one of the coldest nights on record, I was again amazed.

But while I am with many of my animals when they are born, I’m also there when they die. And after Gus died I was pretty distraught.

As I sat on the big wooden spool in the front goat pen, suddenly one of the black Muscovey ducks came proudly out from under the milking stand—followed by 16 waddling day-old ducklings! I hadn’t even known a duck was setting under there!

Likewise, my friend who lost her pygmy to the highway last week, was equally upset. After I’d called her to the door and told her of the tragedy, we sat in her carport calling someone to come and help with the burial.

As we sat there talking, her small cat began making trips from the barn, carrying tiny, just-eye-opened-kittens one-by-one to a box beside where we sat!

It seems after each loss we are always reminded God is in charge and life goes on.

I know most farmers and homesteaders treat their livestock with the utmost care and kindness, even those animals they eventually will utilize for food.

But I also know we are told we need to be careful because we may be "entertaining angels unaware." Sometimes in my fleeting thoughts I wonder, just for a minute, if some of those "angels" might just be wearing feathers or fur….

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. You can reach her at www.suzysfarm.com.