Growing up on a farm, I learned the hard lesson that an individual life can often be shorter than the average lifespan predicts.
The natural order of life and death must be faced on a regular basis when living on a farm. Our farm raised milk cows and so while I was fully aware of where our meat came from, I knew that the production of milk was the main goal. This meant keeping the animals healthy and alive for a long time.
My role in the business was aiding my mother in nurturing the young calves. My mom was a great nurturer of animals and had a phenomenal survival rate with her charges. At times she was even asked to guest speak for agricultural classes. So while I was exposed to death on the farm, I only directly faced it with the very weak or very old animals.
This pattern changed drastically during the summer of my fifteenth year when an unusual virus took the life of fifty percent of the animals born that summer. While we did everything we could to keep the feverish newborns alive, in the end the strange virus was just too destructive. By the end of that hot, grueling summer, death no longer seemed like something natural, but rather like a monster, unmerciful and unrelenting. A new comprehension that the natural order of life and death could be traumatic settled in my consciousness.
That year was my last to work on the farm; the world around me changed and I changed with it. Over the years, the trauma of that summer faded and was replaced with a greater understanding that there are worse things in life than death.
Now I am older, a mother with my own teenagers who have experienced the death of many family members in their youth. While to my children, these family members were old, a few had died before reaching the “average” lifespan and by most standards, were still too young to leave this life behind. I have tried to bring comfort to myself and teach my children that their grandmothers went to a better place; that their bodies had been worn out too soon, and that death brought an end to their suffering.
Just as the animals of my youth helped me face the realities of life and death and helped prepare me for the eventual death of family members, the animals of my children’s youth are teaching the same lessons. Like the summer of my fifteenth year when an unusual heat brought an unusual virus, this year has presented odd shifts in the weather bringing untimely deaths.
Winter is supposed to be cold. Animals grow extra hair to keep them warm during the winter, and unlike humans they can’t simply remove their coats when the temperature soars. Sadly older animals, animals with weaker constitutions, and the very young often don’t survive when the temperatures soar one day and drop the next. Sometimes human intervention can help, but often times an animal, seemingly healthy one day, will lie down in the night and will rise no more at the dawn. This is life and life is not predictable. Knowing the average lifespan was met, is not a comfort.
Rest in Peace Bean – you taught us much about angora rabbits, made us laugh at your antics, and left a healthy posterity to carry on in your absence. 9 Feb 2012