My First Sheep

Tess, last year when she was wearing a coat.
Tess, last year winter

I had a dream last night that Tess stood up and walked away.  Visually, it was like a flip book.  Tess in a white space taking this simple action.  There was something ethereal about it.   When I woke up, I thought, either Tess is better or she died.

But it wasn’t that simple.  She was no better this morning than last night.  At one point, while we waited for the vet to come, she did stand up, but only for a few minutes before sinking back down to the ground.  After the Vet tried a few things, releasing gas from her stomach using a needle then a tube down her throat, I knew it was time to put her down.  She was in pain and the procedures were not working, only giving her more pain.

It was Tess’ time. She died quickly and quietly. Lauren, the vet, determined she had some internal bleeding that could have been caused by many different things, we’ll never know for sure.

Tess was the first sheep I ever had.  She was friendly and sweet and was always trying to eat my jewelry and hair. She had white spots on her nose, and soft cocoa wool. I cried before we put her down and I’ll miss her. Tess ushered me into the world of sheep in a gentle and welcoming way. She was the doorway, the threshold. The first sheep that I was responsible for, somewhere between a pet and a farm animal.  That bond  woke up a part of me that I craved but feared.  So with Tess’ death come a passage for me also.   She lived and died well under my care.  She taught me that I’m capable of learning how to care for and live with an animal that I’d had no previous experience with.  That I make good decisions. That being responsible for a life isn’t a burden but a joy.  And even when it’s difficult, I’d still rather have it than not.  It’s part of being alive, of being a fully human.  It is life.

And sometime, in the next couple of weeks, Daryl, the farmer who gave me Tess, will bring a ram.  And in the spring we’ll have lambs.  And I’ll name the first ewe lamb Tess.

42 thoughts on “My First Sheep

  1. So sorry to hear about Tess. Life and death on a farm happens. I know you loved and cared for her in the best way in her final hours………Sweet Tess…….may you find comfort in your memories of her…
    blessings, donna

  2. Maria so sorry to hear if Tess’s death but what a lovely tribute not only to Tess but to your growth in carrying for her. I know you don’t think of yourself in this way but I am increasingly blown away by your writing–the depth and rich emotion told in such an honest gentle and straightforward way. You tell stories in everything you do but no less with words. These words about Tess were beautiful.

  3. I’m so sorry, Maria. Tess was beautiful and the yarn spun from her fleece is scrumptious. I’m glad that I have some of it and will make something that will honor her memory each time it is worn.

  4. Sorry for your loss. It is always hard. It is the event we know will happen when we take responsibility for an animal; in general their lives are shorter than ours. I’ll look forward to meeting “Little Tess” in the spring through your posts.

  5. Maria I am sure many are grieving with you today. Your words are gentle and beautiful just as Tess was. Thank you so much for sharing her with us. I’m glad I have some of her wool. I shall think of her kindly as I finish the mittens I started. I had hoped you would name a new lamb Tess, and I’m so glad you want to. Tess was a lucky sheep to have had you and Jon to care for her.

  6. Beautiful tribute to Tess, Maria. She was a lucky ewe to have you for her person. Jon’s photos of Red and the donkeys with her are astounding and wonderful, the emotions captured with the lens are beyond words. Profoundly moving.

  7. Maria: So sorry for your lose of Tess. I know she meant so much to you. The wool I have is from Tess. I plan to make gloves and I will treasure them even more. It is beautiful yarn.

  8. i’m so sorry…it’s always SO crushing to lose an animal. i love your post, especially the part about what Tess meant to you and what she brought out in you…very inspiring and awesome!

  9. Maria you have beautifully captured the conflicting and complex yet simple direct truth of caring – emotionally and practically.

    Caring for animals. Caring for humans. Caring for life ~ with its endless facets. So very many of life’ truths stand separate yet run parallel to each other.

    I admire your clarity and your strength in choosing carefully and well for Tess alongside Jon and the vet. It could not have been in any way easy.

    Most of all, if you’ll permit me to say so, your closing words in this post capture the best of living thru any difficult situation.
    Gathering up the fondness and self confidence you learned from Tess and walking towards the next step reaching for the next chapter, the new lambs is inspiring…..


  10. So beautifully related, Maria. The story of Tess. I know you will miss her but you ushered her out with love and compassion. Blessings ans peace to you and Jon.

  11. Much, much love your way, Maria. From another who has loved and lost sheep that taught me much about love and life. <3

  12. This fear was what kept me from getting a dog for the longest time — would I be “good enough”? Would I make the “right” decisions? Would I be “worthy”?

    And when I finally let myself get my first puppy (and I was 45 years old at the time), it was . . . magic. And how I grieved when he died, but knew and still know that I wouldn’t have traded having him in my life for anything on God’s green earth. And so I got another puppy . . .

  13. I am so sorry to hear about Tess. You and Jon have taught me so much about life and death of animals. I am sure she will be missed, your dream must have been a premonition of her in a better place. Which I do believe in, she is pain free. I love your blog and you are such a wonderfully talented artist. (I am on the Open Animals Group on Facebook, as Pink Daisy, I wanted to leave my “real” name here)

  14. Thank you for sharing Tess ……through your words about Tess through your experiences it was easy to Love her. Although I feel sad I am glad she had a good life because of you. Hugs, Hugs, and more Hugs….!!!

  15. This is a beautiful piece, Maria. Thank you for sharing your love of Tess, your growth because of her and your belief that there will be another beloved namesake.

  16. Maria,
    I am so sorry for your loss. How you wrote about Tess touched my heart. I love that you will name the first ewe lamb Tess. Thank you for sharing.
    Mary Jo

  17. I am so sorry but also grateful that you were able and willing to share this with the world.
    Living and dying well – could anyone want more than that?

    I will look forward to reading about the lambs as the cycle continues.

  18. Oh what a loving act of kindness, Maria – as hard as it is to let them go, you surely did the most caring thing possible for your dear Tess. And your words and feelings about life are what we all strive for – to be able to appreciate the joy of the lives we love and care for, to be able to let them go with dignity when their time comes, and still know we can go on and love again. Thank you for your very wise words and perceptions.

  19. Maria, I’m so sorry about Tess…you did everything you could…it’s never easy but….at least we have the option of eliminating the suffering…..thinking of you and Jon…


  20. Maria, I feel as though I’m living your life here in Canada when I read your blog. I’m sorry about Tess, I’d hoped for otherwise but as Jon has pointed out, even though neither of you are ‘real’ farmers, you are both husbanding animals and caring for them so I think in the real world you could be called farmers, just not ‘real’ farmers…does that make sense…when I had chickens for fourteen years, I considered myself a farmer of chickens. I also came to know that a sick chicken in the morning was a dead chicken by noon. They dropped like flies at times for no apparent reason. I am glad to hear you’re moving forward and hope the ram does his job and the girls are interested in him. There are realities of living in the country on a farm and caring for animals that still make us farmers of a sort.
    SandyP in Ontario, Canada

  21. Maria – thinking of you during this difficult time. You gave Tess love, security, peace and a great life – who could ask for more? I can’t wait to see the next “Tess” next year!

  22. Oh, Maria, I’m so sorry about Tess. I know it’s heart-breaking. And you are so right: it’s never simple. We all hope our beloveds will pass away quietly, and on their own terms, when the time comes, but sadly it’s not always that easy. You’ve shown how it is our honor to take care of them, in all their walks of life and death.

  23. Hi Maria, As always your words are so beautifully poignant..I am sorry for your loss and agree that Tess lived and died well under your care.You were both a gift to the otherI well. Louise from Massachusetts

  24. Maria, I’m so sorry Tess didn’t recover. As you say, she led a good life for a sheep, was loved and well cared for by you. I love that a little ewe lamb will carry on her name in the spring.

  25. Maria, I’m so sorry to hear about Tess. Whether livestock or pet, she was a living creature who shared a significant time in your life, and who will leave a hole just as significant. I’m glad you’re getting lambs in the spring and will honor Tess by naming one after her.

    After everything with Minnie, losing Tess so quickly has to be a blow. Best to you and Jon, I know you’ll get through it together.

  26. “The doorway—the threshold.” That is a phrase that I often used with my students when I was teaching. It was used in a different context, of course, but I told them that reading was the doorway to a whole new world of life, and adventure. It was a window to the world and that with it they would have the opportunity to be ready to face all that the world had to offer. In a way, that is what Tess was. She opened you up to all of the possibilities that life has to offer when we take on the responsibility of something new. That she was sweet and gentle made it easier to face something that you “craved, but feared.” You grew from having her in your life. You learned that being responsible for a life isn’t a ” burden, but a joy, that it is part of being alive, it is life.” Tess, your gentle ewe gave you that gift, and with it you will welcome your lambs and face whatever life gives you with them. I suspect that you and Tess connected because you, too, are gentle and sweet with all of your animals. I have seen it with how you connect with the donkeys and how you brought Minnie back from the brink.You took wonderful care of Tess, as with all of your animals. I send you my condolences and wish you well on your future with all of your sheep. You also need to be proud of how you have loved and cared for Minnie. Together, you both have shown great strength. My best to all of you who inhabit the peaceable kingdom that is Bedlam Farm.
    Fondly, Jane

  27. Maria, you are so right. What a great dream to have in a situation like this – she was your first and perhaps your connection was different than with the others…..firsts usually are. Perhaps she was saying goodbye. You were such a good caretaker and she was a great animal. Hugs to you all.

    Pat R.

  28. I’m so sorry about Tess. Animals are such an important part of our lives. I have had many losses over the years and about 8 years ago we got our first parrot. I thought, well, his lifespan will be longer than mine so I won’t need to feel the pain of loss with him. I realized right away how selfish that was because what would happen to him? I made arrangements just in case, but I know that I cannot escape loss.

  29. Tess was good to you, and you were good to her, every day you had together. Losing someone you love, regardless of their physical manifestation – animal or human- is hard, it just is. Winter is almost upon us, but spring is coming. A baby ewe named Tess will be here before you know it.

  30. Maria, this was beautiful. I saw Jon’s photos yesterday, and saw that you had both hands on Tess the whole time; that was just so right. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but glad you did it the way you did, and look forward to seeing Tess’ namesake in the spring.

  31. So sorry to hear about Tess, Maria. She had a great life at Bedlam, I know, especially with you as her caretaker. I’m a little sad, but glad you have plans for new life with bringing in a ram. Life is a circle.

  32. I am just catching up on so much reading today. This is beautifully written expression of your feelings. Your view that “being responsible for a live isn’t a burden but a joy” and, though there is a beginning and an each time we become responsible for a life, you would rather have it than not; I found myself nodding in affirmation. Yes. Me too.

  33. Dear Maria, I am so moved to read all the caring and beautiful comments about Tess. I really appreciated also the sharing of your life with us. I am thinking of my first very own Standard Poodle, Louie III, and how after his passing at 15 years, 3 months later…here comes Ernie Boy White Tornado. So I’m glad to know that Daryl will be bringing a RAM and I look forward to seeing pictures of the next Tess. With Love,

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