I woke up from my dream making strange noises and with my hands trying to push the image from it away from me. In the dream the lambs were loose on a busy road. There were ten or more of them. I squatted and stayed still, hoping one of them would come to me so I could lead them all back to the pasture. And then I saw the sick one in the road. He was skin and bones with some tufts of wool hanging off of him. He had a long thin tail and looked more like an opossum that had lying in the road dead for days. I thought he should be dead, but when I picked him up, to my horror his heart was still beating. How could we have allowed him to get to this condition.
As the morning went on I forgot about the dream but not its message. As soon as Jon and I saw Jake in the pasture, we know he wasn’t right. We knew he wasn’t going to get better. We knew that trying to keep him alive was only prolonging his suffering.
Jake has never been like the other healthy lambs. Even when he was first born, it took him so much longer to stand up than his twin Deb. Looking at him next to Deb, I could see how thin and fragile looking he really was, how his wool never grew thick and fluffy like hers. He was often hanging back from the other lambs, resting while they were playing or grazing. From the time he was born I thought of him as the sickly child in the Victorian novel. The one who never goes out to play and is always wrapped in a blanket reading in his room. And I truly believe that even if Jake were able to recover from this illness, it wouldn’t be for long.
When Jon said he wanted to be the one to euthanize Jake, I understood, (I’ve never seen Jon so attached to a sheep or lamb as he is to the twins) but also knew that it was not something I could do. However, I did want to be a part of it. I didn’t want Jon doing it alone. Jake was our responsibility and I wanted to do the best and most I could do for him. I could carry him out to the pasture, telling him quietly that it would soon be better, feeling his heart beat against mine. Leaving him tied to the tree was harder, but Jon was so quick and accurate with his shot that I know it was the best it could be. Carrying his body though the woods into a clearing was cathartic. The little lamb was already gone. His body now the same as the soil beneath it.
A half hour later I was talking with a friend at the Round House. She told me of how she would be visiting her sister that weekend who has terminal cancer. On leaving, I met another woman who told me how she has been taking care of her mother for years. “It’s that part of life,” she said, not complaining, but clearly exhausted. On the way home I dropped off some cupcakes for another friend who was having a medical procedure, one of many in the past few months. Then I got a text from long distance friend who whose father was in the hospital. Each one of those woman knew about Jake being sick and asked about him. Their problems are so much more than a sick lamb, yet it was all these things which connected us. It brought us an understanding and empathy of the other.
This is what life is. All of it. And we all experience it alone and together. I’m sad today. I can’t help being sad. But I don’t doubt my decisions about Jake or how I’m living my life. My life on the farm is teaching me what it is to be alive. That the heartbreak and sadness is to be felt as much as the joy and the dull moments in between. It’s what being alive means. And I’m grateful to finally allow myself to be a part of it.