What Life Means


Jake under the apple tree yesterday
Jake under the apple tree yesterday

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.

16 thoughts on “What Life Means

  1. I love that… “The heartbreak and the sadness must be felt as much as the joy and dull… in between” to gloss over either would to belittle both, I think. I am sad today too, and very grateful that you and Jon shared this special lamb’s journey with us all. All life matters. Love to you both.

  2. Thank you for sharing your sad times, as well as your happy times. My thoughts are with you as you remember little Jake and the joy he brought to you and Jon, if only ever so briefly. Hope you relax and reconnect and enjoy your time in Vermont.

  3. Maria. This was such an honest and moving post. We have lived on our farm for 34 years and have lost dogs, cats goats, and horses. It has never been easy, but each time it was very obvious that we had no choice and were doing the right thing. In most cases the vets have been able to assist, but our first horse died before the vet could get here. Not once has losing animals made me want to stop having them. To give them good lives and get so much in return is well worth all the sadness when difficult decisions have to be made. Your passion for all of your animals is very obvious…you are truly connected in the most loving way. I’m very sorry for your loss and know it is not easy for you and Jon.

  4. your writing has evolved so much, beautiful, heartfelt, clear, important – you do have a book in you – and I cannot wait to read it. <3 I know you are an amazing artist – but reading posts like this are like being in the middle of a great book and not wanting to put it down……

  5. Maria- this was a beautiful post and it meant so much to me reading it. Thank you. I’m sorry about Jake. I’m glad we got to share him with you and Jon. He was very special. Blessings.

  6. Oh Maria, You and Jon loved that little lamb and I’m sure you did the right thing for him. Love to you both.

    Cathy McKenna
    Katonah, New York

  7. Oh Maria, I’m so glad you left tonight. I’m so sad and sorry for the loss of little Jake. Comfort to you both, Cindy

  8. I am so sorry this happened Maria. I know how much you love all of the animals at the farm and these twins seemed to hold a special place in your heart. Jake knew, even at the end how much you loved and cared for him. I’m so glad you participated and let him know in his last moments that he was loved! Thank you for posting this – many of us are thinking of you today and are feeling the sadness as well.

  9. Maria – Thank you for this sweet and whimsical photo of Jake. Jake seems at peace. He was such a quiet soul. I thank you and Jon for loving Jake till the very end – to the extent that both were willing to let him go.

  10. So sorry Maria-glad he isn’t suffering-you both did your best to give Jake a great start considering his physical difficulties.
    Congrats on your wedding anniversary-hope you and Jon have a wonderful day.
    Best Regards,

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