Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Saying Goodbye to a Friend
by Christa Hein 

I’m a farmer.  That reality is alive in my every day as I put on my coveralls and sludge through the mud or snow.  Even if I’d rather sleep in or work in my pajamas – I can’t.  I’m responsible for a whole bunch of feathery and fuzzy critters.  And that involves a whole lot of me.  It means I’m a farmer even when I don’t want to be.

But sometimes I don’t feel like a farmer.  Like when a turkey dies and I want to share that sad fact with the world.  But I don’t.

Because I’m a farmer.

I’m still learning about my own farmer stereotypes.  One of those is that farmers just take death as it comes.  We’re supposed to right?  I mean I started with 8 turkeys in spring and sent 5 to their untimely deaths.  (One was the casualty of our dog who has also been learning how to be a farmer this year.)

I’m raising animals for food – death is a solid fact of that equation.  I’ve manned-up and accepted certain parts of that, reflecting and honoring as I go so that the life lessons aren’t lost on me along the way.

But last weekend I stumbled into a new experience – the death of a farm animal I had made my friend.

You may have heard about Shirley in my Thanksgiving musings.  Or maybe you saw the picture of her first egg that I posted on facebook. (I was proud like a grandma!)

Shirley was one of the two turkeys we saved from the knife so that she could become a part of our permanent herd. She was the one I knew I was keeping from the time she was young. She greeted me each day and I celebrated with her when she started her first clutch of eggs.

When she died suddenly last weekend I wasn’t sure what to do. So I went to get my husband Chris.

Chris couldn’t do anything that I couldn’t. But I needed someone else to see her, to experience the sight of her laying there feet up. I needed to share this experience with someone.

Since I had just, a week before, posted a picture of her first egg on facebook, I expected myself to post about her death. I got close. I even wrote the post. But I couldn’t publish.

What would people say? Condolences on your dead turkey. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to put people there – in that awkward situation of wanting to acknowledge the post, but not sure what to say about a dead animal who is usually dinner.

At that moment, I realized that being a farmer is a lot more complex than I appreciated. There are things we aren’t expected to feel. And if we feel them, we risk making people uncomfortable.

I mean, I’m shedding no tears over the chicken that’s thawing in my refrigerator for tonight’s dinner. I won’t ask for condolences as I enjoy my chicken and rice.So why Shirley? Am I less of a farmer for feeling something for her?

I think not. As emotional and feeling beings, we’re meant to feel something. That’s why so many of us give thanks before a meal – to acknowledge the fact that we’re consuming life.

When we make the conscious decision to let an animal into our life – when it ceases to be dinner and starts to be family – something changes inside us. We allow ourselves to connect at a deeper level.

I had done that with Shirley. I’ve also connected with our chickens Miracle and Owl – but not most of the rest. As with friends, there are just some spirits that touch us more than others.

And so as I say goodbye to my friend Shirley, I realize that even though my response to her passing may not be stereotypical of a farmer, I’m guessing it’s pretty common.

There are so many of us – and we each react to death a different way. I’ve realized that by sharing my loss, I’m becoming the farmer that I’m meant to be.

One thing is for certain; this daily walk among life and death is making me a better human. And by pausing to acknowledge the passing lives, I become a better farmer.

And though I won’t mourn the chicken as I sit down at my table tonight, I’ll give thanks for the life it left behind to become my dinner. I can eat and love at the same time.

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One Response
  1. Delanie says:

    thanks for writing this. I lost my Narragansett turkey hen Jenny tonight. She was only 6 months old. We were saving her for breeding stock along with our Bourbon Red tom Jake. I know it was respiratory failure that killed her, but don’t know why it developed. I think I can blame the crazy winter and the ups and downs of our temperatures but I’m not sure. Called and left a message for a vet that supposedly made house calls, but he never called back. I picked her up and carried her inside until I could bury her tomorrow. Couldn’t bear to leave her on the cold ground. Jake was gobbling the entire time. Hope he makes it. Jenny definitely got to me. Raised her from a baby. Loved to hear her peep, peep, peeps. She would follow me everywhere. So gentle. So pretty. I will miss you! Every untimely death on the farm gets to me. This one did especially.

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