The most difficult thing in regards to writing about grief is choosing one aspect of such a constant companion.
In my years I have grieved the loss of pets, a husband, parents, grandparents, close friends, a brother, stillborn children and relationships.
I have chosen to tell a story that has helped me cope with loss in a profound way, a way that only a child’s trust could have provided.
I grew up in the city and on weekends my father would take us back to the family farm where all manner of animals were raised.
Among my favorites were the dairy cattle.
There was something uniquely inviting about the smells in the dairy barns. The straw bedding, the sanitized milk house, the fermenting silage, the manure, the fresh sweet alfalfa hay all created a satisfying symphony for this starving city girl who daydreamed and longed for the country.
This particular memory began as usual.
We arrived at the farm and I ran straight to the barn where I knew there would be newborn calves.
It was that time of year.
I ran impatiently into the barn and saw my Uncle Willie hand milking a fresh cow in the stanchion nearest the door.
He looked my way, winked and twisted a teat to squirt pink milky liquid in a well-aimed streak down the front of my sweater.
I scooted past him giggling as I headed straight for the calf pen.
With my thumb on the latch I heard Uncle Willie’s voice telling me to ‘stay oughta there’.
I looked back over my shoulder and looked at his face holding his gaze, waiting for a reason.
He said ‘there’s a calf in there…dying’.
I continued to hold his gaze….pressed the thumb latch down …..
When he made no move to stop me I continued in closing the door slowly behind me.
There, lying in the knee deep clean straw lay a beautiful black and white Holstein bull calf. His breathing was quiet and shallow. His eyes were closed.
I sat down in the straw sticking my little legs in under his head cradling it in my lap.
For what seemed like eternity I sat quietly, lovingly stroking his face.
From time to time Uncle Willie would stop on his way past the stall to look in to see if I was okay….and I was. Just quietly loving the calf as its life slipped away….and when the life left the body….I was left with an incredible knowing….the knowing that I had been left with the jacket the calf used to wear.
I was no more than eight years old and I had been given the incredible gift of knowing that at the moment of ‘death’ there was a euphoria that rushed through me unlike anything I had ever known.
I was left wondering why I didn’t feel sad.
Instead I felt euphoric! A rush of happy!
I knew that life for the calf continued on …. Just without his jacket!
This knowing has helped me through so many tragedies.
It doesn’t mean that I haven’t grieved! It did however send me on a lifelong journey into the reasons grieving is necessary.
It is necessary for us to feel.
Grief is meant to be fully felt.
It is meant to be dived into wholeheartedly and expressed wholeheartedly in whatever way feels right in the moment.
I have grieved and I know full well I will grieve again just as I know I will feel joy, and love, and loneliness, and all the other things we are here to experience in our physical forms.