A little more than a week ago we got another Jersey calf. This calf was not quite as strong as the first, but still we felt his condition was within our skills to treat and hopefully he would thrive.
The trouble with plans like these is that though we may have the head knowledge of what to do, we must realize that we are not fully in control of whether something lives or dies. The fragility of life is such a crushing realization. Though we know we are not immortal by any means, when death approaches, even in the life of an animal it still is such a crushing blow to the dream cloud we tend to live in day to day.
We all pretend that each day is there for us, good bad or otherwise. That it is our choice of what is to be accomplished. But the reality is that much of what happens in life is not within our grasp.
So, back to the calf. Because he was weaker to begin with, we began treating him as proactively as we knew how. All seemed to be going well. He was perking up and looking as if he would be o.k. We patted ourselves on the back at our skills to make something live. Gaining confidence in our bottle calf experiment.
Even Tuesday morning as I went to the barn everything seemed normal. He was even perkier than usual, busting past me out the stall door and high-tailing it for the door. I laughed at his spunk and rounded him back up. He ate well, and I left the barn confident that all was well.
Not a mere 12 hours later as the kids and I were unloading to head to Colton’s first 4-H meeting, I got the call from Kyle that the calf was really sick.
It had only been 12 hours! The speed of his deterioration astounded me and the gravity of what lay ahead began to settle on me. The kids willing reloaded into the van and we headed to the local farm store to gather supplies.
I was surprised by how quickly they seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. Not really asking questions. And the few that they did ask, before I could answer Colton bravely fielding the answers to their inquiries.
I was struck by the realization that for Alex and Addie this would quite possibly be their first real encounter with unexpected death. I remember well when we had to broach this subject when Colton was so young. I remember the slow methodical processing of my oldest son as another calf died despite all our efforts to save it.
As the hours stretched into days we had our hopes continually raised and dashed. Finally feeling that we could not let him suffer anymore, we made the hard decision that we would need to end his suffering. I dreaded the thought of explaining our reasoning to the kids. But, mercifully I didn’t have to, for he was gone before we could do anything else.
In the morning as we sat the kids down to tell them. I looked into huge expecting and hoping eyes of our younger children, with all the openness and expectation that the news would be good. I then looked into the eyes of our oldest. I could see he knew the reality before the words even left my mouth.
The explanation of the death always has a hollowness to it that I loathe. No matter how you phrase the words they are as empty as the carcass left behind. I could see that bit of emptiness in Colton’s eyes and my heart broke.
I remember my last words, “We did everything we could.” I waited for reactions and question’s. Instead my oldest wrapped his arms gently around me and uttered quietly, “I know.” His trust in that we had done whatever we could blessed me. I reflected over the past days. Thinking of how he willingly made sacrifices to help wherever he could in the house or with his sister and brother. Whatever we asked of him he did, so we could make frequent trips to the barn to tend to this calf. It occurred to me that he did everything he could as well. Never a complaint on his lips. Always understanding. Always willing. I am so grateful for him.
The younger two sat for a moment letting the news settle in. They sighed heavily at the thought of their little friend being gone. But, then after a mere moments pause were ready to tackle life again. I can see they know, but the gravity of death and what it means they are not ready to shoulder. I am thankful for that. I am thankful that we have the opportunity to try these things. To let them experience life and death, joy and sacrifice with the safety of our little home. I’m so thankful that we have the opportunity to try these experiments with raising animals, even when things don’t turn out the way we hope.
And we will try again… in time. For now we need to turn our attention to other impending arrivals. With a new sister due to arrive in a few short weeks this transition will become our focus. Buster our other calf will have to be content alone for a while longer. I think he will be fine with that. And we are thankful that he is thriving and full of life.
Not really what I wanted to be posting on Thanksgiving. But, this experience reminds me that we can still find gratitude, even in circumstances we would not expect it to be. That too is something to be grateful for.