Butterbean, Sweet Pea, and Truffle stoically watching their fallen friend.
I squatted uncomfortably in the pasture. My left shin gently pressing on Rosebud’s back with the remainder of weight shifted to my right leg. My left hand disappeared into the coarse wool on her chest, above her heart. As I carefully caressed Rosebud’s face, the feathery sensation of her long eyelashes brushed against my hand as she opened and closed her eyes. Her heartbeat was faint.
Although Rosebud was still grazing and eating grain regularly, we recently noticed she had lost weight and seemed to be lying around more. She was nearly 12-years-old now–elderly for a sheep. However, even though a bit slower, she was always grazing with the flock and never missed an opportunity for a grain treat…until Wednesday morning.
After feeding the sheep, I walked back to the house, feeling my chest tighten and heaviness gather in my shoulders. Once inside, I picked up the phone and dialed our local vet’s office. A young girl answered, “Bedford Animal Hospital.” I was struck by the contrast of the cheerful, sunny voice at the other end of the line to the worried, grayness of my inner landscape. The receptionist informed me that the doctors’ schedules were full, and that no one would be available for a farm visit until the end of the day.
I decided to monitor Rosebud, keeping a close eye on her until the vet arrived. Late morning, after walking Dash and Bizou, I set off to the barn and pasture to look for Rosebud. She was grazing by the water. After watching her for a few minutes, I headed over to say hello to the chickens. It was now late afternoon–a gorgeous, blue sky day, and the sun shone warmly upon the empty pasture. Empty–because everyone was sleeping in the barn. I sat down in one of the gray Adirondack chairs near the cottage and soaked up the warmth. Everything seemed peaceful.
Around 5:00 pm, with the sun getting lower in the sky, I noticed the flock venturing into the fields behind the house. I counted sheep…all eleven were there. A while later, I made a cup of tea and was reviewing and making notes for changes regarding a website design, when I heard the kitchen door open abruptly.
Farmguy had just arrived home and shouted into the house, “There’s a sheep down in the field kicking its legs. I think it’s Rosie.” I jumped up and ran to the vestibule, grabbing my farm shoes on the way out the door. Hurrying toward the barn, I could see a mound of wool on the ground, Farmguy still in his dress work clothes, kneeling beside it.
As I closed in on the scene, I could see that it was Rosebud. She was agitated. We sat comforting her the best we could. Farmguy observed that Rosebud calmed down when he applied gentle pressure to her back as he petted her. After sitting together for a while calming her and grieving, I suggested that Farmguy go to the house and change clothes while I stayed in the pasture.
Leaving the house in such a rush, it slipped my mind to grab a jacket. As I sat hunched over Rosebud, carefully rubbing her face, I shivered from the cool evening air as well as emotion. My face was wet, and I desperately needed a tissue–but my sleeve would have to suffice. Even after having a farm for well over a decade and going through this with our other animals, it never gets easier.
I always feel the loss acutely. For me, our animals aren’t just livestock or pets, but a part of our daily experience–each a stitch in the fabric of our farm life. One of our original flock members, Rosebud has graced Green Hill Farm–enriching our lives and contributing to the joy and peacefulness of our home and to our wellbeing for nearly four thousand days. This sentient being has brought immeasurable joy and beauty to our lives, and I love her. I grieved the thought of her passing, and my mind dwelled on this as I sat alone–waiting.
Farmguy was back with a flashlight. The sheep were scattered around the field…watching. Rosebud started breathing heavier and kicking as Farmguy sat down. The aroma of lanolin wafted into the night air as we lovingly stroked her wool and spoke soothingly, “You’re okay, sweet girl. We love you.” She became quiet again.
It was dusk. The pasture was silent except for the faint sounds of sheep grazing and a few crickets in the nearby woods. The beautiful day had turned into a lovely evening; I looked up, noticing the flickering of stars beginning to appear in the night sky. I’d never been in the pasture so late, and a sense of peacefulness enveloped me as I swallowed back the sadness that had risen up just moments earlier.
Ironically, I felt grateful. Grateful for being in the presence of this wonderful creature’s last moments on earth. I thanked God that her last day had been such a pretty one, especially in light of the rainy weather we’ve experienced this fall. Also, I was glad I was home. If this had happened Tuesday evening, I would’ve been away, teaching a wine class until late; or, a few days later, and I would’ve been out of town. And, Rosebud would’ve died alone. I was happy that she was surrounded by love and wouldn’t have to suffer. I thought of her long, healthy life in a safe and bucolic setting, always well-cared for her entire eleven plus years, and I felt joy in that moment.
It had been over an hour since we found Rosebud. Bright lights finally appeared in the driveway. The vet had arrived. As Farmguy walked to the gate to meet her, I prayed to God for Rosebud’s peace and comfort and thanked Rosebud for making our lives better with her sweetness and beauty.
Here’s the thing:
Rosebud’s passing was sad, even heartbreaking. But, it was happening. Although I was powerless to stop it, I still had power over my perspective. Sitting on the cold ground with the cool, damp night enclosing around me. I turned toward the light of gratitude, choosing not to suffer. And, that was Rosebud’s lesson. In focusing on God’s mercy, love, and abundance, we are given the gift of peace.
A photo taken of Rosebud her first year on Green Hill Farm and later turned into a Christmas ornament.