Compared to my last post, which was a celebration of all things wonderful in regards to finding the love of my life, this post may seem a little macabre. Working on a farm means that we are responsible for creating life. We plant seeds and provide water and nutrients so that they may grow big and strong and plentiful. We feed, pamper, and nourish our livestock so that they will also grow big and strong (and tasty!). We are now well into spring, and life brims at every turn. Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, and our plants and animals are growing in leaps and bounds. This is amazing to witness and I am so thrilled to be a part of something so fundamental. There is, of course, a flip side to all of the energetic, tangible, vibrant life that abounds on the farm.
Death on the farm is not a rare occurrence. In the few months we have worked here we have become quite accustomed to several forms of death. Rodents die almost every day on the farm, some by our own hands. Even more succumb to Zephyr, whose favorite hobby is digging up their nests and toying with the young. Rats, mice, and rabbits have all met this fate (although the weasels are proving too smart for him!). We have also had more than a handful of chicken deaths. Some die as chicks for various reasons, whether they are sick, or too weak to fight for food, or they get crushed by the others when it’s cold. We have also had larger chickens die expectantly. But still…when it’s a chicken, it’s not so hard to get over.
A few weeks ago, we had to put down one of our pigs. She had only been in our custody for a few days, and was sickly from the beginning. We were fortunate in that we had not really formed any kind of bond with her yet, but still. A pig is an intelligent creature, and pulling the trigger is no easy feat. And yet, all five living pigs are destined for slaughter. (I will have to come to terms with this, especially since I plan on eating some of the delicious pork I had a hand in raising!) And today a lovable little calf named Lucy died. She was bottle fed and hand-raised by Eric’s twelve-year-old son, and it was incredibly difficult to see him struggle and mourn this loss. Unfortunately this is a big part of creating life. Every living creature must die, and sometimes they die when we do not want them to.
All of the death on the farm makes me think about my own mortality, and how we as humans cope with this. Scratch that. We as Americans (or other Westerners). We have, in my opinion, a seriously messed up perspective on death in this country. We push it away and ignore it all our lives, until BAM there it is, in the form of a lost loved one. We avoid thinking about death. We avoid participation in any death rites (let the funeral home and undertakers deal with that!). Most of us avoid preparing for death unless we are given a prognosis and we know our time is limited. With all of this avoidance, it’s no wonder death is such a tragedy to us. We are slammed with the emotions all at once, and at the same time are stuck dealing with the logistics of planning, and paying exorbitantly, for a funeral. There is no real closure in this process either, other than maybe throwing a handful of dirt into a grave and walking away.
When I was just out of high school one of my equally young friends passed away. His family wanted some kind of closure, so they requested to watch his coffin be buried completely. This, unfortunately, was performed by a backhoe. You can imagine how traumatic it was for us all to watch noisy, heavy machinery bury our friend in the earth. In other cultures family is directly involved in the funeral rites. In India, Hindu family members bathe, clothe, and arrange the body of their loved ones before they perform the cremation themselves, in a specific way according to custom. This seems much more logical to me. It allows the family to grieve over the body, and be personally connected to the process of letting go.
Recently I was listening to a podcast in which a cool, young mortician was interviewed. She has established something called the Order of the Good Death, which was created in response to the screwy Western cultural fears about death. Here is a link to their mission: http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/category/mission
I cannot say that I am “mightier than thou” when it comes to matters of death. I have not delved deeply enough into this topic to have completely resolved my fears and anxieties…after all cultural knowledge is hard to unlearn. I am excited to know that there are potential options out there that do include more direct involvement with the death of loved ones, and I am hoping to expand my knowledge on the subject over time.
In the meantime I do know that I would like a “green burial,” where my body can be placed into the ground, uninhibited by concrete or polished wood. Matter is matter is matter…my energy is neither created nor destroyed but merely transferred. Let those worms use me to create new life! Who knows, maybe someday my energy will wind up feeding the spinach that finds its way onto your plate. What could be more significant than participating directly in the great Circle of Life?
I’m curious to know about your thoughts: please share in the comments!