Coping with Loss, Farm Style

The kids on the farm have had a rough couple of weeks.

On Lily's birthday we had a new chick hatch out and Lily made a point of noting it was a Very Special Thing. "This'll never happen again ON MY BIRTHDAY!" She clapped, feeling the special bond already. And then... well, something happened to the sweet little chick. She fell out of the laying box and was likely trampled upon by the adult chickens. Mark gathered her up, brought her inside and thus started the process of trying to save a broken chick.

7 days: 6 ~ wounded chick

Lily named her Shimmer and spent days with the chick wrapped up, close to her heart, feeding it with a dropper and caring for it with all the ferocious love of a ten-year-old.

Chick care

The other girls did what they could to help, spelling Lily in her vigil and giving her what she needed to mother this wee ball of fluff. Lily took this recovery very seriously. And when the chick gave up her fight and passed away quietly while Lily was busy with something else, I watched my daughter break in half. The wail that came out of that child, the intense desire to flee her big feelings, her overwhelming sense of guilt and loss... it was heartbreaking.

And totally necessary.

Loss is part of life. We all know this. It feels like we too often try to separate our children from the reality of it, or from the sheer bigness of it. Here at the farm, we're trying to connect the kids to the bigness of it... trying to help them learn how to go through the process of grief in small situations because we know that larger ones are simply part of life. 

So we handed Lily an engraving tool and found a nice spot to bury the chick. Lily made the headstone and we all said goodbye.

saying goodbye


Fast forward to last Friday.


When Lorien and her family moved in, they brought with them the most beautiful dog, Sugar. Despite her advanced years, she was full of energy, a love bug, excellent at sneaking a kiss, and so very dear to those of us who got to know her. She was rescued from a gas station when she was wee, begging slim jims from passersby and so skinny she was about to disappear. She needed surgery for an abscess on her head and Lorien didn't intended to keep her. But Larry claimed her as his own. And they all fell in love with her.

On Friday, she came to the end of her journey with us all.

Nina was off at camp, due to return the next morning, and telling her was going to be the hardest thing any of us could imagine. Lily and Anya said their goodbyes to her while Larry dug a hole under the pine tree, Mark standing by with a light. "I've never seen her so still," Lily remarked. "Nina loved you, Sugar. We all did. Have a good sleep." And they cried for the loss, thinking of their friend and how she would feel when she came home tomorrow.

I sent the girls in to bed and walked down to offer my help digging the hole, but Mark put a hand out to stop me. "This is what Larry needs right now." And I could see how right he was, Larry working through his own grief physically. The soil at the farm is challenging - you hit solid pack only a couple feet down - so we gathered concrete blocks to place over the top while Larry went and got his dog, one last time.

Lorien contributed one of the balls Sugar loved to play fetch with and a ring from Nina's collection. Larry spoke the mourner's Kaddish under his breath and sat in stillness while we covered her over, earth and rock.

And when Nina came home, I heard that same howl of pain Lily let off, coming from her sweet broken heart. And just like with Lily, we handed Nina the engraving tool and Lily taught her how to make a headstone.

Nina, making Sugar's Headstone

We've learned that this simple act is so meditative for kids. For adults, too, but the children really find their peace in the process. And the love... dear God, the love. You can see it in every curve. Each word expresses their relationship, what was dear to that child about the loved one. It's beautiful to watch.

Headstone made by an 8yo. Rest in peace, sweet Sugar-Dog.

I am endlessly proud of our girls and how they are learning to deal with the world with such grace. It's not easy, saying goodbye. And while it never becomes easy, I do believe these moments teach us that you can get to the other side of grief. Otherwise, you might sink in and get lost.

This is other reason why we build community, of course. It took five adults (those of us who live at the farm and dear friend Mollie who came over as soon as she heard) to cope with burying a dog, physically and emotionally. It took two children to support the third child in her grief. It took a farm and a pine tree to hold Sugar in her final resting place. It takes community to get to the other side of most things and living here, we are lucky to have some of that community built right in. An even larger community is drawn to what we're doing here, supporting and celebrating each step with us. People like Mollie, they simply come to help bury a dog, to hold us in our sorrow, to dig out the chocolate and say, "Whatever you need. I'm right here."

I don't want to live, or eventually die, any other way.

Sugar's final resting place