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Too young too soon
the grief and joy of being a pet's mother
It’s a week to the day since this precious pet of mine died.
And it’s been a very long week visiting each of the stages of grief - many times over.
But these past two days I seem to have settled into reverence and now feel ready to pay my public respects to this delightful creature we officially named Howie, who was affectionately and often called to from across the paddock by me as My Pumpkin.
It was such a shock - the news from our beautiful neighbour next door where Howie and our other sheep were temporarily staying while our paddocks were seeding. It was a sudden and sharp slide we think, his delicate constitution unable to withstand another green and cold Bendigo winter.
He was special from the moment he was born back on the 20th of July 2021. I came home from a morning at my volunteer job in town, anxious to check if there was any baby news and there he was - this oddly coated black and white runt standing near his proud and protective mother on a cold and windy Tuesday afternoon.
I soon discovered he had a twin - a much bigger snow white brother that lay angelic-like but dead at the birth site. Tears of sadness and joy fell that day and I prayed hard that night that this teeny tiny lamb would make it to see tomorrow.
Relief! And a surge of joy all over again when I saw him alive and well the next day. He made it through his first cold winter’s night, and every night until his last, last Saturday.
For months we coaxed him and his mother into our unused fox-safe chook-pen to sleep free of fear and then each morning they were free to roam in ‘Chook-pen Paddock’.
This daily ritual was such an important job to me - I felt a fierce protection for this wee lamb that was lucky to be alive. My affection for him was obvious, and even though I’d given myself the title of Lamb-Maa (thinking I was a lamb’s grandma) I knew I was more like a mother to him and he was more like my fourth born.
Side note and just to clarify the four equals two human children I gave birth to who are now young adults as first and second born, followed by Harvey our Spoodle who’s 11 and like my third child, and then my beloved Howie, is the fourth.
This arrangement suited me just fine - I mean who was I to argue with the truth - that this divine little guy had bleated his way into my heart - not just because he had survived against all odds, but because he was such an affectionate, sensitive and loving lamb.
It wasn’t until he weaned off his mother that we realised another aspect of his sensitivity - he couldn’t digest grass! He and I had become close, but we were more in-synch than first thought with me having food sensitivities of my own - the difference was he had the runs 24/7 while I had, well, the complete opposite : /
My compassion for this odd-looking tender-hearted Suffolk-hybrid sheep grew with everyday. He looked nothing like his extended family - probably because his father was his older big brother (didn’t happen on our watch! - it was before we took over the property).
But that was one of the things I loved about him - he was such a unique looking creature.
Often times I would watch the flock doing their thing in the paddock and marvel at his one-of-a-kind coat. He was no black sheep to me or to look at! But I sensed he was every bit a black sheep on the inside.
Shazam - another thing I could relate to. But I also loved how different he was to the others. And without knowing it, he was showing me how important it was to own my own uniqueness and wear it with pride.
As the months wore on it became clear that he was indeed very sensitive in the best possible way.
Not long after he was born I went into a bit of a what-is-my-purpose-and-where-is-my-joy hole that took me 18 months to climb out of.
Every day I would walk down to the paddock fence and say out loud, “Where’s my Pumpkin?” And he would see me and ‘baa’ back and then, even if he was a hundred metres away, would saunter over and stand in front of me and then beside me, and stay with me for as long as he could - and as long the pats would last.
And he would look at me with those big brown caring eyes and shine love and compassion into mine.
All the times I was fed up with humans being human and humans hurting humans; all the times I couldn’t stand to feel the enormity of the suffering I felt for the humans I couldn’t help; and all the times I was in my own pain and struggle with my gut and my own difficulty being human - Howie was there. For all of it.
No wonder I fell to the floor when I was told he had died. No wonder I cried for hours that fateful Sunday as we carried him back to our paddock - his home - and dug the hole he would rest in. No wonder I stood there unable to speak at the foot of his grave. And no wonder I still weep when I remember My Pumpkin is no longer.
This sheep was like no other sheep, and no other pet I’ve ever had (sorry Harvey). He was a one in a million. A gift from God I’m sure. A treasure that I will for all my days treasure.
As I said to my friend on the phone that Sunday, he was unconditional love covered in wool.
And if you’re a mother of a pet or have laid one to rest, then you know what I’m speaking of.
On this Mother’s Day I want to say how blessed we are as mother’s of pets to be the receivers of such joy and such love and such unconditional acceptance.
What a gift it is to be the custodian of those that are not human - the furry and the feathery and the hairy and the scaly and the woolly - for these are the ones who will teach us and show us how to be the best human we can be.
Now when I say “Where’s my Pumpkin?” - the words I have said almost everyday for 18 months - I am teary but I bring my hand to my heart, knowing he is in there and know that his kindness and compassion and love and beauty will continue to comfort me and inspire me.
Thank you for all the love Howie - and for being beautiful you xo
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