I have a friend with three children, a couple of dogs and cats, a coop full of chickens and a barn full of milk cows.
She has vetoed having any more children -or pets – or farm animals even – simply on the premise of what she describes as "holding too many hearts" in her hands.
So many souls in her charge. She couldn't handle even one more.
Because her heart can only bear so much worrying.
And while normally I'm of the more-is-better mentality when it comes to critters to share love with, I'm starting to understand her point.
Because every animal we say yes to we also will eventually say goodbye to.
Living here on the farm we've invited life and death deep inside.
It's part of the deal. Part of living this juicy, messy life that we've chosen.
I'm thankful for what that brings us.
But still. It's intense.
So far it's been fairly easy. Yes, we've lost a few hens, some chicks, a duck, and a couple of guinea hens.
We also watched a young bantam hen get broody and hatch out a clutch of six babies like magic.
And yes, we butchered 50 chickens in the fall.
And then there was a woodpecker who met his demise in our kitchen window.
On Friday we greeted both life and death with wide eyes and open aching hearts.
Lupine and I were in the chicken coop marveling at the giant hidden stash of duck eggs in the corner when we heard Pete's call.
"Lambs in the barn! Lambs in the barn!"
Our first ever, and a couple/few weeks earlier than we had thought they would come.
(The new flock we adopted arrived already bred with a very wide lambing date – January through March.)
We were all adrenaline, running top speed to the barn to see the newborns.
One lamb had become separated from it's mother in the night and was weak and cold.
I scooped him up and brought him inside when we was unable to nurse. All the while I was shaking with excitement and adrenaline as I whispered in his little ear, "Please don't die. Please don't die."
Thankfully he didn't.
His brother was just fine, staying with his mama in the barn and nursing contentedly away.
Of course, you know me well enough to know that I did (and still do) worry about him. It's in my in my bones.
I was born to worry. It's my gift.
And as we nursed that tiny black lamb back to health in the house, he lay by the heater on a blanket beside our ailing cat Dusky, sick since before Christmas.
She had started to come back around. For almost two weeks we thought she was better.
But on Thursday I started to think she was still sick, despite our and our vet's best efforts.
And then it happened.
So, so fast.
In an instant I saw her slipping away and called the children and Pete by her side.
Though it took less than a minute, we were all there with her.
We touched her, spoke to her and then let her spirit go as she died in our arms.
Maybe thirty seconds.
And she was gone.
Our family huddled together around her, crying. Confused. Angry. Heartbroken.
And yes, I am so thankful we were home.
Not at school. Or work. Or anywhere but here.
I'm thankful we were with her.
Speaking calming words, helping her along on her journey.
I am grateful that somehow I saw it coming and we could gather around her and say goodbye.
But for now our hearts are broken.
Dusky was just a baby. Not yet two years old.
A stray who adopted us a few weeks before we moved to the farm.
I've never been so enamored with a cat before.
This girl was all kinds of special.
As to why she died, the vets have no idea. We have no idea. We did everything we could and lost her just the same.
And Spike, our old man cat – an earless, cancer-riddled almost hairless Rex who's pushing 20 – hasn't left me alone since Friday afternoon.
He knows. He's holding that space.
And it's hard not to wonder why he's still here and she's already gone.
Things are more confusing when the come out of sequence.
I pulled the kids into the big bed for stories and snuggles on Friday night. There were lots of tears. Lots of confusion. Lots of grief.
And later as I lay down to sleep myself the tears came fast for me as well.
I wondered at how all this heartache helps any of us, as we cry ourselves to sleep.
But in my heart. I know.
Grief and death and goodbyes make us feel more deeply than we'd otherwise feel.
We're more alive, even in the heartbreak. On account of the heartbreak perhaps.
Because right now it feels like someone is standing on my heart. And that means I have loved, and said goodbye.
And the truth is I'll take this over self-preservation any day.
As for the lambs, both are still strong today.
The black lamb was rejected by his mama and went home with a friend on Friday who was eager for a ram for their farm and up for the challenge of a bottle lamb.
The other is hanging close to his mama, getting stronger every day.
And yes, so are we.
We are still grieving, but feeling stronger every day.
And now every morning as we go out to do farm chores, there is a different awareness in each of our hearts.
We know that today we might greet new life and we also might greet death.
It's just how it is.
Because life and death are always dancing together in that shadow space between here and there.
There are eight more pregnant ewes in the barn, plus one pregnant goat.
Maybe another sixteen? eighteen? babies yet to come.
And I doubt that will be our last worry over a struggling lamb this year.
Or our last bottle lamb this season.
Or, yes – come to think of it – our last goodbye.