Last spring, my uncle Neal told me calving was his favorite time of year because,
“it’s a new beginning. Things aren’t always good. Sometimes, bad stuff goes down. But, seeing those baby calves hit the ground reminds me there’s always a new day, a new start, and always something to be grateful for.”
I took his words back then, turned them into a story regarding his recognition as my home county’s livestock producer of the year, and filed them neatly away.
He got some ribbing after my story printed as family asked when they got to meet that sentimental guy I wrote about. He took the jabs with his middle finger and a crooked grin, but he tolerated the fun.
In retrospect, I realize that hard-headed, soft-hearted man I feared as a child and respected as an adult was leaving our family a reminder not to get lost in the sorrow of death but to live in the hope of life.
After our spring interview, Neal went fishing with friends, watched his babies hit the ground, and spent time with family. We enjoyed the state fair and picked show calves. He celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and he led one helluva annual pheasant hunt.
By late October, the cancer he’d been battling quietly refused to stay silent any longer, and what we all had felt somewhere in our souls became a clear reality—his battle wouldn’t be won by doctors and medicine.
True to his character, he held strong for his 62nd birthday party, complete with Crown and pizza, in his hospital room. He stayed the course through Thanksgiving and two of his daughter’s birthdays. He fought to celebrate a final Christmas.
Then, just after most of our family wished me a happy birthday on New Year’s morning, he found peace and triumphantly started 2016 with eternal life in heaven.
Queen Elizabeth II once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
I suppose she’s right but must admit I think grief is a terrible price. I’d prefer to think of love as a gift free to everyone, but I learned long ago nothing comes without cost. But grief? Really? It’s a complex, often ugly, receipt left behind for us to hold when something or someone we love is gone.
The worst parts of grief to me though are that:
- no part of it is the same for any two people, and
- there are no right ways to experience it.
I like rules. Though I enjoy a gray sweater in my closet, I prefer black and white examples of how life should be done. Unfortunately, those black and white rules don’t really exist for anything, and if anyone taught me that, it was my colorful uncle.
If anyone besides my family is still reading, thank you. I know the New Year is about joyfully celebrating new beginnings, and I’ve been quite the Debbie Downer. I also know the down part of life is just as real as the up.
It’d be easy to gloss over the hard stuff, to share only the beauty of life’s roses. But, I think that happens too often in some ways. Sure, the roses are gorgeous, and we should enjoy them fully. It’s important to clip them off, to cherish them in a vase or a picture, to gush over their beauty.
I think it’s just as important though to feel the pain of a rose’s thorn, to watch it die.
None of us is impervious to death. Especially in the livestock industry, we deal with it routinely and must find a way to move past loss in order to keep going each day. That’s why calving season or a new year is such a gift.
We can take all the grief from all the days before, and—even if only for a minute—we can let the promise of a new start wash it all away.
I don’t know what the new year holds for you, but I do know at some point you will grieve. Maybe it won’t be life-changing, soul-numbing grief, but grief will happen just the same. That’s life, and grief is part of our human affliction.
I also can’t tell you how to handle the grief you feel. It will be yours and yours alone. All I know for certain is that you must allow yourself to feel it for if you don’t there’s no way to really and full love all that surrounds you.
May the smiles you share in 2016 be the light needed to cast rainbows through all your tears!