Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lulu In Our Hearts

Lulu died today.

Of all the aging animals on our farm that I daily expect to find dead, Lulu wasn't one of them.

In her younger days: Lulu in 2007
It was very unexpected. She was getting older, and she couldn't get around as well as she used to. She'd been experiencing some constipation this last week, but that was all, we thought. We certainly didn't think she was going to die from constipation. John called the veterinarian two days ago for advice, but they weren't a lot of help over the phone. I don't think we'll ever know what killed Lulu, but I do know we will miss her very, very much.
Lulu taking a cool dip on a hot summer day

I was outside this morning, and although I didn't look in on her, I did hear her give her usual morning grunt as I passed by and said good morning to her; but my dad went outside at Noon to give Lulu a banana (she loves bananas), and she was gone. Even though I heard Lulu grunt this morning, I think she died in her sleep. I don't think she was in any pain, just some discomfort, maybe, and that's a good thing, isn't it?
2009, at her heaviest, just after a Spring mud bath

Taking a walk across the yard
John adopted Lulu during his second marriage. It was the wife who wanted the cute little pot bellied piglet that had to be "formally" adopted; but it was John who fed her and took care of her as she grew, played with her, fell in love with her, and kept her when the wife left.

It's John who told me the story about Charlie, the chocolate lab puppy chasing the piglet around the house, and the piglet chasing Charlie; and John who calls Lulu "the best little foot warmer ever!" It's John who would scratch Lulu's belly and talk love to her, feed her chocolates as treats, and complain like all heck when Lulu waddled too slowly down the patio in front of him blocking his way.

Looking for a sunny spot on a winter day
The first time I met Lulu, she bit me. Well, she tried. Or maybe she was just trying to let me know that she was there, the primary "female" in John's life for several years before I showed up. She came up quietly behind me and nipped at my calf. I knew at that moment, when I jumped in surprise, that Lulu was sizing me up, and letting me know that she was no push over.

My family raised pigs when I was young. We raised them to resell or butcher, but invariably there would be a standout that we turned into a pet, if only for a little while. So, when I came to 5~Acre Farm, it was easy to accept Lulu as one of the "motley crew" of four-legged, independent personality creatures that John and I had gathered around us; one more grunting, begging yard-baby greeting me whenever I stepped out the back door.

Bedding down under the ramp at the back door
Lulu was easy to love. She trotted around the yard with the dogs, ate their food and hers, and loved a good scratch behind the ears. I could always count on her to relieve me of kitchen scraps, especially before we got the chickens. I'd often run out the back door with a special treat just for her. She'd grunt and complain in a high pitched squeal if I had to wake her, but it would drop to a low grunt as she sniffed the treat and gobbled it down in a "Gimme! Gimme!" style.
Winter sunbathing

I have many wonderful memories of Lulu... Lulu sunbathing, Lulu in the shade, Lulu in the kiddy pool, Lulu eating chocolate! But I have two favorite memories of Lulu. The first is from the fall of 2004, when we had a huge crop of grapes come in. It was the first year I started canning, and I began with the grapes. I did a batch of grape jam, several jars, and was planning on many more when I got a call from a family member who was having an emergency. I left two 5-gallon buckets of grapes untouched, and was gone for a week. When I returned, John had not done anything with the grapes. They were still sitting next to the fridge, filled with fruit flies! I took both buckets outside and decided to dump a good bit of them in Lulu's dish. Of course, Lulu dug right in, and really enjoyed those grapes. Later on, she was acting funny, waddling around, singing, and harassing the dogs. It took me a while to realize she was drunk! The grapes had fermented! The next morning she was pretty quiet and still. My guess, a nasty hangover!

Lulu, in better days, strolling through the yard
My second favorite memory of Lulu is also from the fall of 2004, Thanksgiving day. This one isn't a visual memory, it's more a memory experience. Before I share it with you though, I have to explain that in those days Lulu's favorite resting spot was right at the back door. Her large bulk filled the small space at the top of the ramp, always making it difficult to come and go through the back door. In the summertime, she stayed there because she could feel the cool air blowing out from under the door; and in the wintertime, it must have been the leaking heat that kept her there. In any event, Lulu, sprawled out at the back door, though frequently annoying, more often made for a good laugh when friends and family visited, being required to "just step over the pig" because the pig wasn't about to move!

Well, on that Thanksgiving day, the house was full of family visiting for the weekend, and I was in the kitchen juggling cooking responsibilities with several different conversations and a host of questions about where "this" or "that" was. My niece, 19 at the time, loved visiting, and loved all the animals. She'd gone outside to give out treats, I think, but I wasn't really aware of her activities until I heard Lulu at the back door, grunting and squealing, loud enough that it took my attention away from everyone else standing around me. The back door was open, and I hollered out to my niece to "just step over the pig" and come on in. Lulu was still squealing in a high pitch, and even higher than that came the high pitched squeal of my niece, "I can't get in!" Forever, this memory will remind me of the little brother in A Christmas Story, who, heavily bundled against the cold, falls down in the snow and squeals, "I can't get up!" My niece sounded just like that!

So memories of Lulu are all we have now.

Today John wrapped a strap around Lulu's back legs and drug her out of her bed under the back porch. It was John who managed to get her into a protected place away from flies and sniffing dogs until she can be buried; John who got on the phone and found someone with a backhoe who could come over tomorrow and dig a hole in our little pet cemetery, and John who cleared the cemetery of brush and small trees to make room for Lulu's place. Today, it was John who insisted on doing all these things by himself, because it was John (who has loved Lulu all these years), who yelled and screamed at himself for being so busy this week that he didn't see how serious Lulu's situation really was.

Death is something everyone has to deal with sooner or later. Perhaps losing a cherished pet when we are young is a good way to introduce us to the inevitable loss of a person we love. Some of us, while we are still young, are suddenly confronted with the death of someone close. Many of us are much older the first time we lose someone. In either case, it is an agonizingly raw experience that turns us inside out and shakes us to the core of our beliefs. Death changes us. It changes our whole perspective on life. It changes us because it steals our innocence, and it introduces us to our own mortality.

When someone we love dies, it really helps to know God, to have a relationship with Christ, faith. It gives us the assurance of something else on the other side, something better than we can imagine, better than we've known here. Faith gives us the hope of life continuing, maybe in another form, but continuing. It gives us the hope of reunion, not only with our God, but with all those who have gone before us, those we remember, and those we never met who are waiting patiently to meet us. Faith in God comforts us when nothing else can, and it is unfortunate that only those who have faith (even just a little bit) can understand why this is true. 

John and I have both experienced the loss of people close to us, and here at 5~Acre Farm, we have dealt with the loss of several pets. In the eight years since I came to the farm we've lost four of the six dogs I brought with me, and Popeye, my mom's Boston Terrier (I took care of him in his last year). I hospiced each of them as they grew old and sick, and I held each one in my arms, crying and telling them how much I loved them as the Veterinarian administered the final sleep. Besides the dogs, we've also lost June cat, Stars and Stripes (ferrets), Einstein the Polish rooster, the girls (three old hens), and various hens and roosters (to illness and predators).

On a farm, the lessons of life and death are inescapable. If you're paying attention, those lessons, along with the lesson of sowing and reaping, the lesson of time and seasons, and, yes, the lesson of "the circle of life" can teach you about much more than farming. These lessons can teach us about ourselves, about others, and about this world we are passing through.

I hope, wherever you are ~ on a farm, in the suburbs, in an apartment in the city ~ that you have the chance to do more than make it from one day to the next, in this maddening competition to just survive. I hope that you have the chance to observe and pay attention to the life lessons around you that, though universal, are uniquely constructed for you. I pray that when death imposes himself upon you through the loss of someone you love, that you will have the strength to survive the impact, and the faith to know that there is yet more to come beyond this life we now know.

Lulu's temporary resting place


  1. Thank you for sharing these memories. Bless your family in this time of goodbye. Sending love your way.

    1. You are so sweet Kathleen! Thank you. Lulu was special!