Death is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about - even harder to talk to your kids about than sex! As Christians, we know where we are going, so we should not be afraid of death. Heaven is our eternal home with the King of kings, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Yet, we shy away from talking abut death, and teaching our children about it.
When you live on a farm, learning about death is inevitable on a annual basis. We harvest livestock every fall in order to feed ourselves, and to sell meat to our customers. We know when baby livestock are born, they will either be saved for breeding, be sold to others for their breeding herds, or be harvested. Harvesting livestock means death has to come first.
Pets are different than livestock. We hope they live a very long time, and so take very good care of them to insure a long life. Pets are NOT people, but they are special to our individual family members who have pets they care for as their own. Pets provide companionship and unconditional love - even more than humans provide sometimes! Our pets include: all of our horses, all of our dogs, and some of our rabbits. We do NOT have cats by choice - that is a whole blog post in itself!
Today, our precious 11y.o. daughter, Taryn, had to deal with animal death - her Catch-It rabbit from 3 years ago, died, probably as a result of old age. Some rabbits live a long time, some do not. 'Caramel' was a mini-lop, and they are often more short-lived than larger breeds.
She burst into tears as she came running into the house after morning livestock feeding, and blurted out that her rabbit had died. I hugged her, and just breathed with her as she processed her broken-heart.
Unlike modern America where parents seemingly protect kids from every emotional thing possible, our family lets our kids be exposed to the joys of birth, and heartbreak of death, among other things. In this way, they learn how life is precious, and how it is to be respected and treasured. If children can learn about these imprtant things while they are young - through taking care of animals - they will be more prepared to take care of humans when they grow to adulthood. In caring for baby rabbits, calves, chicks, lambs, piglets, and foals, they will be better equipped to care for their own children - understanding that mothers need to nurture their babies, and fathers need to provide. This is particularly important for adopted kids who were not cared for as infants. They feel and understand their loss, and can learn the hows and whys of appropriate parenting with animals. In caring for animals near death, they learn to comfort and make comfortable the suffering, preparing them for eventually caring for their aging parents, or others suffering through terminal illness.
Taryn learned a tough lessen today with Caramel. She also learned a great lesson as we were able to take Mikey the newborn calf outside to be with his mother highland cow, Mary Kate. He is warm, dry, vigorous, and nursing now - after spending the last 36 hours in the bathroom so he could be hand-fed and have electric heat to warm his nearly frozen body. The kids saw the attentive care that Dad gave the calf - stopping his work every 2 hours during the day, and getting up in the night several times to bottle feed the calf. They saw the improvement the calf made with consistent, tender care. These experiences are especially important for adopted kids whose birth parents did not care for them. They can acknowledge their own neglect, then learn how and what to do to care for their own children in the future.
Life and death lessons are a necessary part of living on this earth. I appreciate my kids learning these leassons 'hands-on' as I believe when my end of life comes, they will know how to lovingly care for me, and not just stick me somewhere so others can do the job that they should do. Parents should take care of their kids, so kids can take care of their parents. Not socially/politically correct, but God's plan for the family. And, learning via animal husbandry is a good place to start.