Clinging to joy on the journey through life and death
Farmers, whose lives revolve around the birth and death of plants and animals, are intimately connected to the cycle of life.
I have mixed emotions when March rolls around.
Both one of the worst and one of the best experiences of my life occurred during Marches that were four years apart. My brother, Richard died at age 40 on March 31, 1993, and four years later, on March 18, 1997, my first-born son, whom we named Brendan Richard, arrived.
Thirty years after Richard died I still greatly miss him.
As anyone who has lost someone knows, grief isn’t put away in an enclosed box never to be opened. Certain songs, a memory or an event can trigger sadness. My eyes welled up the other day when I was at a farm show and thought about all of the shows at which I had seen my farmer brother when I was reporting on presentations, and he was listening to them to gain new insight for the upcoming growing season.
In contrast, my heart bursts with happiness when I think about Brendan’s upcoming birthday when he will turn 26. We are proud of our faith-filled, thoughtful and compassionate son and excited that he will be married on May 20, 2023, to Kasey, a woman who shares the same qualities. Brendan has greatly enriched our lives and any tears that I’ve shed about him over the years have been ones of joy, not of sorrow.
I’ve been thinking about the end of Richard’s life and the beginning of Brendan’s journey through it, and how they are similar to winter, which officially ends March 19, and spring, which begins March 20.
The obvious similarity is that life on earth, in whatever form it takes, is born and later dies. For months, most of the frozen northern Plains ground has been under a blanket of snow and the plants that had covered it are either dead or dormant. Animals are in hibernation or burning calories to stay warm in the bitter cold.
But in March, despite the cold and snow, there are sure signs of the renewal of the earth in the form of willow tree branches turning golden, dripping icicles and newborn calves and lambs.
Farmers, whose lives revolve around the birth and death of plants and animals, are intimately connected to that cycle of life. They nurture their plants and livestock to the best of their abilities during their seasons of life, watch them die, and then start over again.
A shamrock plant, for me, beautifully demonstrates the cycle of life in a physical way. The plant was given to Richard by Kate, a good friend of his. The plant was then gifted to me after his death.
The plant was special from the beginning because Kate and Richard shared a friendship borne, in part, of their shared admiration of their Irish heritage. The shamrock plant represented that bond and also Kate’s thoughtfulness in recognizing how much it would mean to Richard.
During the past 30 years since I have had the plant, it has died a few times and come back to life. Several years ago, for example, one of our cats chewed up the plant until only a couple of stems remained.
I had nowhere to put the shamrock to keep it away from the cat, so I gave it to Rona, a close friend of mine who worked at the Grand Forks Herald. Her office desk was near a window, and the shamrock plant revived and thrived in the sunlight.
When Rona moved to another state a few years later, she gave the plant back to me. Despite my best effort to keep it away from the cat, she found it and again chewed it, this time leaving no stems.
Knowing how well the plant had recovered the first time its foliage had been chewed, my daughter, Ellen, and I dug up the corms and replanted them in a new container filled with fertile potting soil.
The corms sprouted, and the plant grew. The cat and plant have remained separated since the last chewing incident and my shamrock is thriving.
The shamrock plant provides physical proof of death and life and emotional and spiritual evidence of the strong bonds of friendship and family that aren’t separated when our earthly journey is finished.
Most importantly, my Catholic Christian faith assures me that death will end when our Earthly journey ceases, leaving only life in heaven which will be made up of joy “eye has not seen nor ear heard.” Believing that carries me through the emotional ups and downs of March and those that will challenge me for the remainder of my days.
Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, N.D., that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or firstname.lastname@example.org.