What We’ve Got to Know About Life … and Death (A Story from the Farm)

June 4, 2019 | 32 comments

Anna bursts through the back door, breathless and wide-eyed.

“Mom! Paige had her kittens, and we know it’s true because she’s not pregnant anymore, and because her belly is all skinny again. I felt it.”

She catches her breath and starts in again. “But we’ve looked all over, and we can’t find those babies anywhere, Mom. And can you please, please, pleeeeease help us find them?”

Anna has one hand on the door-knob, and her other hand brushes away strands of hair that escaped her ponytail. Her feet are tempted to run out the door ahead of her body.

I’m washing dishes, elbow-deep in hot sudsy water. But in the life of a farmer’s daughter, these are moments that demand a mother’s time-tested ability to find lost things. I put down the dish-cloth, slip on chore shoes, and follow after her.

Sure, this farm has birthed dozens of litters over the years. No matter. You never tire of a new life making its debut. It never gets old, witnessing the miracle of first breaths and eyes opening, that feeling of a tiny heartbeat thumping against yours, and ivory claws pin-pricking straight through a popsicle-stained tank top on a warm summer morning.

But first, to find the kittens …

We look in all the usual spots: behind hay bales, under old pallets, in that small space between the rocks. I shake my head, stumped. I notice how Paige follows us around the farm, as we treasure-hunt for her babies. She weaves through our legs, like she’s not certain where she ought to be. Like she’s completely lost.

Anna speaks the words I’m too scared to say: “They’re gone, Mom, aren’t they? The babies didn’t make it?”

I nod my head. “I think so, Anna.”

I assume that Paige, a young cat, didn’t carry her babies to term.

Anna’s shoulders droop, and we head back up the hill. Paige follows, at our heels.

This is one of the lessons of a farm, a lesson you can’t learn at school or from a book. It’s a lesson that must be lived, the one about life and death. Painful as it is, the girls learn it early and often, that to everything there really is a season.

All things come to die: all the things in the fields,
and in the barns.

And the people, too.  The people die: the people in the pews,
the nursing home,
the house up the road.

And knowing this early, I think, is a sort of gift: to view death not as a cruel spectre, but as an inevitable part of this journey on planet Earth.

Death reminds us what we believe deep within. That our earthly life isn’t so much a thing with a beginning and an end, but a fragile series of moments upon moments, leading toward a passageway. 

I put my hand on Anna’s back. We walk up the hill, home.

But then … the story isn’t over.

It’s days later when Anna again bursts through the back door, breathless and wide-eyed.

“Mom! You’ll never believe it, but Paige’s kitties … the flower pot … and Dad saw it, too! … And come quick … They’re sooooo cute!”

She doesn’t wait for me this time. The back door slams, rattling the wall hangings. The girl squeals all the way down the hill. I grab a camera, and jog after her.

And right there, in an empty old flower pot tucked away in the back of the shed — in a tall flower pot where beauty had bloomed skyward, season after season — we find a first-time mama and three tiny sets of eyes. All of them are open.

All of the eyes are open. 

And we peek over the rim of a flower pot, our own eyes opening again at the incredible miracle of being alive.

by | June 4, 2019 | 32 comments


  1. Cheryl Smith

    Oh, Jennifer! I’m so happy this story had a happy ending. How precious to know that, all along, God’s eyes were on the kittens, just as they are on the sparrows…and you….and me. God is good…all the time. Thankful your precious, little daughter’s hopes were not in vain. LOVED this story!

    • dukeslee

      Indeed! He cares for His creation, tending to it in the most beautiful ways. Thanks, Cheryl.

  2. sharon

    Oh my goodness! Talk about emotions! Congrats to Paige, and to the successful treasure hunt. Those babies are adorable! I just love baby animal stories. Yesterday and today, my husband and I have spotted a deer mommy with her baby. Tonight we had a visit from a different mom, we think, for she arrived with two babies. Oh, they’re so tiny! And it warmed my heart to see them nursing, and watching Mom lick and groom them.

    God’s creation is so wonderful. And yes, though death is an inescapable part of life – so is the miracle of birth!!


    • dukeslee

      Hi Sharon! We’ve got a mama and baby deer running back and forth across the waterway. They were having too much fun in our garden when we weren’t looking, so Scott had to put up a little fence around our plot.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  3. Sybil Brun

    So sweet, thank you for sharing!

    • dukeslee

      You are welcome, Sybil.

  4. A Little R & R

    Lovely pictures!!! Thank you for the link up!

    • dukeslee

      I appreciate your kind words. Thanks for linking!

  5. Anita

    Beautiful story and fantabulous photos :). I love your words about life being a series of moments…may we all take the time to enjoy and savor the moments.

  6. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    Oh Jennifer, you really got me with this one. So, will you be delivering that box of kittens in person or via air mail? 😉 I know you were writing about more than kittens, but you had me at – kittens. Seriously. But also, that life and death thing, yes – we have been rescuing bugs from spiderwebs lately, the one’s who are just barely caught, it seems to raise such a primally protective instinct in my kids and I. Happy fourth!

    • dukeslee

      We’ve got two different litters of kittens right now. These kittens are actually grown now, but we have two new ones this summer already! One of them had her three kittens on the deck, which has never happened before, and the other mama cat had her kittens in the fire pit, down by the garden — another new place. They are just opening their eyes, and we promised the girls they could hold them this morning.

  7. Amy Jung

    I’m so glad your story had this ending! Also glad for this: “That our earthly life isn’t so much a thing with a beginning and an end, but a fragile series of moments upon moments, leading toward a passageway. ” It brought comfort to my heart today….

    • dukeslee

      Morning, Amy … Yeah. It doesn’t always turn out quite like this, but we were pretty happy when we found those kittens, as you can imagine. The girls have gotten an early and up-close look of life and death here, where we live… And not just because of the farm part. But because of the people. Our lives are woven in with generations here. On Sundays, the people in the pew span four generations — the oldest being 91, and the youngest, 1 month old. … So the girls have experienced loss, and birth, and the circle of life many times already.

      • Amy Jung

        Sounds like a very rich life. I’m sure they are wise beyond their years because of these experiences. My husband is a pastor at a small country church with an age span the same as yours. It’s a beautiful mix of close relationships, the vibrancy of youth and the realities of age and death that adds so much depth to church life, learning and growing in our faith. Blessings to you and your family…

        • dukeslee

          I know there are great advantages to churches where the kids can be sent to Childrens Church, and the teens can hang with the teens, and the older folks can sort of huddle together in their own groups. And the middle-aged moms and dads can do the same. But in our little country church? We are intermingled. Ours is a dance of generations — a dance of strollers and walkers, of toddlers and seniors. It’s not always easy, because we dance differently. But it has a beauty of its own.

          • Amy Jung

            Yes…fumbling and tumbling…but a beauty of its own!

          • Lynn D. Morrissey

            Oh gosh, Jennifer, I so think it is best to have children remain in church and not be sent off to a version of their own. I know some people love Children’s Church, and I mean no criticism, but simply share my personal preference. In our church, half the time, children attend SS, while their parents attend church, and then they all go home. I wish it were not so. When Sheridan was an infant, we brought her right into the pew with us. I would hold her and point to the open hymnal, guiding my finger underneath the lyrics, so that one day she would learn to follow along for herself. Our baby heard the sonorous booming organ filling the sanctuary like the thunder of God, and she never flinched. She grew accustomed to it and to worshiping in the sanctuary. Granted, if she fussed, Michael (and not I! 🙂 took her out, so as not to disturb other worshipers; but I’m so glad that she learned from an early age to attend worship services with adults. I love how your church “does it”!

  8. Dawn

    I just had this discussion, though a bit different in nature, about the blessing of living on a farm (ok, mine is a mini-farm) with animals to gently (and sometimes not so gently) teach those hard lessons. Taking care of animals, losing them, looking for the new spring babies and reveling in the beauty of creation is such a gift to our children, it is a heritage to pass on.
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Rita

    Jennifer, you took me back 40+ years to the farm with this story. I was blessed to live on the farm my grandparents lived on (and could never figure out why people got excited to go to Grandma’s…wasn’t everyone’s just 50 yards away?) and hear her tell stories of love and loss over the years of her life on that 240 acres. I named every Hereford cow and calf, every bull we had, each cat, kitten, and dog. Occasionally, we had the odd pet – a crow, found after a funnel cloud brushed the tree tops and sent his home flying, named Sam, and three raccoons, aptly named, Peter, Paul & Mary (because it was the early 70’s) who came to us by way of another storm. Each animal special in its’ own way. I was the baby of our family and the 3rd girl for dad, which afforded me the opportunity to be outside more with him, because he wasn’t going to try for a boy and get FOUR girls. lol I was the “hunter of the kittens”, protector from the raccoons, arms and legs covered in scratches from taming those wild, barn creatures, girl….and yes, each time I would find a batch that I thought the momma had done such a great job hiding in between the hay bales, who had been found by something not nice, my heart broke and giant alligator tears would fall and I would ache inside. But then I would remember the words of my grandmother DeBoom. “Each of us is put here for a purpose and for a season of time.” The calf born in the spring that we named and loved will become something we will eat to sustain us. The pigs that we hear in the night clanking the metal feed lids will go to market and feed not just us, but others. The kittens that we love and play with can get sick and die. The person in the pew who you drew bunnies with during the sermon while you were small will leave you. Yes, we’re all here for a purpose and a season. I’m just thankful that we’ll all meet again in our permanent home. Thanks for the reminder of some amazing times on the farm….I think every child should have that opportunity. 🙂

  10. lindalouise

    This story comes on a morning after a long phone conversation with our daughter – still deeply grieving the loss of her husband, still coming to terms with a hurt that doesn’t seem to heal. We tell her it’s okay to grieve, that in time the hurt will be less and the memories sweet. These lessons – so difficult to process, and so we turn to Him for hope and comfort and peace.
    This is beautiful Jennifer.

  11. LeeAnne

    Hi Jennifer,

    FIrst of all, I love happy endings, so I’m really glad to read how the story ends.

    Second of all.


    It seems that I have linked up something that might offend Christian readers, though I am a Catholic myself and the contain itself is just about daily life. My link is number 13. A reader showed that to me by stating that the card with the f* word there is revolting. I do apologize if that has offended you or your readers, and please feel free to remove it if you choose to do so. As I explained in the beginning of the post after realizing that the birthday card might sound very rude to English speaking readers, English is not my first language, we don’t speak English in Indonesia, and it was an honest mistake when linking up to the sites where I usually share my writings. To a non-English speakers like me and my friends, the card was just a funny sentence to take pictures with.

    Visit me:
    LeeAnne, Style N Season

  12. Kim Adams Morgan

    This hit home for me growing up on a farm. I’ll never forget the excitement of waiting for new life and sad when life ended. Makes you appreciate every moment.

  13. Abigail Alleman

    This one took me right back to the farm…the days so far away now, it seems. Yes, there were early the lessons of loss. I remember each with a bit of a prick in my heart. But, it definitely did prepare me for what would come…too much loss to comprehend in some ways. As I look back, I think the greatest loss was when we had to say goodbye to the farm and what it meant to be family there…

    I think I’ve been trying to find my way back ever since. Thankful for chapters yet to be written and stories not yet finished…and always, always, for hope.

  14. LW Lindquist

    We have a new litter of strays under the deck. Send Anna on up here for them. 😉

  15. Bonnie Stafford

    You are so right about the blessing of learning at an early age how intermingled death is with life. Growing up in a small town, this was just a natural thing. When I was an adult and would hear someone say they had never been to a funeral, I thought, “What in the world?!” And I felt sorry for them, not having experienced mourning and celebrating the lives of the dear saints I was blessed to know growing up. All those people truly helped make me the person I am today.

    And of course I loved the kitten story !

  16. Pat Baer

    What a delightful story. I agree, it’s a gift to learn early how “to view death not as a cruel spectre, but as an inevitable part of this journey on planet Earth”. I’ll never forget the morning our 4yr old daughter discovered our family bunny had died during the night. After what seemed like hours of crying, rocking and prayer – she suddenly sat up and let us know she was finished crying and now wanted us to dig up the bunny so she could see it dead. We still laugh at the memory.

  17. Lynn D. Morrissey

    I think I missed a lot being a city girl. I’ve really never even visited farms. You bring yours to life, Jennifer, with your exquisite writing. And oh the lessons you teach us.I’m so glad that the kitty story had a happy ending, because I’ve been thinking much about death lately, with the loss of a beloved friend of mine. I greatly miss him. You would have liked him. He was a *prolific* poet (as in author of over 125 books), and he wrote over 12,000 poems. He had a way of capturing beauty at the tip of his pen, just like you do. He died on June 16th after a long and valliant battle against brain cancer. I can’t tell you how much he inspired me or how much I miss him–and will continue to. But his eyes have awoken on the other side. He was a Jew who had come to Christ in the last couple of years of his life, but his conversion was particularly manifest in this last year in the last book that he wrote–praises in verse to His God and Savior, Messiah. I rejoice greatly in the midst of deep sadness. I shall see my Lord, and I shall see my friend again.
    I’m so glad that Anna and you found those adorable felines, once hidden from sight. And I think somehow it’s a picture of how heaven will be: Suddenly our eyes will be opened, and we will be fully awake, and we will see loved ones long gone, once hidden from sight–but never really gone at all.
    Thank you for sharing so beautifully, dear Jennifer!
    Please give my love to Anna and tell her how happy I am for her!

  18. saltshakmk@msn.com

    Pet Peeve: Writing a heartfelt comment to you of numerous sentences and a slice of wit in response to a great story only to find that I must choose an ID before it posts, and when finally doing so, seeing the windows flicker and change, only to return me to the comments thread where – now you see my thumbnail ID but no comment! Gone! And, so too were the words that so fleetly flowed from my fingers in the moment.

    Sorry, Jennifer. I hate it when that happens. But, to be sure – loved your “tail” of the kitties who were thought dead but found to be risen, indeed – with eyes wide open. Great story laced with metaphors for meditations.

  19. Meredith Bernard

    A beautiful story of life…and I know the story well, also living on a farm. I’m glad my children are being exposed to the cycle of life and death, because there is so much to be gained from realizing life is a “series of moments in time, leading towards a passageway” as you say. Death hurts, but it’s necessary and a great reminder that once redeemed our souls never truly die. And you are also right on when you say the beauty of new life never gets old. Thank you for sharing this story and encouraging hearts with your words. <3

  20. JViola79

    Jennifer, I so loved this post – the words, the pictures, the feelings you brought out. Praying I can peek over the rim & see the miracle over my own rim! PS – those kitties are precious! Blessings!!

  21. Mindy Whipple

    “a fragile series of moments” so aptly said “leading to a passageway”. Having just lost a loved one we are in the throws of being reminded that this life is temporary, that there is another waiting. And though we grieve our loss it is temporary in the light of eternity…Loved the happy ending to your story : )



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