A Grief Deferred



“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program…I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” –C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.


I lost a goat a few weeks ago. It is likely unwise to write this reflection at this moment. The pain of loss is too recent. Lacking appropriate distance, I’ll render this post more catharsis than measured exploration. So it goes[1].

“Devastated” is the closest word I can find to describe my feelings, but that word doesn’t quite capture it. Devastation, in this case, would seemingly imply irreparable harm to our farming project or at least the complete destruction of our goat herd. Thankfully, neither is the case. In eighteen months we’ve been through plenty, and the sense that tragedy could cause us to quit has long passed. But, this hurts.

We say, “they aren’t pets,” and that is true. They may not be pets, but you cannot help but to get attached. After all, why would we work so hard for so little if we did not genuinely love animals? We don’t love animals in the abstract, but direct this love towards particular individuals[2]. Every farmer I know has at least one of these stories: the sheep that you break the “no vets” rule for; the pig with some endearing quirk that you know you’ll miss come processing day; or the goat intended for sale or slaughter that you decide to keep for breeding instead. This will be the animal that gets sick or hurt, and Crystal was one of those animals. She did not fit into our farming ideology, but I got hopelessly attached. Not only did she kid twin does with magical consistency and produce lots of high quality milk, but she was a damn good mother and a steady herd leader. Sure, she seemed to need attention more than the others and had a frustrating appetite for hay over forage, but she was gentle and affectionate towards me. I, of course, am a pushover.

To capture the loss of one of these “special ones” is difficult. It is part grief at losing a vibrant, unique creature with which you’ve formed a bond, part guilt at failing to protect or heal her. Factor in the chaos of being forced to stray from a rigid routine to deal with the crisis, the need to protect the rest of the farm, and the cold, hard economic impact to the farm (and the shame at the realization of the importance of that reality), and you begin to form a coherent picture of this grief.

For me, though, the single most energy sapping and morale sucking aspect of this loss is the fact that I cannot grieve. Not now. The rest of the herd needs preventative medicine, and there are hundreds of mouths that must be fed. The farm does not grant personal leave. So, I’ll add “grieve” to my fall chore list, pick up a bucket of water and a bag of feed, and move about my business. You can cry and move fences simultaneously, the opinions of the loggers across the fence line be damned.

[1] Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

[2] I borrowed this language from Cornel West, who frequently makes this type of distinction.

50 replies on “A Grief Deferred”

Chris as a reader of vonnegutt from the time I was your age or younger; I appreciated your invocation of “and so it goes.” I recently foud some letters I wrote to my parents while I was a freshman in Knoxville. I was reading Vonnegut and peppering my letters with,”…and so it goes”

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