Growing up on the farm, we learn about loss early. Unfortunately, we live longer than most of our animals and eventually we are faced with their demise. Some of these losses hit harder than others, as they should. The small kinds of loss are easier, a baby chick that fails to thrive, a dead frog, a crushed raccoon, and other losses go down harder, the loss of a nearly finished steer, of an old horse, of a person from the community. Nothing ever prepares you for loss, not all the reading or all the animal death you can stomach. It still just hurts like hell and that’s the only way through it.

This month around our place we have had a grievous loss: my best friend’s mom, Joan Turner. After an entire lifetime of friendship, it doesn’t seem right or fair to write about anything else. So this column is dedicated to Joan. You lived it up while you were here and no one who ever met you could ever forget your vibrancy.

Joan was a wonderful person, the kind who gave more than she demanded, with a unique brand of humor and a laugh as big as her soul. To say she lived life with a child-like wonder, raw enthusiasm, and enjoyment sounds condescending, but she managed to hang on to that sense of innocent fun that so many of us lose early and that ever kept her from caring for her family and mothering all of us who she considered family. She could have fun with the best of us. On her way home from drug rehab, one hundred and five days drug-free and exploding with her enthusiasm for a better life, she was killed in an auto accident.

Joan was fifty-four. Her first grand-child, and main drive to her sobriety, was only four months old.

These are the things you don’t learn from books, but only from living. Joan left us with a lot to think about, the little things that make life worth living, and should be done often. Life is too short not to enjoy every moment.

  • Chew bubblegum.
  • Have a bonfire.
  • Walk barefoot in the grass.
  • Don’t let substances get in the way of family.
  • If you have to get drunk at your mother’s wake, have someone sober to explain to the cop.
  • Don’t put things off – books, friends, or laughing. And do them often. Live fully and well.
  • Do what makes your heart swell with happiness every day. We don’t know when that heart, no matter how big, will stop.
  • Stay up late enough to read under the covers.
  • Get up early to drink coffee and watch the sun rise, whether it’s with your lover, spouse, best friend, or by yourself.
  • Laugh until you cry or puke or both. Make your stomach hurt.
  • Eat your veggies.
  • Exercise.
  • Wear sexy lingerie and old jeans.
  • Cry. Yes, cry.
  • Sleep with a stuffed animal.
  • Cuddle with a dog. Even if he smells.
  • Raise herbs.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Pet a cow.
  • Love everybody, unless they really don’t deserve it.
  • Read a book on the toolbox of your truck with the cows grazing nearby on a quiet summer evening and love every minute of it. Soak it all in.

Good friends cannot be bought or sold. They’re there for you if you need a place to hide for awhile, even if it’s been years. Where you give one another the space to be who you are and accept each other, no matter what.

Joan’s loss will be felt through the years. Her granddaughter will have a plethora of stories about her grandmother’s zaniness and integrity, but that’s not the same. The best we can do in the face of loss, whether it be a death, a divorce, or any other tragedy, is to comfort one another and know that no matter what, like Joan, as good friends, we will always take care of one another.

Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth in alternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or http://barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.com where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.