Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘death

Unpleasant Reality

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Today’s post is one I don’t really want to be writing, but it’s the story to be told. The ever-present risk of free ranging our chickens played out yesterday afternoon between the hours of 2 and 4 o’clock. We had stepped back into the house to dry off from hours of being out in the rain or slogging away on tasks in the barn.

An unidentified foe or foes, invisible like the ghost of almost every previous such incident we have experienced, attacked our chickens and left us down four hens. A fifth, the old Buff Orpington, was injured and cowering in one of the corners under the barn overhang.

Two of the Light Brahmas stood around her, appearing to offer both comfort and protection. The wide spread of locations where bursts of feathers revealed shadows of the violence that occurred presented a complicated picture of how this incident must have played out.P4090007e

Near the coop, two or three eruptions of feathers. On the other side of the back pasture fence near the round pen, two more, all looking like feathers of a Domestique and the only New Hampshire hen. Near the barn, another Domestique. In the middle of the large paddock, it looked like Buff’s feathers.

Way over on the far side of the barn and around the hay shed, up onto the pavement of the driveway, one more Domestique.

Cyndie picked up the Buff and placed her in a safe space in the barn. There was some blood from her injury. The hen accepted some water with supplemental iron and enzymes. She survived the night, but when Cyndie checked on her this morning, it was obvious she was in distress. While grasping with the difficult decision to end the Buff’s suffering, Cyndie ended up witnessing the sight of the hen’s final spasm of death.

We are down five hens, leaving eight survivors and Rocky. There is no way of knowing what our new rooster may have achieved during the fracas, but one version is that he saved eight. In fact, it’s possible he kept the Buff from being killed and carried away, which is interesting to contemplate since he was usually busy trying to excommunicate her from the group whenever possible.

P4090001eHe shows no evidence of having any of his feathers ruffled. The attacker(s) left behind the fully intact body of the New Hampshire, which means the only missing bodies are the three Domestiques. It is hard to imagine it was a lone fox carrying these three off from such a wide span of distances. Much more understandable if we envision two or three coyotes.

We know coyotes exist in the area, but in all our years here, I have yet to see even one roaming on our land. Even when predators pay us a visit in broad daylight, they remain unseen ghosts for me.

We are granted the privilege of living with whichever chickens they allow us to keep. We still have one hen of the Domestique breed left. While the surviving chickens were wandering around later in the day, I noticed that Domestique trailing far behind the rest of the group.

Poor thing probably wonders where her mates had gone. I was thinking she probably shouldn’t stray far from Rocky’s side. Her breed appears to be a favored one for the local marauders.



Restorative Return

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We slept in our own bed again last night. It had been almost a week since Delilah had seen Cyndie and the reunion aligned entirely with the hypothesis that dogs perceive absence to be the equivalent of death and if a pack-mate returns, it is a miracle.

Cyndie reported that her gardens looked so thirsty for water that a few plants appeared within inches of demise. The labyrinth is a jungle. That will be our first project this morning. It deserves a double-team effort. I hope to get the rest of the grass mowed before predicted afternoon thunderstorms.

One highlight of yesterday was a call from our log home company announcing their plan to arrive tomorrow to begin preparing to reseal our logs.

Thank goodness.

We have seized the moment to eat breakfast in bed, catch up with our online accounts, and take in some favorite Sunday morning TV before setting out on our labors of the day.

Both the obituary and feature article for Cyndie’s dad made it into the Sunday StarTribune newspaper and she and her brothers continue their efforts to fill in the pages of the memorial website for Fred.



The beginning of life-after-Fred is unfolding with not-unexpected fits and starts, but we are underway as best as we are able. Not doing too bad, if I do say so myself.



Written by johnwhays

June 28, 2020 at 9:17 am

Final Donation

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Some people are uncomfortable focusing on death before that grim reality is unavoidably forced upon them. I don’t have that problem, although I will admit to a passing curiosity over the risk of “thinking” something so fatal into occurring.

The end of life subject has come up for me enough times recently that I have now chosen to take action to put in place a plan for my body when I die. Thanks to my sister, Judy, I learned that donating my body to science provides a no cost option for cremation.

I interpret that as a bonus to the even more valuable service of contributing to the advancement of medicine by donating my body for science after I am no longer living in it.

Making a whole body donation is one of the most compassionate funeral alternatives available. When you donate your body to science, Science Care can eliminate and cover all of the costs. With the rising costs of living and final arrangements, whole body donation can be a real blessing not only for medical researchers but for family members.


After a quick internet search for information, I chose to register with Science Care. Having already opted to be an organ donor when getting my driver’s license renewed, it was nice to see that Science Care is prepared to work together with other organizations to fulfill both possibilities.

It all happens in a sequence.

The last step in the registration for donation is to inform my family so that they will be aware of my wishes and know who to contact at the time of my death. What better way than right here in this space. So, Cyndie, kids, and my siblings, take note.

When I say I want to donate my body to science, it’s not just idle talk. I mean it.

And, I have taken the steps to facilitate that process, just in case I don’t live long enough that science will have finally perfected that suspended animation thing where our bodies are kept alive until some future generation has mastered a way to stay healthy forever.



Written by johnwhays

July 22, 2018 at 6:00 am

Relative Sadness

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There is an aspect of grief that I visualize as wrestling an octopus. You can be engaged in the action for an immeasurable amount of time without ever having a clue if you’ve come close to pinning his shoulders to the mat.

Where the heck are octopus shoulders, anyway?

I’d love for nothing more than to have an official slapping their hand down to declare the match complete, or at least to call time on the end of a round. The clock never runs out though, and the round goes on endlessly while grief and I just keep wrestling and wrestling.

It occurred to me yesterday that I was somewhat unconsciously avoiding going out to the barn since last Sunday when Legacy’s life ended there. It’s a struggle, because I normally find great comfort in standing among the horses, but there is currently a profound disturbance of energy here. I’m feeling little capacity toward consoling our other horses and even less confidence in my ability to contain my own sorrow while in their midst.

Between the understandable waves of tearful sadness, there remain the troughs of intangible gloom. I recognize that space well.

It defined the bulk of my adolescent and early adult life, which was shrouded by dysthymia.

At least now I am armed with much greater knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of these mental squalls, and I recognize the current grief casting a pall over our lives is completely situational. There is unending love cradling our sorrow and it is nurturing our healing and growth.

After Cyndie and I walked Delilah around the property yesterday afternoon, we all ventured to the barn to look in on the horses.

I worry they might be feeling neglected after the intense attention paid to Legacy, and then his sudden departure followed by this incredible void.

They seem to me to be in a state of shock. All we can do for each other is vibrate our energy of sorrow and loss.

I’m not crying; you’re crying.

Dezirea actually stepped away from me, as if she couldn’t handle my grief. Hunter and Cayenne tolerated my attempts to give them some loving scratches, but I didn’t get a sense that either of the three of us felt much solace out of the exchange.

Cyndie spent a little more time with Dezirea. I think Dezi seems particularly sad. I am wondering if she is feeling some stress over the possibility she will inherit the ultimate responsibility of a leadership role, being the elder mare. It could just as easily be filled by any one of them, or maybe they will devise a perfect balance of power across all three.

It’s just that the four horses that were organized into a little herd over five years ago worked out so tremendously. They were a band. An ever-shifting combination of two sets of two. It was incredibly, preciously perfect.

Beyond our ability to fully appreciate when they first arrived.

Now they’ll never be able to get the band back together again…


Aww, here comes another slippery hold from that octopus, dagnabbit.




Written by johnwhays

January 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

Remembering Legacy

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He was a consummate leader, our Legacy. He arrived to our care in September of 2013, master of this group of 3 chestnuts with which he had been matched. We quickly came to recognize his gracious control of the herd as their benevolent dictator.

In the last couple of months we noticed signs something might be up, hints that maybe he was aware the end was near.

Yesterday morning, Cyndie found him in very bad shape out in the pasture. He had been so uncomfortable he had wrangled out of his blanket, and thus ended up matted with balls of iced-up snow.

Whatever was causing him pain, it was now exacerbated by his nearly freezing in the overnight sub-zero cold. Cyndie was able to get him up and walking back into the paddock before coming to get me and contact our vet. Legacy was heroic about letting us attempt to get him warmed up and responding to some meds, but his age, and condition, and the cold all conspired to keep the interventions short of being able to extend his time.

After a couple of hours waiting to see if he would feel better, his behavior was very clear. The vet returned and gently guided us through the process of helping Legacy through this transition.

Before the vet arrived, we had walked Legacy out of the paddock to open space in front of the barn. He was pawing the ground in response to pain and so Cyndie walked him to pass the time. He did really well for a brief span, but then picked a perfect spot to stop and calmly lay down.

He curled his legs underneath him and sat quietly, no longer needing to paw in pain. He accepted our hugs and condolences and patiently awaited what was to come.

When the truck pulled up, Legacy laid his head down, as if fully aware of what came next.

His amazing spirit is threaded indelibly throughout every single aspect of Wintervale Ranch, right down to the outline of his face in our logo. There are so many amazing, beautiful memories we have and hold of his time with us. He is irreplaceable and we will be challenged to figure out how to manage the days ahead, guiding Dezirea, Cayenne, and Hunter through their grief, while struggling to cope with our own.

Thank you to all of you who are supporting us with your love and kind condolences. Send our horses love. They are visibly disturbed by his departure, yet they mustered strength to provide some loving equine understanding to Cyndie as the vet drove away.

Legacy, (7/18/1996-1/14/2018), we send you off with all the love you fostered here, and more. May your spirit soar!



Written by johnwhays

January 15, 2018 at 7:00 am

Emotional Connection

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People die every day. On the grand scale, it’s too much to comprehend, so when we aren’t aware of specific incidents, we tend to remain oblivious. When it happens to people we know, the news suddenly hits home. But what about when it happens within close proximity to us, but to someone we don’t know?

On the way home from work yesterday, just as I got on the highway, an electronic sign overhead warned of an accident creating a traffic delay. I see enough of them to expect the typical couple of vehicles on the shoulder with crunched bumpers causing traffic to slow down a bit before proceeding on with little impact.

The situation yesterday was dramatically different. A very heavily traveled exit ramp had been closed and a vast multitude of emergency vehicles were gathering to tend to the scene.

When I got close, the thing that first caught my eye was the startling gash of ruptured concrete at the top of the wall that serves as barrier to the frontage road a couple of stories above the Interstate. Without time to comprehend what that meant, my car passed one of the fire engines, and the spot where the lone vehicle had landed came into view. It took my breath away.

There was concrete shrapnel strewn across an incredibly large area, shockingly far beyond the wall from which it had been torn. To the credit of movie-makers everywhere, my impression was that this looked like a movie scene, because it isn’t something you see in real life. I guess the Directors and Special Effects people who create movie crashes do a pretty authentic rendition.

From the looks of the vehicle, that was a ferocious calamity. I feared for a life, or lives.

It was as if everyone could feel it. After we moved clear of the incident, none of the cars around me demonstrated much in the way of urgency toward wherever they were headed.

I tried to forget about it when I got home. We watched a ridiculously bad comedy movie that made us laugh, despite ourselves. It wasn’t enough to distance me from some emotional connection I felt to the earlier incident. When our show was over, I checked news articles online. My suspicion was confirmed: a fatality.

Most folks won’t even be aware of the passing of one more soul yesterday. Normally, that’s the way it would be for me. This time though, the death of a person unknown to me has impacted me significantly, as a result of the close proximity of time and place.

I’m sending love to all who had a connection with this person.













Written by johnwhays

February 11, 2016 at 7:00 am