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Follow the Bear

Its been a difficult week. I’ve been doing fine but essentially, I’ve been trying to get my feet under me properly since the beginning of September. The mind is a funny thing, how it will create obstacles to block its own path.

Depression and mourning feels bleak and cold to me, like winter.

Basically, I couldn’t get out of my own way. Sluggish, exhausted and trying to pull myself out of my funk. Trying to keep up with all my chores but not quite getting there: ingredients there in the fridge, but something more convenient taken out of the freezer because it’s easier. No culinary inspiration or lust for creativity with ingredients there either. Laundry baskets of washed, folded clothes, waiting patiently to be put away. Just waiting at the top of the stairs. Four of them. And then of course the unabating Adhesive Bed Syndrome.


I don’t tell you this for sympathy. This is my lot. I medicate and generally don’t have to deal with most of my depression. A friend of mine refers to it as a ‘black dog’. I wonder about the canine friends that she has met in her life because I never met a dog I didn’t want to hug. And this feeling is not something I feel inclined to draw close in an embrace. It’s more like a weighted blanket, except instead of bringing comfort and security, it’s a little too heavy. Like a thick, burnt umber velvet that makes it hard to breathe. It feels oppressive. It constrains. It blocks a little too much of the light.


When Monday morning rolled around, you can understand how the phone call caught me on the back foot. Still in my pyjamas, barely awake and still feeling a bit discombobulated, to tap the ‘accept’ on the phone was more of a reflex than a decision. The news was bad. I asked a few cursory questions but they didn’t change the bottom line. A friend of ours, a gent in his fifties, had succumbed to a major heart attack the night before. Despite efforts made by colleagues and first responders, he had expired.


Over the past number of years, I had worked closely with James, fondly referred to by all who knew him as ‘The Bear’. He had worked with us on our farm, in particular during lambing time, when he would help with feeding and general chores. He was invaluable to us. He was available if we needed an extra hand. He had looked after the farm while we were away which meant that we didn’t have to bother other family members. He was part of our team on the farm.


Having him as my ‘partner-in-crime’ during the spring season allowed Stephen to work mostly normal days, despite the huge increase in the workload, especially when the lambs started to be born. The Bear’d be there, feeding silage, filling buckets of water and bedding the pens, without needing any instruction from me. This in particular I appreciated, because though he was technically my employee, he had many years of experience more the I have. Our work relationship was an easy one.


I had looked forward to his company. Always with a smile and a story, (though I’m not sure how true some of those stories were!) his exuberant nature and wicked sense of humour often had me bent over laughing. I’m sure the sheep thought we were both stark-raving mad. We’d have our mid-morning cuppa - coffee, tea or perhaps even a cup-soup with a chocolate brioche roll dipped into it - always with a chat and some tall tales on the side. Then he’d scurry off to do some other community chores: perhaps it was delivering prescriptions, meals on wheels or a paper to folks in the wider community. They certainly broke the mould when they made that one.


I’m now home from his funeral: a true celebration of his life, there were stories and music that I’m sure he would have loved. Hundreds of folks were there to pay their respects with at least as many outside the church as there were inside. I managed to find a seat and snuffled my way through the service. Luke, now thirteen and at that awkward stage, was I think caught between his own grief, wanting to console me and embarrassment. I felt so selfish as the tears streamed down my face: I was a friend but my heart breaks for his family and the terrible loss they will have to endure going forward.


The stories will continue, I’m sure and we’ll remember him fondly, after all, he was a bit of a living legend.


Once more, for old time’s sake: “Follow the Bear.”

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