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How Farm Life Taught Our Kids About Death

And what their understanding taught us in return.
How Farm Life Taught Our Kids About Death
Image: RichardBH / Flickr

"Dress me in the clothes / I wore in the day's round.
 / Lay me in a wooden box.
 / Put the box in the ground." -- Wendell Berry's "Testament"

As lifelong city folk, rural life was new to my husband and me when we moved from Washington D.C. to an intentional Christian community on a farm in Illinois five years ago. For the first few years, we probably resembled the over-protective parents that Hanna Rosin critiques in The Atlantic as we warned our growing children to avoid electric fences, machine shops, farm implements, tractors, and even the creek.

The farm has become a unique setting for our kids to experience risk and reality. As parents, we've since learned about the bravery and self-assurance that comes from letting kids face dangers on their own. We've also observed surprising lessons about life and death.

Last fall, my farmer husband was ready to butcher the two-dozen geese that lived in our strawberry fields all season, weeding and otherwise creating a lot of noise and chaos. Our five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son wanted to follow their daddy out to the machine shop on that cold morning to watch. I was hesitant. I wondered if it would be good for them to witness the death and de-feathering of the geese they helped raise from goslings in our basement. But my daughter was so eager that I sent them out anyway.

When I went to check on them, I found my son with a look of sadness and disgust. "I don't want ...

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