For Francis

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It was the first day of spring and the sun was shining, but the sun offered little warmth to the day. In the barn, the sick ewe gave a final push to deliver her small ram lamb. She knew she was too tired and ill to tend for this little one so she was grateful the woman who cared for them was near.

The woman brought a bucket of water and hay for the ewe and towels to dry off the newborn.  Looking at the ill ewe, the woman sadly shook her head.  She knew there would be no milk for this lamb. Her efforts to help the mother ewe through this illness had not been very successful.

Fortunately another ewe had just given birth to twins in the other barn.  The woman hoped that this ewe would accept the lamb as her own.  It seemed to be working.  The ewe did allow the lamb to nurse, but after a while she looked from one lamb to another as if counting. One, Two, THREE? She knew she only had two lambs, and she was not going to be fooled. After carefully inspecting and smelling the three lambs, she knew which two lambs were hers, and she gentling pushed that other lamb away. No amount of pleading by the woman was going to convince her so the woman brought the lamb home to her house. 

In her son’s old bedroom the woman set up a big box with soft towels for bedding. She mixed a bottle of formula for the lamb. The little lamb was not sure he wanted this rubber thing in his mouth but soon the taste of the warm milk convinced him to drink.

The woman talked to the little lamb in a quiet, soft way.  She was worried because it had been a hard delivery and often lambs would develop Pneumonia after a long, hard birth.  Added to this was her concern over the mother ewe’s illness and how that might have affected the little lamb.  The sound of her voice soothed the little lamb, and soon he was fast asleep. Each time the little lamb woke up crying, the woman always returned to comfort him with more warm milk.

By the next morning, the little lamb was feeling stronger and stood eagerly when the woman came to greet him.   She picked him up and held him while she fed him his bottle. The lamb drank while the woman sang him a lullaby.  The woman frowned a little as he finished his bottle. She thought she heard a rasp in his breathing but she hoped it was just from how greedily he drank the formula.

By the next day, there was no doubt. The little lamb had pneumonia.  She started to give him medicine.  The little lamb continued to drink his bottles but was drinking less and less at each feeding.  The woman started to feed him every hour but the little lamb continued to get weaker.  He was having trouble seeing out of his right eye which had become cloudy.  Standing up to greet the woman was getting more difficult. 

The woman called for the veterinarian. After listening to his lungs, the doctor was not hopeful that the little lamb would recover, but she gave the woman a new medicine. “Try to get him to drink more milk”, said the doctor.   The doctor reminded the woman that pneumonia was not likely the only problem this little one was fighting.

That night the woman set up the vaporizer she had used with her children. She sat with the little lamb and talked to him long into the night. Gently stroking his side and encouraging him to drink milk. The little lamb liked having the woman talk to him. He did not feel so scared and alone when she was near.

The next day was Good Friday and the little lamb could hardly lift his head. The woman was having to help him clear his nose so he could breathe. She kept the vaporizer running around the clock and the room became a sauna but it helped the little lamb breathe.  That night the woman who was now very fond of the little lamb prayed.  She asked God to help him recover and have the chance to be a little lamb.

On Easter Sunday, her prayer was answered.  The little lamb greeted her with a Baah! It was not very loud but it was a wonderful sound. He tried to stand for the first time in three days but was very weak.  The woman gathered him in her arm and kissed the top of his head.  She said, “It is time we gave you a name, little one.  What do you think of Jon?”  She was not sure whether it was her imagination or if he really shook his head as if he was saying “NO”.  “Oh”, she said, “You don’t like Jon?…. What about Francis?”  At that very moment, the little lamb reached up to her chin and started to suckle.  “Well I guess that means that you like Francis!”  Francis did like the name and he decided to give the woman a name as well.  Mother.  She was his human mother and he could feel her love.

The days pasted and Francis continued to grow slowly stronger.  One morning, the woman came into his room with two of the smallest lambs in her arms.  “Francis, I want you to meet your new roommates. They were just born today and they need our care. Look how small they are.”  Francis had been in the house so long, he had almost forgotten what other lambs looked like. The new arrivals were indeed small and very quiet.  They feel asleep almost as soon as the woman put them in their box. “Francis”, the woman said, “I have never had such small lambs before but we will give them our love and hope for the best.” 

Francis enjoyed having roommates. He let them know that he was near. He talked softly to them and told them not to worry because he could not stand very well either. He told them about being sick and how the Mother had taken care of him.  As the days passed the little twin girls got stronger and much livelier. Francis was once again able to stand but walking was difficult as his muscle had not grown properly and his legs were crooked.  The girls keep him entertained with their play, but he longed to be able to join them. 

Everyday his mother would take him outside for some sunshine and to build his strength. On the days it rained, she would bring him into the living room with the twins to play.  Often he would feel tired and lay down but Mother was always helping him back up to strengthen his legs.

The time had come for the twins to go back to the barn. She hated to take Francis’s friends away, but they were ready and Francis was not.  The nights were still too cold and Francis’s lungs were still recovering from his illness. 

“Don’t worry my little one, soon you will be able to join them. I will miss having you in the house, but I know you can’t wait to join the other lambs”, said his mother. Francis couldn’t wait to join his friends. He wanted to play and see all the other animals in the barn.

About a week later, Francis’s mother was taking him outside but unlike other days she did not put him down on the lawn but continued to walk with him in her arms.  Across the path they went and into a building Francis did not recognize. Soon he heard the voices of other lambs and knew this must be the barn!

His reunion with the twins was joyous.  They introduced him to Miss Muffet, another lamb who like Francis had been sick and moved a little slower.  Soon other sheep came into the barn to meet the new arrival. The ducks and cows made their way as the evening drew near. Francis thought the ducks were funny with their quacking. The cows were the largest creatures that he had ever imagined.

As the days grew warmer, Francis’ mom would walk the four bottle lambs out to the big pasture. The twins would race ahead, jumping and playing but always came running back to Francis and Miss Muffet.  The long walk was difficult for Francis but with every day it seemed a bit easier.

A few of the other ram lambs would approach Francis and butt head with him as rams like to do. He enjoyed the attention of the other lambs. It made him feel like part of the flock. Francis could not run and jump like the others lambs but he had his version of running. The twins enjoyed running around Francis encouraging him to play.  His mother would laugh as he would try to jump and would come hurry back to her side if he should wander too far away. Life was not the same for Francis but everyone at the barn was making sure he did not feel left out. His mother’s prayer had been answered; Francis was a little lamb. He was happy to be part of the flock, to have his human mother’s love and the love of his friends.

Final Chapter

As Francis made his way to the corner of the barn to lay down for the night, he felt strangely tired. He looked over at Little Miss Muffet already nearly asleep and watched Lauper and Madonna head butt each other as they played just awhile longer. He thought of his human mother who had just brought them their warm milk before bedtime. He smiled a lamb’s smile at the thought of her kiss on the top of his head as she wished a good night.  Then Francis laid down and closed his eyes.  A gentle peace filled him and he drifted away to a place where the pastures are always green and his legs were no longer crooked. He moved with grace as ran towards his mother who waited on the hill for him……

 Author’s Note: It is my hope that Francis’ story will help those dealing with the loss of a sibling or friend. It is hard to understand why some are given to us for such a short time but Francis taught me that it is not the time we are given but the love that we share that matters.  Someone asked me if I would have worked so hard to save him if I had known the shortness of his time…..the answer is simple yes. He knew love, he got to be part of a flock and run and play. What more could any of us ask for?

 

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