I have always thought that I had a privileged life growing up on a farm.
The life lessons were taught by mother nature herself and I learned to live within her boundaries by listening to and trusting my intuition very early in life.
Springtime brought pollywogs in the creek. Summer afternoons were spent in a berry patch with my dog Topper, patiently watching a favourite strawberry get a little bit riper each day under the nurturing of the warm sun. And of course there were my pets.
I had a pet chicken that lived in my bedroom. It was a chick I'd rescued after it wandered away from the rest of the flock one afternoon while they were grazing in the front yard. I could have easily put it back in the chicken coop; but I thought a box in my bedroom was a better option.
My parents didn't mind, they fully accepted my adoration of animals.
I had my dogs, a cat, half a dozen rabbits, a pet pigeon that would sit on my shoulder when I ate my lunch under the maple tree. I had a horse. Czar Nicholas was his name; I just called him CeeZar.
Living on the farm taught me many wonderful lessons about life, but I also learned the hard lessons of death.
Having so many animals, I had to learn that lesson early in life.
My first dog died when I was five. Topper the First (I had two dogs named Topper. Don't ask my why I named two dogs the same . . . I was five.) was a beagle, he was killed by a coyote.
I remember Dad wiping my tears away when we buried him and saying, "The flesh of a peach, a dog or a person is all made from nature, anything that is born from nature, must return to nature.
"But we never really die Joani, within all of us is a spirit. This spirit is what makes us want to get up each morning and sing with the birds. That part of us lives forever.
"Topper has that spirit too. His body is not here any longer for you to see, to touch and hold. He is now inside of you, where you can hold him in your thoughts, see him in your dreams, and touch him with your heart."
My Dad didn't sugar coat Topper's death for me, with a fairytale ending like some parents do, by telling me that Topper went to live on a farm. Heck, I was living on the farm - no one else's dogs got dropped off there!
He certainly couldn't tell me Topper went to live in the city. I was a tenacious child; I would have looked at my Dad and said, "Why would Topper want to do that?"
At five, I didn't really understand what he was saying about the spirit living forever but I do remember it making me feel better.
Like most lessons about life you don't "get it" right away.
They serve a purpose as you grow, and as I grew up, I began to understand what he was saying. His words have eased my heart many times since the death of my dog Topper.
Like when my prolific rabbit population was sold to the local butcher.
And the time I sat down for a roasted (pet) chicken dinner.
It also served me well when my dogs Harley, then Alex passed away.
Finally, that lesson from my Dad would serve its greatest purpose when he passed away, 41 years after he taught it to me.
Because I believe in a life of spirit - after the death of the body - I am still able to think of the loving, joyful moments spent with my father, instead of mourning over his death.
I will be forever grateful for that lesson of life and death shared between my first dog, my Dad and me.