November 6, 2017 9:52:15 AM
"Parting is such sweet sorrow."
William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet" (originally published 1597)
The farmer and his wife were walking the Riverwalk when the farmer called out, "You still have Romeo?"
"I do," I said.
"Can't believe he's still alive," the farmer said.
I continued to explain Romeo was as sweet as ever, though he had become very small and old man-like. The jet-black rabbit had a sprinkling of gray hairs, and his little backbone protruded. His appetite was better than the younger rabbits. He was not a picky eater, the result of growing up on a farm I supposed.
The farmer raised Romeo for a breeder rabbit. When Romeo was retired, the farmer asked if I would take him, saying he had bonded with Romeo and couldn't imagine Romeo becoming an ingredient in the family's soup supper. I was beginning my first experience with rabbits. I asked the farmer a few questions, then one rainy stormy day picked Romeo up and moved him into the Bardwell bunny pavilion.
Here at the pavilion we provided two meals daily along with the regular rabbit pellets. Morning and night, I fix nutritious meals for three rabbits. Meals of fresh kale, lettuce, a chunk of carrot, a sliver of apple and any leftovers from our own meals like the peelings of an avocado or banana.
A visiting family member asked, "Do you get that much pleasure from the rabbits as to make them two salads every day?"
I thought about it, and I do. Rabbits are peaceful and quiet. They're soft, furry and easy to care for. Romeo was a particular joy. At every feeding he would rush to the door of his pen to see me, or maybe the kale. He liked to be rubbed, petted and combed. He didn't mind being handled. He was a treat to visiting youngsters.
On two occasions I failed to secure the pen properly. One time he sat out in the black of night until a guest said, "There's a black rabbit in the yard."
Oh my gosh I ran outside, scooped him up and returned him to the safety of his pen. Another time he pressed in so close to the door he fell right into my arms.
As near as we could figure, Romeo was at least 10 years old, maybe older. So it was no surprise when a few weeks ago his back legs started to give out. He didn't seem to mind much and presented no pain. He remained exuberant at mealtimes. I loved on him, petted him and combed his ever-thinning hair.
Then last Saturday night he ate his entire salad as usual, but by Sunday morning his front legs wouldn't work properly. For the first time ever he showed no interest in his greens, though a bit of apple was appealing.
After church, I spent the rest of Sunday making him comfortable and singing to him. I'm always completely heartbroken when the inevitable comes but equally as amazed how beautiful, calm and peaceful a passing can be -- a sweet sorrow. I miss him. I catch myself making three salads.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.
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