The Wake

Jim assisted this morning with chores before work because I’d injured my lower back in the last week and wasn’t supposed to lift more than 5 pounds over the next 2 weeks. What is 5 pounds? I don’t know what a bucket of water or a bale of hay weighs, but I’ll guess it’s significantly more. I refused to be waited on and though Jim volunteered to do all of the chores, I said I certainly could fill grain bowls and deliver them.

After we’d fed Olivia, we both paused to watch while she rose to her feet, but little Orion, her 8 ½ week old alpaca cria, stayed put. He hadn’t gotten up by the time we were finished with chores, either, and I sat on the floor and stroked his neck with the back of my hand. Come on, little guy. Don’t you want some nibbles? I asked.

After Orion had weaned from the supplemental bottles we’d been giving him three weeks ago and began nursing exclusively, I made up some chevre from half of the leftover goats’ milk and froze the rest. Thinking I’d make up a bottle for him this morning and see if I could get him to take it, I asked Jim to please bring me the extra gallon from the big freezer in the garage before he left for work.

I searched the internet and discovered a vet about 2 hours north and contacted them to come to the farm within the week. I told the receptionist that I just couldn’t tell what was going on, but that it seemed that I needed assistance with supplements or vitamins or something and the vet I’d been using had not returned my calls since last week. Dr. Joe would contact me, she said, when he got back from his call. I used a knife to chunk up some of the frozen milk and put it in a pan to warm up, made a bottle and went out to the barn.

Lately I’d been leaving Olivia and Orion’s stall door open to the aisle way so that they could get out and stretch during the day or evening when I wasn’t out there doing chores. I wasn’t ready to put Olivia in the paddock to be with the other alpacas full time yet because she had a limp that I was treating. I didn’t want her to further strain her leg and I also didn’t want to discourage any nursing so that Orion would get the full benefit of her supply. I worried that allowing them into the herd/paddock would make Orion have to work harder to get a meal.

When I arrived to peek through the barn windows, I saw that Olivia had ventured into the aisle, but not Orion. I opened the door and she bolted back into her stall, which was typical. She is still quite shy of me after almost 9 weeks of so much hands’ on. Usually little O, as I called him, was out and about with Olivia for recess. My stomach filled with dread, as they say. It filled up in spite of the pep talk I gave myself as I walked down the aisle way to their stall entrance. I looked into the center of the stall and saw our beautiful baby, flat and prone, and there I just collapsed with grief.

I’m not versed in the body chemistry that comprises grief in living beings, but there have been a few times in my life when I’ve been wrecked with the experience and this day was one of them. I had no idea how hard hit I would’ve been, and I fell apart all over that barn. The pig, who’d been grunting and squealing for me to let her out and feed her while I had entered the barn and discovered Orion, ceased to make a noise. The sheep who had been baah-ing in response to my arrival in the barn also silenced. The alpacas and goats quit mewing and meh-ing and stood stock-still, staring at me while I collapsed onto the ground with little O in my arms. Olivia mewed and mewed at me while I sat there, clutching and crying. I had no idea I could feel so much despair so quickly. I responded to the sight with no clue that I would react so dramatically. My reaction frightened, sobered the animals, it frightened me as well. Though I’d been anxious and concerned over the past couple of weeks over Orion’s lack of energy and animation, what appeared to be a decline but I couldn’t be sure, I was unprepared to find him dead.

I tried to think clearly but I just couldn’t. I picked little O up and walked around, walked out the stall door, out the back door of the barn and around the grounds but caught Olivia’s concern through the cracks of the doorway. I remembered when my kids and I were studying Ancient Egypt while they homeschooled and how we always used to remark that they had full-time mourners, wailers for funerals. I recognized my image in Olivia’s eyes as being so frightening and I realized that she didn’t know where I was going with her little boy. I made my way back into the stall. I held him for a long time, just standing there, so she could inspect him. She went to the window of the stall to look out at the paddock, touch noses with the assembled alpacas in the window, and I thought there’d be no harm in letting her out and observing.

We stood in the paddock for about 40 minutes, little O in my arms, the alpacas and Angora goats in the paddock taking turns visiting me, sniffing little O, standing in a queue to pay respects. It felt surreal. I don’t know what led me to take that still, soft and small body out there in my arms and stand like that, but there was no doubt we were having a wake for Orion.

TB, the tall, dark drink-of-water-alpaca, as I refer to him, stood at my elbow the entire lot of time and bent his head low to my arm, to my face, to little O while the other alpacas came and went to visit. Interestingly enough, Olivia fled from the assemblage and put herself on the other side of the paddock where she first spit twice in the face of Jessie, the father of little O, and then to the other corner to eat hay and throw an eye our way every now and again. Jessie never did come and pay his respects until the last moments when he more or less waved through, barely pausing. Eventually Olivia did come closer and looked at me, looked at little O, mewed and then turned away.

At that time I felt I could leave. I walked out of the paddock, through the stall and then sat by the barn doors in the aisle way for an hour or so, caressing the baby’s fur. I thought about what to do with him, what to do.

It occurred to me that I’d be willing to drive him to Cornell if they thought they could use him for educational purposes. I called the Pathology department at the veterinary school. They must get some very odd calls. The receptionist was so kind about my trembling voice, told me she’d contact me as soon as possible to let me know if they could use him. She did call me back pretty quickly and said that their anatomy lab was closed for construction and they just didn’t have room for him.

I called Tufts University. Same thing. They didn’t have room for him.

Meanwhile the vet called me back from the clinic 2 hours north that I’d contacted this morning. Dr. Joe was comforting and offered condolences, apologizing for not being able to come to help sooner.

Jim arrived home to help. He’d hardly gotten to work before I’d told him the tragic news. He got me a blanket to wrap little O in and we lay him on the ground while we went into the house to figure out how we would bury him.

Knowing my back wouldn’t allow for digging and also that the ground was mostly frozen, Jim contacted a neighbor to borrow his backhoe. We wouldn’t be able to get at the job until after he got home after 5:30. So Jim took a trip to pick up grain from the feed store and I went into the house to have some tea and write some letters to dear friends and family to share the sadness.

One very supportive alpaca farmer friend contacted me back right away and told me about a neonatal clinic on Martha’s Vineyard that uses deceased cria in their teaching. As soon as I read that, I chased down the contact information and made an inquiry. Within half an hour, the owner, Barbara, of Island Alpacas, called me and we had a long conversation about Orion and how he could be of use for the clinic. We cancelled the neighbor’s backhoe and wrapped Orion and put his body in the freezer to preserve him.

Barbara told me of the clinics and the value of having a real cria body for demonstration, how past breeders have been able to safely deliver cria on their own farms because they’d attended the learning seminars and had hands-on practicum. I had concerns about Orion’s body after the clinic and how he might be disposed of. I prepared to volunteer and go pick him up afterward. She shared how they could bury him in a pet cemetery, how I could send along prayers written or flowers or poems or anything to be included with his burial, or if I chose, they could have him go to a crematorium off-island and I could pay to have his ashes sent to me. I confirmed with Barbara that we would be in touch regarding details to send Orion to their farm.

Because of my gregarious nature I cannot stop myself from sharing, with everyone, my joys, my exuberance about work and life. It is also because of this I feel incredibly grieved that I also have to share sadness of life events.

Damn life lessons.

When will I stop learning them?

When I stop caring. I won’t stop caring. I have tried. I have learned that the older I get, the more I care.

That Orion’s life and death would not be in vain is my comfort. An outpouring of love from friends and family. Hard days of farming. Brutal winter weather with a gorgeous present born in the midst of it.


Footnote:  This essay has been to share the conclusion of Orion’s life here on earth.  In little O’s honor, there is now “Orion’s Fund” to donate to on the Island Alpaca website for the neonatal care clinic.   If you know of any alpaca farms or farmers that are considering alpacas, please refer them to the Island Alpaca workshops and neonatal clinic to support and participate in their offerings.  Or if you are ever in Martha’s Vineyard, please visit and support Island Alpaca.


The Wake

The Wake

Rest in Peace, little O

Rest in Peace, little O


43 responses to “The Wake

  1. Tammy. I am more sorry than I could ever put into words – my heart hurts for you and yours. You are truly an angel to your animals and Orion could not have asked for a better 8 and a half weeks on this earth. I am sending you peaceful and healing thoughts tonight and wish for your comfort.

    • Thank you so much, Lauren. I am sorry I had to share such a sad story. Trying to take some comfort that we can learn something from it all. Hugs to you -see you this summer.

  2. Oh Tammy, how heartbreaking! We have been cheering for Orion here in Kyrgyzstan and I have shared his and your story and photos with many of the students here. I was excited to tell them that he had started nursing. They asked me just the other night how he was doing. I’m sorry for your loss. I have also learned that the older I get, the more I care. I can feel your grief, Tammy. Sending love and hugs across the globe.

    • Thank you so much, Kara. I am grateful to you for the kind note, all the way from across the globe! Hugs and love back to you. Tell your students how sorry I am for this sad news.

  3. Oh Tammy, I am speechless. Sweet little Orion. Honey, your broken heart. I am so sorry. Every day I looked for stories and updates, and savored them with delight. He was so precious. Bless his little soul and bless your grieving heart. Hugs to you.

    • Thank you, Julie, I know how much you’ve been following him and caring for him. I feel your support, thank you! Hugs back, dearheart.

  4. I’m so sorry and even very sad myself….I’ve been watching little O through your Instagram feed….the wake you did with all the animals was so sweet.

    • Thank you so much, Teresa. I hated sharing such sad news. It seemed unfair not to, though, because he has had so much support from the beginning. I’m so grateful to you.

    • Thank you, Kim. And we know the solution is not to not farm. Oh that old Catch 22. Means so much to me to hear from you.

  5. Tammy, I am so sorry to learn of little O’s passing, my heart is broken with yours as tears stream down my cheeks – I too felt such a connection to him, even here in central IL. I shared every photo of him with my husband and just over the weekend, I said, “I can’t wait to meet him next month!” I will hold you all gently in my heart and know he’s roaming those glorious green fields of heaven. Sending you gentle, loving hugs and love. XoXoX

    • Oh thank you for that image, Jeanette. I apologize for you not being able to meet him next month. We will remember his sweet ways in our hearts.

      • Tammy, you are an absolute angel to every creature that graces your life. Thank you for allowing us to share in that with you. We share the joys and the tears for that is what friends do. Know I am with you in spirit and lift you up in prayers and love. Sending hugs of comfort, love and peace….

  6. Tammy…. heart ache at the loss of Little O. Prayers for you… in your grief… and prayers in gratitude for your amazing gifts.

  7. Crying as I read this beautiful tribute to Little O. Tammy, thank you for letting me peek into your life filled with joys and grief. Thank you for the chance to know, watch and chuckle at the little guy. Praying for peace for you.

  8. Dear Tammy, I’m sending you all the light and love I can muster. This is heartbreaking news. Orion was so fortunate to be born into the loving care of you and your farm. He couldn’t have had better care–or bern more loved. My thoughts are with you…

  9. Oh, Tammy, I am so sorry. Tears here too, but also such wonder that his gentle spirit, as well as your love and nurturing of him, touched so very many lives. He was truly a joy to behold. Rest easy, little O. Sending hugs and holding space for you both in my heart.

  10. Tammy, I wish I could take away your pain. You will be in my thoughts and prayers tonight. My prayer is that you soon find peace and comfort in your sweet memories of little O. I love you, my friend!

  11. Tammy, I am so very sorry you lost little O, I know the pain you’re in right now. You were his angel and did all you could to help him, the poor baby must have had a congenital problem. I will always remember watching little O and Olivia and enjoying his antics on the dropcam video. My love goes out to you and thanks for the care you give your animals.


  12. I am just speechless. I had to read the beginning 3 or 4 times to comprehend what you were saying. Birth and death cycling through the farm, our lives, the world, all mustering up so much joy and grief. What a ride you had and we all watched all along with you, longing to get one of little O’s kisses. May this Easter season bring the light of renewal upon you and your beautiful family, humans and creatures alike, and give salve to your grief, and ours. x0x0x0x0

  13. Dearest Tammy,I don’t have words to properly express my sorrow for you,your precious flock
    and Little Angel Orion! Yes he was like an Angel, sweet and innocent,playful and loving!
    I fell in love with newborn Orion,Olivia and all the creatures in your special -NEW to me world!
    Please accept my most heart felt sympathy and love!I am grateful to have known Orion,
    he introduced me to you,your many talents and life on the farm. Sending prayers….

  14. Oh dear thIs came as such a shock . I was just watching the video of sweet O bouncing around the barn this afternoon. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Sweet little Orion’s life here on earth was brief but oh what a lucky boy to have you and your lovely oasis to call home . I have no doubt that you will be reunited again some day . He came into your life so unexpectedly and left th same way. Curious , sweet creature rest peacefully

  15. Tammy, What a blessing to me to have read your words. A visual of you in your pigtails & overalls with a broken heart. It’s too much to bear. Bless you. Katey

  16. Oh, Tammy …sobbing for you and your baby cria. Our hearts are broken and only wish we were closer to offer comfort or support in some small way. You poured so much of your heart into that furry baby and he couldn’t have been more loved. Thank you for sharing your love and loss .. Sending our heartfelt sympathy to all of you.

  17. Tammy ,
    I am in California with my son and sister…. Reading your essay out loud and we are all stricken with disbelief and sadness.

    Know that I am thinking of you and sending hugs from afar,

    Fondly, Lynn

  18. I am so sad for you all on the loss of little O. You did all you could to make sure his time here was filled with love. You were both very lucky to have crossed paths even if just for a short time. I love you and your caring soul dearly my friend, I hope you can find peace in your heart.

  19. Tammy I am so sorry to hear about little O, I have watched your journey from birth to now death. You have taken care of him since birth and you were a wonderful second mom to him. May he rest in peace knowing he was loved by many.

  20. Oh, Dear Magical Tammy on your Magical Farm – It is so unbelievably sad that this has happened, a shock because the Universe is not supposed to let things like this happen! You are such an amazing blessing to all these animals, and all the people and animals that are graced with your enchanting stories and pictures of Life at Wing and A Prayer Farm – even the most tragic moment such as this is wrapped in your loving tenderness – the verity of loss cushioned in the soft fleece of Little O’s wake and meaningful postscript on Martha’s Vineyard- how we all wish we could be there and bear the heavy weight of this sadness for you – sending you light and love and prayers. xo

  21. I am heartbroken for you and Little Man, Mama Olivia, and the community of souls living at Wing and a Prayer… Heaven on Earth. Little Orion survived against all odds because of your great skills, intuition, patience, faith, and love. Because of you, he was known and he mattered and touched so many hearts. Because of him, more cria will live, too.
    The image of his wake in your arms in a verdant pasture, and how, transformed by grief, it became a level playing field where every heart so clearly felt his loss and every step taken was in reverence, will stay with me for a long time.
    You are a beautiful wonder, Tammy. You intuitively knew that every life that Little O touched needed to grieve him, and despite your own heartbreak, you made room for that to happen.
    Love, Comfort, and Peace❤️

  22. Thinking of the entire White family. You worked so hard on him. Thank you for sharing the journey of his early life with us. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Please let us know if there is anything we can do.

  23. Hi Tammy. It would appear that many words of condolence and hope have already arrived here. I am sorry that mine are late. I know exactly what you experienced when you told of your immediate reaction to the unexpected discovery. It’s always a shock when you’re not prepared. And many of the questions which followed have no answers. It’s all very unsettling … I know. Take heart and find comfort in the fact that Little O was fortunate to have experienced life and his mother’s love … even for such a short time. D

  24. Oh Tammy. It’s taken me hours to write this reply, as no words could ever express how badly my heart hurts for you, the girls, but also for Olivia and that precious little gift named Orion. Even though his life was short, you gave him the best, most loving 8 and a half weeks he could experience. Healing and prayers coming to you and the whole brood.

  25. Hello Tammy, I love reading your blog and rarely comment, but just smile to myself as I enjoy your thoughts on daily farm life with all of its work and rewards. Today, I want to tell you how sad it is to read of your loss. I can only imagine how painful the loss of this small and very young Little O is to you and your family. I tend to see these animals as your extended family, as you assign so much thought and care to each of them individually. Please know that prayers and hugs are sent your way and I hope that you find peace and comfort in your heart.

  26. Tammy, once again so sorry for your loss. Your post is sad, yet so touching. It’s such a beautiful account of the events and how it was handled. It’s so amazing how the animals sense everything and how they react. Thank you for sharing this emotional and beautiful story. Sending many good thoughts and love your way.

  27. One of the highlights of Instagram was receiving pictures and updates of little Orion.I feel terrible about your loss.I can’t imagine the heartbreak you’re going through.My condolences.

  28. Tammy, We have never met, but after following your page in recent weeks, I feel connected to you and all the work you put into your animals and farm. The very reason farming gives us so much joy is unfortunately the same reason it is so desperately sad on the worst days. Farming connects us to the world and to the best parts of ourselves. I am thinking of you and sorry for your loss. Your post was a beautiful tribute to your friend. The final picture lovely and sad. Take care of yourself!

  29. This news is very sad that Im just learning about, Im so sorry for your loss. It is so sad when we lose our pets they are such a big part of our lifes. Sending hugs to you and your family.

  30. Reading this just now with tears silently running down my cheeks. I’m so sorry to hear about Orion’s sad fate. In his short life he was blessed with the most loving human carer possible. May your animals and family be healthy.

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