As I write this column in early February, we have said a temporary goodbye to the bone-chilling, face-cracking cold of the past week and have had a couple of balmy, above-freezing days to recover. We can scrape frozen manure off of free stall alleys and not have to wipe the dip off of cows’ teats for a few milkings. It feels great outside even if it is hazy and humid.
    There have been quite a few goodbyes in my life in the past few weeks. They have been bittersweet and difficult.
    First, our three college kids went back to the University of Minnesota in mid-January to pursue their degrees in animal science and ag communications and marketing. They returned to classes, club meetings, friend get-togethers and other fun and exciting endeavors. They were ready to return after about a month of family and farm on their holiday break from college. Their help was appreciated by everyone here on our farm, as there were a lot of calves to wean and move, pens to clean, cattle to bed, and daily chores to squeeze in around Christmas services and parties.
    The kids being at home to help was also timely, because it gave me precious time in the middle of several days to make a two-hour trip to Hastings to visit my mom and return in time for evening chores. Without their help, I would not have been able to go nearly as often during the last few weeks.
    Our family said a sad goodbye to my 97-year-old mother, Margaret, Jan. 15, during her funeral service in Hastings. Up until that point, there were many recent visits to keep her company, watch over her health concerns and to begin the process of saying goodbye.
    All of the driving trips gave me a lot of time to think about my mom. She was not a farm girl. She was raised in the small town of Cleveland, Minn., and lived next to the butcher shop and meat market that her father ran. Her mother was a homemaker. My mom loved school and going swimming with friends in the area’s lakes. She attended the University of Minnesota and earned a degree in home economics. This was based on the St. Paul campus, where she met my father, a farm boy from south Washington County. They married during World War II and eventually made their home north of Hastings on a farm where they raised five children.
    My mom learned a lot about farming in a baptism by fire scenario. She moved to the farm on the condition they would not milk cows, as the story goes, but soon they had a small dairy herd. She did not milk; however, I remember she did clean up milkers and drive the tractor for baling on occasion. She mostly handled the egg business from candling to delivering the eggs from 2,000 laying hens. She also substitute taught in several area schools. Her favorite classes to teach were the ag and shop classes.
    My mom taught us to do our best. She was always inquisitive and was our family matriarch. She knew who was doing what, including the 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren she enjoyed keeping tabs on.
    I will miss her for many reasons. Who will ask me if we are baling hay in June? I will not be able to explain that we do not bale hay, we chop it and go into all of the details of that. Who will tell me not to work so hard? Who will always give me that little positivity pep talk I so often seem to need?
    Saying goodbye to matriarchs also is a part of dairy farming. Seeing cows get loaded on the truck for the last time is always bittersweet. This year, we sold several of the kids’ project cows. I was sad to see them go. These cows are the ones you form special relationships with, and the ones you take time to scratch on the head or watch as they head back up to the barn after milking.
    I like looking at the DHIA records of the special cows that leave and making note of their offspring that remain and the lifetime production records they made. They were a big part of our life, and it only seems fitting to take stock of their contributions, much like we get together to talk about the memories of a loved one who has passed who has lived a long, full and productive life.
    It seems only human to review the good and noble parts of a life and the contributions that living being has made. It makes saying goodbye slightly less bittersweet, especially when the faith a person professed and lived their entire life means a reunion in heaven someday.
    Saying goodbye is difficult, but it is a part of life.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.