Early this morning I came across one of our very elderly chickens as I opened the coop to set the girls loose and refill their food and refresh their water. She was tucked into a corner and had clearly died during the night after limping along slowly for the better part of two weeks. She lived a very good life. We knew the end was nearing and took extra care to keep her close. It’s no secret that I adore our critters and am a complete softy, always adding to our brood any “left behinds” or “homeless” ones I come across. So it was both a little sad, and a little bit of a relief when I found her, knowing she was at peace.
Living on a tiny farm, the circle of life is not a mystery for our kids. We have, over the past decade or so, sat shiva over myriad pets: elderly cats, pet mice (after the elderly cats “passed”), parakeets (4 in fact), 5 bunnies, one duck, and many chickens. Each time we would tearily gather around a freshly dug hole in one of the gardens, toss flowers in, take turns saying a few words honoring the fallen pet, offer up a prayer and then fill in the hole and get back to business.
It might sound callous, but as time went by a level of normalcy settled in when it came to the passing of a pet. The burial services had abridged versions that involved a hastily dug grave, a quick “our Father”, and then into the hole with a fast, rapidly mumbled “sign of the cross” in time to catch the bus, or race to work. The kids learned that death is a part of the natural order of the universe. When you love, you let your heart grow to hold that someone inside. When they are gone, there’s an empty space. It’s sad, we miss them, we grieve, and every life has value. We take time to honor life. We remind ourselves to pay attention to each other and to be a little more compassionate and loving to those around us. We lean on each other and it’s ok to let ourselves feel a lot of different emotions. Everything goes. There’s no right way or wrong way to mourn.
I know that there is a very big difference between pets and people, and I am more grateful than I can express that for the most part, my children’s experience of death has been in that natural, lived a good, long life kind of way. It had made them more resilient, not immune. There have been two breathtakingly painful exceptions, and those empty spaces we are trying to let love wrap around as we learn how to live with them. Or rather without them.
I am thankful for the beautiful, soulful, and at times irreverent wit of my children in these moments. Laughter is one of the very many more than okay things to experience, even when it comes to death. So when I discovered that Rollypolly had passed, I sent a text to my oldest who assured me he would “take care of it” so I could get dinner started. He was a doll, as usual, grabbed a shovel and even sent me word back to let me know, asking if I’d like to come out and say a few words before he finished. I texted back that I had already said a prayer over her and could he finish up without me? His reply had me spraying water through my nose as I laughed:
“In the name of the father, the son, and into the hole he goes…”
Sometimes you just have to laugh or you’ll cry, and that’s more than ok. 😊