Through tears I type with tissue close at hand.
We are a pet loving family. My daughter more than the rest of the family loves her animals. She is 12 and wants to be a veterinarian someday. One can not have a pet without one day having the experience of losing that pet. Whether the pet runs away and get hit by a car, gets sick or just succumbs to old age, the death of a pet is part of life. We have had rabbits pass, there have been some frogs and fish die. Every animal that left us hurt my daughter and the degree of hurt was based on how much love was invested.
We have 6 chickens, raised from chicks that were just a few days old. The chickens have become Z-girl’s and she has gladly taken up caring for them daily. She cleans the chicken house, feeds, waters, exercises them and knows the character and habits of each one. Occasionally one chicken will be mistreated by the group and Z-girl will bring it inside and care for it tending to the needs of her pet until it is well enough to return to the small flock.
Z-girl came to me a few days ago and mentioned that one of her larger red chickens, Lucy, had lost the color in her waddle and comb and that Lucy’s face was pale. Lucy was brought inside and put in a small crate to monitor and treat the best we could. My wife and I went to Google all we could about chicken illnesses. We talked with friends and received advice from what the malady might be. Z-girl can tell which chicken laid an egg by the shape and size of the egg. This applies even to chickens of the same size and breed. She knew Lucy had missed her time to lay an egg and we diagnosed the hen as being egg bound. Egg bound is when an egg is stuck inside the hen. There are ways to encourage the egg to come out.
Z-girl for the past few days has been giving Lucy warm baths, kind of a spa treatment to help the chicken relax to help encourage the laying of an egg. She has been hand feeding and watering. Z-girl has left her breakfast and dinner on the counter getting cold while she has comforted or assisted Lucy in some way.
Yesterday Lucy appeared to make some progress, eating and drinking. Lucy even seemed more energetic and even pooped some which was a good sign. This morning was not good though. Lucy is only able to lay down and try to sleep. Lucy cannot stand up on her own and it looks as though she will not be with us much longer.
We have not been untouched by death and it is not a new experience. Family members have passed, pets have gone but it is never easy. Z-girl’s heart is breaking as the loss of a friend comes nearer and mine is breaking as well. I see the hurt in my little girl’s eyes and am unable to “fix” the chicken, powerless to change the outcome. All I can do is wait and be here with Z-girl. I hug her then go get some tissue for her tears. I take some tissue too for my own tears. I know that me crying does not help the matter.
She asks me through tears “How come if my animals die it’s always raining?” I say “I don’t know sweetie.” We wait awhile and watch the sick chicken. I start to turn on the television then refrain. I don’t want Z-girl’s memory of the last moments with her pet to be joined with the noise of some TV show. Z-girl asks “Would her heart beat slower and slower?” I say “if she is dying, she will probably go slower and slower and just wind down.” It takes me several tries to get the whole sentence out. My nose is filled with tears and I have to keep reaching for more tissue. There is a bottle of Breathe Essential oil on the table. I put a few drops in my palm and inhale. It helps open my airway.
My son A-man calls from upstairs “Dad, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” I say “We are okay. Don’t come down.” A-man has Prader Willi Syndrome (PWS) and Autism. I dread having to tell him that Z-girl’s chicken has died. A-man will try to console Z-girl but he processes differently. He will mention over and over throughout the day that “Your chicken died.” and then he will state that “But my frog is still alive. I have had him for a long time time now and he has not died.” He doesn’t do it to be mean it is just his way of dealing with it. Z-girl once had the same kind of frog and cared for it more consistently and with more love but her frog died while A-man’s has continued to live on with a vigor unseen in frogs before.
Lucy is not as warm as she was earlier and she closes her eyes more and more. I turn the heat up and wait. I am aware that life is a fragile, fleeting gift but it is hard to see my Z-girl grieving and now is just the beginning. When Lucy is gone there will be more. Z-girl will ask herself and me if there was anything she could have done differently and if she, Z-girl, was in some way at fault. It is human nature to ask those kinds of questions.
Z-girl has Lucy wrapped in a towel and sits in a chair holding the hen in her lap. Z-girl strokes the feathers on Lucy’s head and Lucy gets stiller and stiller. The small bantam rooster is frequently crowing outside. Lucy opens her eyes and lifts her head toward the sound, cocking her head to the side and listening briefly. Lucy closes her eyes and puts her head against Z-girl’s chest.