Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Death of a chicken

When Ms. Goldie and CinderellaSleepingBeauty first joined our family I was a bit skeptical. My husband had been researching what it would take to raise chickens in our neighborhood and I gamely went along with it. My son and daughter named them (guess who came up with which name) and were fascinated by the hens. Our two dogs seemed interested in them as well, but one was particularly excited about them.

As you can guess, the inevitable happened and one chicken wasn’t able to avoid the dog. Two days later, Ms. Goldie joined the big hen house in the sky. Ms. Goldie’s short life made a huge impact on my son. He was utterly heartbroken to discover that his pet chicken had died. And I was utterly heartbroken for my little boy.

Death is a hard topic to discuss with anyone, let alone a six-year-old. Not only did my son have to learn a hard lesson about death, but he also had a hard lesson to learn about forgiveness. Our dog Bailey did not mean to kill Ms. Goldie—she was doing what came naturally to her and chased the bird. We made the mistake of leaving the dogs alone with the chickens for a short period, and it didn’t take long for the game to turn deadly. T. knew that Bailey was the responsible party.

“I hate Bailey,” he sobbed to me. I held him in my lap and let him cry. And I gently explained to him that Bailey made a mistake—it was an accident.

“I wish it had been Bailey who died instead,” he said. As I stroked my son’s hair and soaked his head with my own tears, I gently explained that we would be sad either way. Bailey had been part of our family for seven years, and when she dies we will be very sad to see her go.

And here’s where I got stuck. I couldn’t explain this pain away. I couldn’t give him a pain-killer to relieve the heartache. I couldn’t even promise him that he would never experience this heartbreak again. I told him what I believed about death, about what comforted me when I lost a loved one, and what I believe happens after you die. I hugged him and let him cry until he ran out of tears. I asked him to think about forgiving Bailey.

When your child’s heart is broken, it’s difficult to know what to do. A tiny part of me wanted to say “It’s just a chicken you had for two days—get over it.” But I realized that I had to respect my child’s feelings and his heartbreak.

It’s important to acknowledge what’s important to our children and mourn with them when they lose something, or someone, they love. To hold them and let them know that we are here for them and will comfort them. That their feelings are important.

And that love, no matter how brief, is important to acknowledge.

Reace Alvarenga-Smith, APR
Public Relations Manager

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