Death

DEATH: permanent cessation of all vital functions, the end of life

Death came to our house yesterday. 

I went out in the morning to collect eggs.  Henrietta was sitting in one of the nesting boxes.  She glanced at me, but couldn’t be bothered to relocate.  I interpreted this as one of her quirks.  She’s a Rhode Island Red – the chicken equivalent of a moody teenager.  The female dog label could accurately be used to describe her disposition.  Wait…does the “never speak ill of the dead” rule apply to poultry?

I collected the eggs and went about my morning.  But, then the other chickens began making unusual noises and seemed to be freaking out.  So, I went back out to the coop to investigate.  Henrietta was still in the nesting box…dead.

I am the first to admit that I’m not a pet person. As a child I flushed my live fish down the toilet because I wanted to redecorate my room and the fish tank didn’t fit into my new plan.  It’s not like I was lighting kitten tails on fire…but it gives you an idea of my priorities when ranking fish vs. furniture. 

Pet people seem to think that the cute/loyal/friendly attributes of an animal are a fair trade for picking up poop. That math doesn’t pencil for me.  I am willing to feed and clean up after my chickens because they give us eggs.  It’s a relationship that makes sense to me. I feed you; you feed me.

So, I was surprised to find myself feeling sad about a chicken death.  I felt like I’d failed a dependent in my care.  And,  I felt sad on my children’s behalf.  We raised our chickens from chicks; these are their only pets.  I wasn’t prepared to discuss death with our children; I didn’t have any strategies for helping them cope with loss. 

When I told Son about the death, he started to cry.  Then, he asked how/why the chicken died.  He had several ideas.  The scientific inquiry part of his mind took turns asking questions when his tender heart wasn’t soaking up hugs.  Daughter asked “why” once and then returned to play.

I had to be honest with Son and tell him I didn’t know what to do.  I explained that I didn’t know why the chicken died.  I told Son I didn’t know what to do with the body and needed to do a little computer research.  It was my first “how do dispose of chicken body in Seattle” search on Google.  After dealing with the tangible “what to do” questions, I admitted that I didn’t know how best to help him with his sadness about the chicken’s death.  I admitted that I didn’t know whether it was best to just dispose of Henrietta on my own or have him help me with the task.  I asked him if he thought it would make him feel better or worse to see the dead chicken.  He considered for a couple of minutes and then said he wanted me to do it.  He said he would draw a picture of Henrietta to help him feel less sad. 

In the end I was left feeling inadequate but impressed.  Full disclosure of my uncertainty gave Son room to come up with a solution he thought would work for him (and one that wouldn’t have crossed my mind).

The student becomes the teacher.

Older “D” post you may have missed: Date

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6 thoughts on “Death

  1. Anything that we lose that we are accustomed to sharing our lives with can affect us. Dog, chicken or a favorite chair. That is why it is so important to have diversity around our kids. We learn to care for what is around us and care for more than just what we are accustomed to.
    Cheers to Henrietta. Would she have ever expected that her life would have people reading about her and discussing her from all over the country? I would say that in the end you did not “fail” her. I would say that because I was raised on a farm, she is just a chicken.

  2. Awesome post! Funny thing is that my brothers also had a chicken named Henrietta. Is there a list of popular chicken names out there, I’m wondering?! My attitude toward animals is the same as yours – I could never have a dog or cat because the companionship still doesn’t make it worth the work, but chickens, yes!
    If you’re interested, I actually wrote a post several months ago about my family’s experience raising chickens. Would love to hear more about yours. How many do you have?
    http://feistyredhair.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/a-saga-of-feathered-fowl/

    1. Thanks! I honestly think the rise of urban farming would make a “baby names for poultry” name marketable. Henrietta’s death reduces our ‘flock’ to three. We live in the city on a small lot. We can legally have up to 8 chickens, but that seems like a lot of chickens for a neighborhood as dense as ours. Near term, I think the reduction in our flock will help me justify the purchase of a green egg layer and/or white egg layer. Right now, we have brown egg layers (two barred rocks and one black australorp).

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