What I’ve Learned About Grief Through the Death of My Pet(s)

(Written May 1, 2016 – Posted February 9, 2017)

Two days ago, I made the difficult decision that it was time to say goodbye to Blueberry (AKA Budda-Bear), my pet budgie of 14 years.  He was a buddy to my other budgie, Emi, for 12 of those years and Emi’s 2nd partner.  Emi’s 14 years old now, too… 62 budgie years according to one website.  My paternal grandfather passed away the spring we brought Emi home.  My father passed away two years later.  He was also 62.

62 is very young for a man but pretty old for a little bird.  Kidney cancer took my dad.  Kidney failure took little blue.  Today is May 1; old age and complications of Parkinson’s took my paternal grandfather 14 years ago today.  I will forever remember this anniversary, not because I’m good about that, I’m actually pretty terrible about that, but one year after grandpa’s passing, my then 9 year old Dannica came to me before school that morning and asked, “Didn’t great-grandpa pass away a year ago today?”  I really wasn’t sure.  I said so and she told me that he did and that he was sitting in the chair in the corner of the living room waving at her to remind her of that…to remind me of that.

Now, May 1st 2016, I remember that incident and I think of my Dannica, with her great grandpa, perhaps both waving at me from the chair in the corner of the living room even though I’ve lost the ability to see it for myself.  I believe she saw it… I believe they’re there.

My mind is always looking for meaning in the numbers, for patterns, for messages, for answers.  I imagine if I could somehow graph all the significant numbers I notice day to day, they might look like a sacred geometrical flower of life or an infinity symbol, the repetition of birth, life, death, and over and over and over again… maybe it would look like the Golden Ratio present in all life, like the branches of a tree, or a nautilus shell… maybe my life with all its numeric mysteries looks like that too.  If it does, I’d say all is in order even as I feel chaos, and living continues to hurt more than I’d like.

The veterinarian told me Emi would grieve Bluberry’s passing.  I didn’t know what that might look like.  As I made the 30 minute drive home from her office, Budda birdie’s fluffy little body finally at peace and bundled gently in a box, I wondered how to break the news to Emi.  I dreaded hearing his calls not being answered, watching him search for his friend, seeing him sitting there all alone puffed up and sad.  Suddenly, comforting the living was more difficult than saying goodbye to the dying.

I know this feeling well as it’s been a constant companion since my Dannica passed 3-1/2 years ago.  Her brother felt and continues to feel her absence in ways I can only imagine.  I know what it feels like to have lost my daughter, my dad, my grandpa, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, clients, a true love, other pets… I don’t know what it feels like to have lost someone as close to my heart as a sister or my best friend.

Carrying the empty cage and the little box, I sat down next to Emi’s cage and I opened the door.  I gently lifted lifeless birdie so he could see.  I saw recognition in Emi’s wide, scared eyes.  He looked from Blueberry’s body to my face and back and forth and back again.  All I could do is cry and hope he understood.  I just kept saying, “I don’t know what to do,” and I didn’t.

I lit a candle and placed the little box near a photo of my daughter and asked her to take good care of him.  I know she will.  She loved animals more than anyone I’ve ever known and they loved her.  I dug a little grave under the apple tree where Dannica’s ashes are and put the little box in it, covered it over, sat there in the rain reminding myself that Budda Bear isn’t there, in that ground, any more than Dannica is there.  He’s in my heart and he’s in Emi’s.  He’s in the house, in the trees, like Dannica, he’s in the light.

When I came back in, I swept the floor near the cage.  I don’t know why I did that but I remembered doing the same thing close in time to my Daughter’s passing and other loved one’s passings; sweeping the kitchen floor, sobbing, and sweeping, folding laundry.  It’s what the body does when the heart and mind shut down.  It doesn’t know what else to do so it does what can be done mindlessly.

Chicken soup comforts so I started chopping vegetables.  I stopped and walked back to the cage to whisper to Emi, cry a little more.  He puffed up and sat on his perch and didn’t move for the longest time.  I went back to cutting vegetables and it occurred to me that Blue had been alpha bird.  Emi would need me to initiate things, like eating, that he didn’t usually do first on his own.  I grabbed a handful of chopped carrots and sat next to him eating them one at a time.  He watched intently and then jumped down and started eating.  That’s what hope looks like.

That first night, I couldn’t bear to leave him so I slept on the couch near his cage.  He was restless for a while; hopping from perch to perch, finally settling.  He cried.  Yes, parakeets cry.  Morning brought panic and I remembered my own disorientation upon waking following Dannica’s death.  Peace crumbling into reality as I fell out of bed each morning wondering why it was even necessary to do that much.  When I gently lifted the blanket from the cage, Emi was sleeked with fear, wide eyed, and looking anxiously for his friend.  I spoke to him softly but he clung to the side of the cage, little beak hooked over one of the bars, supporting his weight, just looking to where Blueberry used to be…incredulous birdy.

I decided it was a good idea to move the cage so he had a new view through the sliding glass door to the back yard.  The sunlight was lovely, dew sparkling on the leaves of the apple tree under which his buddy-bird now rested.  I sat with him, wishing I could say or do something comforting.  I said lots of things, but he only speaks budgie so I continued to sit.  I watched him watch the world outside; a world he’d never seen, one that no longer includes his blue friend.  Even if I spoke budgie, is any answer a good enough answer to “Why?”

After a time, Emi moved toward the side of the cage closest to me and started making happy budgie noises but then hooked himself, again, in the lookout position. Eventually, he returned to me on the other side of the cage and then to the perch allowing him to look out into the sunlit world again.

He sat there, looking out the window for the longest time, not preening, not sleeping, just sitting, just looking.  I remember the first days following Dannica’s passing, how I sat on the couch, looking out into that world, watching the sun rise, watching the light shift over the trees, the grass, the day go by, the sun light fade and the stars come out and I hadn’t moved.  Grief brings with it, in the beginning, the capacity to be still.  The only force acting upon me was the gravity that held me in place.  I saw the same in Emi, his little beak hooked over the bar of the cage… gravity… Mother Earth just holding him as she held me, as she holds the apple tree and the body of Little Blue Bird and the ashes of my Daughter.

Emi and I, we’ve spent time sitting, searching, watching, crying, each whispering little happy noises to each other in our own languages, becoming quiet once more.  Napping together.  Feeling sad together.  The most peaceful moments are the ones in which we simply sit together in silence and watch the world go on. Silence needn’t be awkward.  The power of simply sitting, fully present, with another being who is grieving can be profound and more healing than anything.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadly, Emi developed the same painful condition Blueberry had and I let him go exactly one month after Blueberry.  He’s now also under the apple tree.  His favorite toys are hanging from the branches, little mirrors and bells.  Happy they’re together and with Dannica.  Happy they touched my life.

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