I was thinking about the movie I had just seen with my husband as I walked down to the chicken coop to do my nightly check. Peeking into the henhouse, I saw a white glow coming from beneath the roost. As I climbed up into the henhouse to settle her properly, I thought– “That silly Lily - she must have gotten a late start up to the roost and been unable to find her way in the draining light” (chickens do not see well in the dark).
I reached down to pick her up and she felt…weird…not normal….not alive! Yikes! What? Just this morning she had come to see me; she had chased the few drops of water that fell on the ground when I hung the chicken water as if they were little bugs like she did every morning. She was fine, this couldn’t be…are the others all right?
And then it started…my pre-frontal cortex, that uniquely human part of our brain, kicked into gear…what did you do wrong? How did you not notice she was sick? Was there a danger in the coop you didn’t take care of? You shouldn’t have gone to the movie and been later for your coop check tonight. You should have checked on them before you left. What would Todd think? (Todd helps me with the chickens). Did I do something wrong? Why am I raising chickens when I am not an expert? How could I have let this happen?
….and then, it the middle of this lovely thought storm, I noticed something. Tina, my Polish hen, who is quite resplendent in her black and white feather cap, was sleeping, peacefully, undisturbed right above the body of Lily. Now, Tina is a hen who loves her sleep. She is always the first up to the roost and can sleep through anything. Beauty sleep and sunning are two of her most valued pursuits. But, really?….just sleeping, right above a dead body?
Well…why not? What was she going to do about it? Lily was obviously dead and no amount of claw wringing by Tina or any other chicken was going to bring her back. Also, Tina is not blessed with a pre-frontal cortex, that part of the human brain that lets us create stories about the circumstances in our lives. Lily was a flock mate, she was there and then she wasn’t. No reason to lose sleep or beat herself up about how maybe if she had been there a little more for Lily, been a little better chicken friend, she might not have died that night. Tina also didn’t spend any time worrying about what the other chickens or I would think about her sleeping over the dead body or what this meant for the future of her and the rest of the flock. She just slept, peacefully, because that was what was to be done right now, in the present.
After freaking out a little about actually getting the dead body out of the henhouse, I had a good crying laugh. Tina was showing me one way of dealing with the death of Lily and that was to do what needed to be done (sleep in her case, disposing of body in mine), learn whatever was to be learned, and carry on. After a post-mortem by the vet found absolutely nothing wrong with Lily (we are calling it The Great Lily Mystery), I determined to follow Tina’s example.
Sure, I missed seeing Lily waddle over when I set the fresh water out in the morning. I acknowledged this and let myself feel it. This pain, or clean pain, will pass if you let yourself experience it which can sometimes mean a good cry. I also watched my mind and noticed if I wanted to go into mental self-abuse about her death. This kind of pain, or dirty pain, is self-created rather than being created by the circumstances themselves. If and when I noticed myself beginning to do this, I instead focused on the present – the chickens right in front of me, the sound of the birds singing in the trees and how the ground felt beneath my feet…aaah, a much nicer place to be…and Lily still where Lily was – in the big chicken heaven in the sky.
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