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What I Learned About Grief From A Chicken

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MEAN CHICKEN
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Petronella's foot was injured in a chicken tractor accident. Around here the protocol for any injured or sick bird is to separate them from the rest of the flock and make them as comfortable as possible. Usually they pass on in a day or two.

Not Petronella.

It rained for the first two days that she took residence in our makeshift animal hospital/large dog kennel and she happily made herself a nest in the hay we provided for her and heartily ate her pellets. Perhaps relishing in not having to wrestle with the other hens for food.

When the sun came out she eagerly hopped around on one foot in the yard with my children, sipping out of puddles and hunting in the grass for the strawberry tops my four year old was dropping for her.

She was strong and determined. She had the will to live. So we helped her do just that.

Petronella became a bit of a pet project you might say. We made sure she had shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. We fed her extra little treats and moved her about so she could nibble on fresh grass and weeds. In return she would lay an egg for us every two-three days.

It was through caring for her hurt feathery friend that my daughter came to love a chicken.

One little chicken was just the perfect amount for a preschooler to manage with some help. Without any announcement or fanfare, Petronella unofficially belonged to Delaney.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens a hungry creature made it's way into our beloved chicken's home and killed her.

I have never seen sorrow come from my (currently) youngest child like when she came into the house wailing that Petronella was a pile of bloody feathers. Her little heart was so broken.

Here's what I've learned from helping my little one through this grieving process:

Kindness makes the heart grow fonder. It was through caring for her hurt feathery friend that my daughter came to love a chicken. Saving the best kitchen scraps for her, sitting near her open cage and petting her. Kindness, that's what it's about people.

There is ebb and flow. Grief is obvious when the wailing is loud and the moaning is intense, but when things quiet down and maybe even a few smiles poke through all the sadness this doesn't signal the end. It's just a little rest.

Talk about it. We talked about Petronella. We remembered her love of strawberry tops and that little bit of leftover biscuit dough we once fed her. We painted a picture of Petronella. And then we cried some more because the painting wasn't the real Petronella and we missed the real one.

It won't be what you expect. I change our supper plans that night from chicken and greens salad to pork and mashed potatoes. Delaney thought it was chicken anyway and was completely fine to eat it. I totally anticipated having a wiggly kid sleeping next to me to seek out comfort and love. She went to bed perfectly in her own bed. The things I thought would bring her comfort were not what she needed. It was my job to figure out what was actually comforting.

It's not just drama. Delaney was affectionately deemed our little fournado for a multitude of reasons. One of them being that she is a bit of a drama queen. Oh who am I kidding, the kid can turn any chore into a Greek tragedy and most conversations are made up show tunes around here. But her grief was real. No drama, just heartbreak that is super hard for a little one to try to navigate through. I chose to take her seriously.

You don't need words. A lot of my support was just sitting on the couch, curled up in a blanket, just listening to how much my little one was missing her friend. My job wasn't to solve the problem (although I did briefly consider buying some baby ducks to soothe all of our souls), I wasn't even there to make her feel better. I was just there to listen and let her know she wasn't alone.

With that we say farewell Petronella. May you enjoy your new nest in the sky, and all of the heavenly strawberry tops you can find.

Have you experienced pet grief (or any grief) with a little one? What would you add to my list?

This post originally appeared on Sarah on Purpose

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