Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Vulnerable Among Us: Of Birds and Men

We lost another pet hen this week, with too many reminders of the fragility of life and our helplessness in the face of it. I couldn’t help thinking of Noah through it all.

Lulu had gotten stuck in a narrow spot between fences, where a neighbor’s dog attacked her wing. She set up an unearthly howling that sent me running next door. Just as I had desperately called my husband the day of Noah’s death, there I was calling him again, to no answer. Just as my neighbor had helped me after I found Noah that day, here he was valiantly cutting a hole in the fence to pull the chicken out. Lulu amazed me by flying up out of a deep box and running into the garden, evading capture as usual. Maybe she’s OK, I thought. That day, with Noah’s skin still warm, please let him live please

A bird lover friend told me that birds hide their ailments and act normal as long as possible so as not to attract predators; by the time they show their injury or illness, it’s often too late. So bird owners must be ever vigilant to notice the slightest change from routine that might signal a problem.

Did Noah hide his illness as long as he could? Did he run around, trying to mimic his old ways, so as not to attract attention from those he thought would harm him, like doctors? Did we see signs of mental illness, followed by near normal behavior, and think he would be OK? We didn’t know how grievously he was wounded till it was too late to reach him.

At the vet, we had to put Lulu down. Last year about this time, we lost another beautiful hen to disease after nursing her inside for two weeks with hand-fed water and treats. We tended her, perused the Internet, tried another vet-- to no avail. It was hard to know how to help her.

Noah’s suicide last year came about two months after we put down that hen. There is no comparison, none. But sometimes I think that those weeks nursing the helpless hen were a harbinger of what was to come when Noah came home from college for the last three weeks of his life. My son, tall and strong but inside, fragile as a bird. We thought we were being vigilant. It was so hard to know how to help him.

After the neighbor pulled Lulu out of her tight spot in the fence, he handed me a perfect green egg, the first Lulu had laid in months. 

What gifts do our loved ones leave behind that are still too buried in sorrow for us to see and appreciate?

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