Our dear white hen, Molly, died this morning. I went in to the mudroom to check on her and give her the morning meds when I found her, lying on the floor. Although her feet were cold, her body was still supple and at least felt room temperature. Looks like she’d just died. Maybe less than an hour ago. I look for clues, signs of how she died, why she died. I see a puddle of liquid around her mouth. She’d thrown up something. I just knew these past two days she was getting far worse. I wonder, did I do the right things? Did I fail her this second round? Since my back’s been out I’ve not been keeping a good schedule with her, and I’ve missed a couple of doses. Was it that? Something tells me no, she was just too far this time. Past few days she’d been burying her head far into her neck feathers – a new posture I’d not seen before – it signaled to me that she was worse. Yesterday, for the first time ever, her tail drooped to the floor. And yesterday she collapsed a couple of times. I took that to mean she needed calories, so made an effort to get a concoction of yogurt and high-end feed into her gullet. Did I force feed her to her death?
In the end, of course none of it matters. But I must take something away from this, lest she have died in vain. And after stroking her feathers and going over the past few weeks in my head, I come to the conclusion that in the past few days I was just prolonging her discomfort; I was trying to keep her alive for my benefit, not hers. I ask her to please forgive me for this. I knew damn well she was not feeling good – that she was feeling very bad, she might have been in horrible pain for all I know – but regardless I sought my goal, rather than the goal I should have pursued: that of her comfort.
I don’t tell Elihu til after breakfast. He’s much more stoic than I. He doesn’t burst out into tears, he just gets up and walks in to the mudroom. He strokes her, then picks up her head to look closer, to glean anything he might, then he lays her back down. I leave for a moment and when I return he’s still there, just looking at her. I join him, we hold hands and just sit. Then I allow myself to cry. I haven’t cried in a long time. I must need this, because the tears are pouring out of me, spilling onto my dear, white hen. I look at Elihu, who is not crying. Instead, he puts his hand on my shoulder. I pull myself together. We talk about where to bury her, and decide it should be under the flowering quince bush. All the birds love that spot, and on sunny days they like to rest there after a day of wandering the property. Yes, that’s perfect. Just perfect.
I drive Elihu to school, then come back home to tidy up. To take care of a dead hen. First, I sit with her, and I try to understand what it is that still nags at me about her death. And then I get it. I knew she was uncomfortable, but I chose to ignore it. But I knew better. So in the future, when an animal is not feeling well, and I’ve already done my best, I will have mercy on them and put them down before they suffer any more. Thank you dear Molly for reminding me to be a better caretaker to my flock.
And thank you for making our homestead so cheery these past three years. How many times I’d stood at the sink, washing dishes and looking out the window at my happy flock, spread wide across the lawn and woods, scratching, ever scratching, flinging leaves behind them as they searched the dirt for tasty bugs. Most of our chickens are red, some lighter, some darker, but mostly they are all of subdued, darker shades. Except for one. I could always find Molly at a glance. She was our bright spot in the flock.
We’ll miss our dear white hen.