Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “death”

In Memory of Sparkle Shiny

On the morning of the Fourth, instead of attending a parade like the rest of the nation, we said farewell to a beloved chicken.

Sparkle Shiny appeared to have injured her leg on Friday evening. I called around but there were no emergency vets open on a Friday night of a holiday weekend who took chickens. She was eating and drinking and not visibly in pain, and with no other options short of driving an hour south, we had to wait until the emergency bird specialist was in the office the next morning. I made her a little nest of towels to keep her upright in front of the food and water dishes and hoped she would improve overnight.

Owlet helps an ailing Sparkle Shiny to food and water

In the morning her breathing was labored and she refused food and water. Our whole family piled into the car and headed to the emergency clinic. The vet, a kind and knowledgeable soul who declared chickens his favorite animal, took one look at her and said, “oh, this is not good.”

He examined her very thoroughly (getting pooped on in the process, to which he responded with good humor) and was able to determine that her leg issue was neurological in origin rather than an injury. Given the amount of respiratory distress she was under, he didn’t recommend prolonging her agony. Unless we wished to put her on oxygen and run a bunch of tests and X-rays, the results of which were unlikely to be good, it was time to say goodbye.

I cried. Owlet cried. Thor misted up a little. Platypup rampaged noticeably less than normal.

We held a little farewell ceremony, there in the exam room. Owlet snuggled her chicken and we each shared memories from her short life. How scraggly Sparkle Shiny was as a three week old when we first laid eyes on her. How she ducked through the fence holes in those early days. The first time she ate from our hands. The massive coordinated effort required by the kids and I to get her and Scratchel Diggy out from behind the bunny enclosure. The awkward way she would flutter to the top of the coop or the lowest branches of the fig tree. Her quite recent voice change to a mature “bukaw.”

Then we sang her a song; Owlet chose “I Love My Little Rooster,” which she had taken to singing to the chickens when putting them in their coop for the night. She and I were so choked up as to be nearly useless at carrying the tune, but fortunately Thor was there to pull us through.

And then we handed her to a vet who clearly understood how hard this was. He cradled her gently in his arms and left the room.

I asked my Facebook friends to share any kid-appropriate stories of pet loss with Owlet. Several sweet folks shared their or their children’s first experiences with losing a beloved animal and others offered condolences. One recommended this book by Mr. Rogers. We read their words together and talked. Thor and I had glossed over the whole vet-(humanely)-kills-the-pet issue in the moment, but later we talked about it, and I believe she understood.

Her face has a new sober look when she is remembering her sweet chicken. It is so hard to see that expression but this is just one of the many challenges life will throw at her that I will be unable to do a damn thing to stop. What I can do is hold her, grieve with her, and answer every question she asks, even if all I can say is, “I don’t know why, baby. But everything does, sooner or later.”


A picture I drew, by Owlet’s request, of both chickens watching the fireworks together



When You’re Smiling

I was a serious child and a shy one, prone to gazing mutely at enthusiastic adults with solemn, enormous eyes if I wasn’t in the mood for interaction.

My grandmother Millie was the opposite: vivacious as all get out, gutsy of voice and broad of smile.

“When you’re smiling,” she’d sing in her smoky alto, shimmying up a storm, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you…”

I don’t know how any person survives losing first a spouse, then a daughter within a handful of years, but she did so in a way that embraced both life and grief wholeheartedly.

Her religion is not mine, but there was common ground where it mattered: in services on the beach at sunrise, in sitting quietly with the memory of loved ones at sunset, in music of all sorts.

She lived to be 94 years old. Ninety-four and a half, actually. Can you fathom it? That’s exactly three times as old as I am, almost to the day. She lived to see all of her grandchildren reach adulthood, to meet her great-granddaughter. And in the most graceful of all possible exits, her curtain call was just enough to give fair warning. Then, this past Thursday, December 11th, 2014, she drifted off to sleep one final time.

I showed Owlet and Platypup photos and told all the stories I could think of. Platypup thought the one where Millie is holding infant me was of “Gama Jack” (Grandma Jackie) at first.


When I went out to honor her memory last night, I felt my lineage flare up within me more strongly than ever before. I felt how she had made my mom, my wonderful gem of a mother, and, in making her, had made me. Surrounded by the objects of my choosing — the first and last photos of she and I together, my mother’s ashes, a lilac-scented candle because lilacs always remind me of my mom, a sprig of fresh rosemary, a blue jay feather from Thor’s mother, three treasured stones (mugglestone, rose quartz, and blue lace agate), mom’s candle snuffer, and a scattering of lavender — I sent my love and said goodbye.





With love for duct tape

During library time in the fourth grade, a close friend and her new friend said they didn’t want to play with me anymore, and I sat there behind them on the close-shorn carpet, my heart in flames.

That was the first time.

One evening in fifth grade, while my mom was at book club, I walked blithely into my sister’s room and stopped short. Our father sat next to her on the bed, clearly in mid-sentence. Her face was blotchy, tear-drenched. At his direction I went to take my bath. Sitting there, staring at the familiar friendly face of the faucet, I tried to imagine what could make my sister cry like that, and an answer immediately rose from nowhere: divorce. I quickly banished the thought. But later, once I was snug in bed, my dad came in to say goodnight. In his preoccupation he sat on my legs and before I could do anything about it he told me. They were separating.

That was the second time.

In sixth grade, my best friend abruptly stopped hanging out with me. As neighbors, we inevitably trekked similar paths to and from school no matter how many detours I took, her with friends, me alone, and within my preteen mind all of their giggles spotlit flaws I hadn’t owned before. Our history ran back to toddlerhood and so I stood holding the severed threads of our friendship for a long time, never sure why.

That was the third time.

In seventh grade my mom told us she had cancer. We were in the kitchen. She had been to the doctor to see about a persistent cough. I remember nothing of what she said. I think I was at the table. I think she was standing. I do not remember the time of day. I do not remember what her face looked like.

That was the fourth time.

In eighth grade, again in the kitchen, my mom gathered me into her lap, coltish legs and all, and told me she was dying. And then she comforted me while we cried. She lovingly, selflessly, bravely answered childish questions like where will I live and who will take care of me while I buried myself into the solidity of her flesh and tried but was unable to fathom a world without.

A month later, she was gone.

That was the last time.

For many people, I imagine their story of the word “heartbreak” begins at that age where mine ended, conjures up images of their first failed romance and continues on, perhaps for decades.

But not for me. Everything from that point on, no matter how devastating, has landed with impact but without shattering. Her last gift was an explosion that taught me where center is and how to piece myself back together around it with love for duct tape.

Because after your heart splinters into shards, living becomes a choice instead of a default. You meet your strengths and your weaknesses both. You learn their exact contours, how to identify them in the dark. And in reassembling them, you claim them all.



Unphotographed Moments – Day Twenty

(This post is part of a series for August 2013 entitled “Unphotographed Moments.” Read the intro to the series here.)

Today’s Unphotographed Moment:

Today my heart is heavy with the memory of my friends’ son Caemon, who was diagnosed with leukemia one year ago today, shortly before his third birthday. There isn’t a photograph that could capture the aching sadness, the impotent anger, the sheer helplessness I feel at his loss, and it utterly eclipses whatever else may have occurred today.


Today’s one-shot photo:



All is still.

Still room, unleavened by the myriad noises a small boy makes.
Still hands clenched tightly grasping emptiness.
Still hearts craving, craving endlessly without respite, reluctant to beat alone.

Redwoods still press the sky ever-upward.
The ocean still hums her same song.
Fog still rolls into a crocodile at sunrise.

All is, still.

My friends Jodi and Timaree lost their immeasurably precious son Caemon yesterday morning. They begin the impossible task of reconciling the end of his life with the continuation of theirs. With my every fiber, I wish it were not so.

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