I mentioned a few weeks ago that my class at school had chicken eggs that we were hatching. We were all so excited. Well, last Wednesday they hatched. So we had six cute little chicks. Then on Monday one died.
Cue the crying and upsetness. How was I supposed to know a chick dying was going to a trigger for me? It’s a chicken! I’m not even a vegetarian! But there I am, Monday afternoon looking into the brooder full of chicks and seeing the littlest one face down, legs sprawled behind him and I’m instantly a disaster.
All sorts of feelings start to come up. Stemming from the chick but connecting to my own grief as well. I wonder what I did wrong. Why did this happen? Did I do enough? How did I not prevent this situation? I feel guilty. Was it my fault? I didn’t know anything was wrong at all. He was the smallest one but it’s not like it was a huge difference. I noticed he was sleeping lots in the morning but how did it turn into dying? My thinking and feelings spun out of control. I am aware of that but I also couldn’t help it.
So there’s the emotions and then there’s the practical side of death. I now have a dead chick just lying there. I’m the only one home (we had a snow/ice day Monday – in April, I know!). I need to move it. I need to do something with it. I don’t want to though. I don’t want to touch something that was once warm and living and moving and feel it cold and lifeless. I think of Mike and seeing him in the morgue and then seeing him in the casket. I never touched his skin. I didn’t want to feel him cold. How did the funeral home people do it? How do you do this with dignity for the deceased? It’s all so uncomfortable and unwanted.
Regardless, it had to be done so I took the little chick out. The poor little thing. The last piece of this not-so-wonderful puzzle is telling the kids. I dread it. I don’t want to have a death talk with them. I don’t know if I can do it really; I don’t feel strong enough for that. I’m emotional and I cannot be like that in front of them. I really don’t know how widows with kids tell them about a parent dying. I can’t even tell kids that aren’t mine about an animal we’ve had for less than a week!
Regardless I mentally prepare and think of possible questions. I go into school the next morning with the now 5 chicks and set them back up in our classroom. I cry some more. Two teachers come in and I break down even more. I tell them about the chick dying and cry. I don’t mean to cry in front of them. I usually never do that and I’m embarrassed but I can’t help it. I tell them I know it’s silly that I’m crying over this and one says, “you’re allowed to have feelings and emotions.” I think that brings me back in. I think feeling like I shouldn’t cry over the chick and everything it brought up made me more upset.
The reality is that I am upset about the little chick. I know the kids will be too. So that’s how I discuss it with the kids. I let them bring it up that one is missing and they quickly do. We gather on the carpet and say that he died. I say that I know we weren’t expecting it to happen but sometimes it just happens. I share that I’m sad that the little chick died. We discuss how we were all taking care of them the best that we could and it is no one’s fault. We talk about how this happens with chickens and all living things at some point. We discuss how it’s okay to be sad but it’s also okay if they are not. A few kids cried a bit. One girl cried a lot. They had lots of questions about the chick dying and death and we discussed as openly and sensitively as possible for 6 to 8 year olds. Some decided to write and draw about the chick. Some decided they didn’t want to do anything special. Both were fine with me. Would I have liked to run away from that whole encounter? Previously, yes. But in the moment, it was an honest conversation and I think I handled it well.
So now we have 5 chicks. The kids are taking care of them so much. One chick named Donut (we named them quickly after the littlest one died) has had a splayed leg from the beginning. At first many of the kids were afraid of him because he walked funny. Now, he is our class favourite and when the kids have a chance to hold a chick that is the one everyone wants to hold. They all want to help him. I’d like to think that their experience has made their hearts bigger and more caring. But then I also worry about them breaking. We know that Donut might not make it. But they are trying their hardest and are showing what it means to have compassion and hope. With my own set of scientific learning objectives, developing hope and compassion was never the intention of hatching chicks. Yet, isn’t that how things go and really, would I want it any other way?
RIP Littlest Chick