My father taught me about loss by leaving.
From that experience, I took away stilted truths about trust and dependence, that I unlearned only after decades of mistakes and emotional disasters. I have drained many a beer discussing with my friends whether its better to have a father like that in your life or have them leave you. The debate continues, but I digress.
We had a loss around the house recently that was less traumatic and less earth shattering but it was hard all the same and I think it taught my daughter something, and it taught me something about her.
Our silver-gray chicken, Shanna (as my daughter spells it but it’s pronounced Shawna), the sweet one, my daughter’s favorite, got sick. We worked hard to save her for nearly two weeks, we had highs and lows but in the end I had to take her to the vet late one night.
It was time.
The bird had fought a good fight but to continue the struggle would have been cruel and pointless. My daughter knew something was up when we made a sure she told her chicken good-bye. I told her I was taking Shanna to the vet but it didn’t look good.
It wasn’t good. But the vet was kind and in the end we did Shanna a last, final mercy. It was the least we could do for such a fine pet.
I drove back home through the darkness, zooming along the I-49 with the windows open, as if the rushing air could blow away my sadness. I was dreading telling my daughter what had happened. I steeled myself but when I walked though our front door I head her sobbing back from my bedroom.
My wife had jumped on the emotional hand grenade for me. She had broken the news and was comforting my daughter back in our room, a place my daughter always feels safe.
I walked to the back of our house and hugged my daughter and told her I was sorry. She sobbed and asked all the questions you ask when something is taken from you, even if you’re half expecting it.
Why did it have to happen? Why did God take her chicken? Why didn’t God take Dot, the really mean chicken, instead?
I told her the truth. I didn’t know why it happened. I didn’t know what God’s plan was in this situation.
But, I told her, she had loved her bird well, that she had petted her and sang to her when she was sick. That she, and I, and her mother had done our best. That Shanna had done her best. But sometimes, we lose the things we love.
My wife had left the room, overcome with her own sadness. And my daughter and I sat on the bed and began to talk.
I told her about my dogs, from my first one Misty, a beautiful collie with hair like a movie star, to my last one Kahn, an airedale who was big, and dumb and loveable, and looked like a stuffed animal. I told her about how I lost each one, how it made me sad at the time but how now, though I still miss them, I was happy that I had them in my life.
I told her that, while lots of my fellow Christians might debate me hotly, I believed she and I would see our pets when we get to Heaven. I told her, as I looked at her puffy eyes still wet with tears, that God comforts us and that scripture says there will be no tears in Heaven. I said to her, that Gods’ hand was present in the creation of each of the animals she and I loved. Knowing our hearts as He does, I told her, I felt confident God would allow us to spend time with our beloved animals again.
She smiled a little, sniffed and began to ask me more about my pets. And in true Magsam mourning fashion, I told her all the funny stories I could think of about my animals.
We eventually ended up piled in her bed, talking in soft tones as she drifted off to sleep.
We talked about how Rebel, my coon hound, would purse his lips when he howled, and how Phoebe, the basset-beagle mix had had puppies in a back bedroom and how, when I was working security for a bank system in Louisiana, people thought the loveable, Muppet-faced Kahn, was an attack dog, and I never told them anything different.
As our conversation began to slow, I felt that my daughter had gotten over the hump. We lay there in the darkness and I hoped she would drift off to sleep.
Suddenly, she spoke up.
“Thanks daddy, you made me feel better,” she said.
I smiled to myself, glad I could hep her. Then she dropped the anvil on me.
“Could you go talk to mommy now?” She asked. “She’s very sad.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was so proud of her at that moment, I couldn’t have spoken even if I had the words.
I kissed her good night and went to see my wife.
Thanks Shanna. You taught my girl a lesson about loss, and you taught me a lesson about my daughter.
We miss you. We’ll see you again.