As I sit and write this, my heart hurts. I have been present in my feelings yesterday and today. It is painful.
Two years ago, my feelings were shoved in a box. I was overwhelmed and numbness was how I was coping. My counselor, a friend, and the written words of authors encouraged me to open myself up to feel the pleasurable and the painful range of my emotions.
As I drove home today, I inserted a c.d. and heard the song that has been especially meaningful to me as I’ve embraced becoming “alive” again, Sara Groves “Just Showed Up for My Own Life.” I can relate to the words, “There are so many ways to hide. There are so many ways not to feel. There are so many ways to deny what is real.” I have embraced the words, “Open the windows and feel all that is honest and real until I’m truly amazed. I’m going to feel all my emotions. I’m going to look you in the eye.”
And, it was hard to want to be fully alive last night and today as I cradled my dying parrot.
When my dog died six years ago I shut my feelings down tightly. I needed to function and it seemed impossible to let myself feel that much grief while still working and parenting. Despite loving my dog dearly, I didn’t cry.
Yesterday morning it was clear that my elderly parrot was failing. My reawakened freedom to feel was hard to bear as I had to go to work to teach my students. I had friends at work praying for me, but I avoided them, knowing that their questions would bring the tears, which would make it hard to instruct my kids.
Parrots can live a long time. This parrot has been in the family since I was a child. For approximately 40 years, I have known Benny. Losing her brings the deep sadness of losing a family pet and the added grief of losing a part of family history.
My sweet parrot had been a gift enjoyed by five generations of my family, from my great grandmother who visited my grandparents to my children and my cousins’ children.
She outlived her caretakers of my grandmother, grandfather, great aunt and cousin before coming to live with me.
Last night I held my bird and cried copious tears over and over, trying to not awaken my children with my sobbing. I thought of how I had avoided being present in the grief of my dog’s death. I chose differently this time. I was struck with this truth – my grief honors the gift. These animals were a gift from a loving Creator. It is right that I lament their deaths.
When my dog died years ago, it was unexpected and she died alone. I didn’t want my parrot to be alone, despite the increase in heartache for me. Yesterday my mom offered to take her to the avian vet, but the vet was not working that day. When I returned home, Benny was still alive.
I took her with me everywhere for the next 23 hours. I slept with her head lying on my hand. I drove two hours with her in my lap. I took her in with me to a birthday party. She died in my arms at the party. She was not alone. The party hosts were kind, letting me bring my sadness in with me and loving on me when my bird passed away. Had I left her in the car, she would have been alone after all.
Another new choice was to let my grief show. Like the song, I looked my friends and children in the eye and they witnessed my tears and grief. I don’t remember seeing my parents cry when I was a child, but I want my kids to see and know that crying is appropriate and fitting. God made us with all of these feelings, including the grief of death, for people and pets.
Angela Leffel is a teacher and single mom with four adopted kids, one of whom is now an adult. She enjoys heart sharing with friends, especially over a cup of coffee. She feels closest to God and most at peace when in a forest. She shares what God is teaching her here.