Loss

Billy’s Story

I listened to her peep and peck from the inside of her egg. I stared at her large slimy black body that emerged from the cracked shell. Now what? I scooped her up and held her close. I was a mom again and this time my baby had wings and webbed feet.

I don’t know why I felt such a need to put the egg in an incubator. Perhaps it was because I had watched so many duck eggs get eaten by predators. I thought I could intervene and help a life thrive. But Billy’s story does not have a happy ending. Maybe I was like the person who tries to help a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. They create more harm than good. Billy’s story left me questioning loss, and what the living learns from loving those who have past.

Billy was in our life for exactly eight weeks. In that time our whole family and some friends became attached to her. She required more care than any other animal I have ever had. I knew early on that I would never hatch another egg again or recommend that anyone have a duck for a pet. But in caring for her, I fell in love with her. All she had to do was start peeping and like a mother duck, I came running. My plan was that I would raise her until she could fly. Then, she would join the other ducks coming and going as she pleased.

When she was seven weeks old it was obvious to me that Billy wanted desperately to be outside. I put her on my large screened lanai, blocked off our doggie door and watched her throughout the day through our sliding glass doors. In the evening, I would let her waddle around our yard under my watchful eye and then bring her inside for the night. This worked perfectly until one horrible day in mid July.

If the spider web hadn’t hit me in the face and freaked me out, I would have put the doggie door in correctly. If I would have had more patience with my dog, I wouldn’t have felt the need to put him in the side yard. If I would have listened to that fleeting thought that reminded me the doggie door wasn’t attached all the way- If I wouldn’t have thought I knew better and there was no way my dog could bend plastic and squeeze through such a tiny space, Billy would still be here.

I saw my dog, Ollie, from upstairs. He was sitting at our sliding glass door whining. Suddenly I realized what had happened. He was on the lanai with Billy. I bolted downstairs and spotted her lifeless body on the ground. The same body I had just held and talked to. I couldn’t breathe. What had I done? I wanted everything to instantly rewind. Do over-I wanted a do over because this was never supposed to happen! I took good care of Billy. I had been so careful. I really didn’t think she was in danger. My daughter cried and cried. My son came downstairs, took one look, turned and walked away. Not a word. I tried to console my daughter. “It’s my fault, it’s all my fault, I never thought Ollie could get through the doggie door. Ollie peed all over the floor because he knew we were upset. He didn’t understand what was happening.

This was not like the time our old beloved Greyhound died. We had her for thirteen years and we knew it was coming. This was death at its worst-unexpected and could have been prevented. I felt the familiar numbness of my heart when I don’t want to face something. Like my son, I did not shed a tear. I felt the pain running through my veins and fogging my mind. I went into cleaning mode. I had to remove all traces of Billy from our house. For the next three hours I scrubbed our deck, cleaned and threw away her cage. And for the past several weeks I’ve been missing her and thinking about loss.

Last night while trying to fall a sleep I closed my eyes and suddenly I was sixteen years old sitting in my grandparent’s living room. Their voices clear, my grandfather’s blue recliner by the television, the smell of breaded zucchini frying in oil; it was as if it was yesterday. “Tell us about your day.” It wasn’t a dream, it was a memory filled with love. An ordinary day, but my grandparents understood how extraordinary it was. They knew about loss. At the time, I didn’t. Now, if I could only bring them back- I’d hug them and not want to let go, I’d spend every minute I could with them, I’d tell them how much they meant to me. Is this the purpose of loss? Is it in losing that we find true value and appreciation for life? Even after losing loved ones, do I remember what I have learned? Do I remember to value life and the life of those around me daily?

What did I learn from Billy? I learned that mother ducks should care for their ducklings, not humans. I learned that life is precious and sometimes things happen despite all our planning and good intentions. I learned that loss is a common thread that weaves through us all. Everyone deals with it in their own way and in their own time. I learned not to ask why but to seek wisdom and understanding. And above all, I learned that love like loss weaves through us, but love is the balm that soothes the pain that loss leaves behind.


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The Picture Book Review

Reviews of Children's Board Books, Picture Books, Activity Books, and Graphic Novels

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