Seeing Death in Nature: Preparing Children for Loss, by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD

Seeing Death in Nature: Preparing Children for Loss, by Monica Williams-Murphy, MD

“The most significant variable of a relatively uncomplicated bereavement period or a prolonged and
tragic mourning depends to a great deal on the relationship the child and the parent had, on the old unresolved conflicts they carried within, and on the level of communication they had. Last but not least is the mourner’s early experiences with death and loss.”

~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD


She cried as she held the baby bird. I cried as I held her (my daughter), after all she was my baby

My daughter’s attempt at rescuing and feeding the baby bird who had fallen out of it’s nest had failed. The bird had become weak and then collapsed this morning during feeding. Now it was dying.

It was the first time my daughter had watched dying up close. It was the first time she had touched a dying creature, let alone held the dying against her breast.

Dying birds aren’t much different than dying humans. Recognizing the course, I sensitively talked
her through it. I held her as she cried and cradled the bird. I whispered how nicely she was caring for the bird, and traced the signs of dying: He was weak, and later, unresponsive with heavy breathing through opened-beak. Suddenly, he woke up chirping loudly and looked up to my daughter. She was shocked!

She asked me in wonder, “Is this a last hurrah?”

I responded, “Sometimes there is a rally. It’s a last gift. It’s a time for goodbyes.”

Our bird was awake and chirping for 2 minutes. Then, he grew still… and pooped.

Immediately afterward, he kicked his left leg 4 times and died. His little body lay limp in her the curve of her palm.

“Is he gone, Mom?” she asked through thick tears.

“Yes, dear. He is gone. Thank you for being with him and caring for him like this.”

She lovingly closed his eyes, one at a time with the tip of her finger and laid him
to rest in the makeshift nest we had created for him.


Our vigil came to an end. We cried a little more. Our hearts were tender.

I brought my daughter tissues and water. She dried her eyes then carefully wrapped the bird. We called her other sisters together for a funeral.

We all marched in a natural procession to the animal burial ground on our little farm. I dug the grave. One child delivered a eulogy and the other decorated the site and selected a stone. We all stood in silence.


Why was this exercise so important for my children?

Because one day, the bird will be me.



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