Original Artwork © Julie Cox, 2008
One chilly morning, my preschooler and I went outside to find that one of the chickens had died during the night. I suspect that an accident involving one of the child's friends had dealt the poor bird an internal injury. No matter how closely supervised, I had discovered to my regret how fast accidents could happen. The chickens were no longer allowed out with my son's friends, but that lesson had come too late for this particular bird, ironically named Phoenix.
My son took the bird's death hard. He sobbed uncontrollably as he asked why she had died, and I struggled to frame the answer in a way that would not leave him blaming his friend (or me.) He denied that she wouldn't come back, that we couldn't get another chicken to replace her, that she had gone to be with God forever. I held him and rocked him as we talked, and he gradually calmed down and began asking his desperate questions with a little more thought and control.
This was not the first time we'd had this conversation. Our cat, Spike, died over a year ago. A little cat statue now stands in the jasmine by his grave to remind us. The boy didn't understand that death at all, though he asked about it without any apparent grief or distress. The cat was gone, and he just couldn't wrap his toddler brain around why. Some months ago, my paternal grandmother died, and this time there was more of a reaction. Explaining without causing him undue distress was difficult, especially since I wanted him to get a complete answer from me, and not go looking for it from other (non-pagan) sources.
"What happened to Ma?" he would ask (and still asks.)
"She's gone to be with God, sweetie. God exists everywhere, in our hearts, in the world around us, in everything. God is love, and she will take good care of Ma, ok? You don't need to worry about her, but you won't see her anymore either."
This explanation, as simple and non-terrifying as I could make it, would be met with a contemplative silence and a furrow between his eyes. Of course, death did come up again, this time while I wasn't around. At my brother's house, I was abruptly confronted by a screaming preschooler who was in agony over having been told by his cousin that EVERYONE eventually goes to be with God. His mother, his father, his baby brother, yes, even HIM. It took a lot of calming and reassurance (desperately clinging to truth and not lying) to get him calm again, followed by a brief chat with his cousin. Evidently three-year-olds are not equipped to confront their own mortality.
With the death of the chicken, mortality had surfaced in his life once more. We held a brief funeral for Phoenix, and wished that she would go to be with God and have a lovely, peaceful time, that it would be comfortable and warm, with plenty of good things to eat and no poo in her coop (this last was my son's addition to the ceremony.) We moved the woodpile, to stack it over her grave. No foxes would be digging up this one.
Some time later, while driving in the car, he asked again about Phoenix, about the other chickens ("They're fine, love") and about the chicken's eggs. In particular, why did no chicks hatch from our eggs? Oh dear - were we moving from one complex subject to another? I carefully explained we had no rooster, and a rooster was needed to make the kind of eggs that hatched chicks. I suspected he thought that roosters laid special eggs, and I was content to leave that particular misconception alone.
My brilliant, glorious boy pondered this a moment, then opened his little mouth and made a stunning pronouncement. "Ma and Spike and Phoenix have gone to be with God. Babies and chicks come from God and go into mamas' tummies, then they come out of mamas' tummies and are babies. So Ma and Spike and Phoenix, they are babies in mamas' tummies now." I just about forgot to drive as I stared at him in the rearview mirror, content and peaceful as he stared out of the minivan window. Sitting in his five-point carseat, kicking his Speed Racer sneakers, he'd come up with reincarnation. And I had to admit, it made sense.
When we got home I went out to talk with Phoenix a minute. I told her she'd been a good chicken, and if my son was right, and she was to be reborn, then I hoped she got a really great life the next time around. The peace I'd seen on my son's face surely had to be worth something for the soul of a chicken. I know it was worth a lot to me.
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.