I have to change my profile.
People who know me know that little things like this are exactly the things that I just can't seem to get excited about doing. But it needs to be done. You see, the house in which I live no longer contains all of the "things" listed in my profile. We are now without the parakeet.
On the unfortunate side of the coin, over the last six months, my youngest daughter had taken a real shine to the bird. She was bathing her, feeding her, petting her little head and speaking to her in those soothing tones that only a nine year-old girl with nothing but innocence and caring can utter. More than once she said to me, "Daddy, I feel sorry for Hedwig. She has to stay in that cage all the time. That's why I try and play with her every day."
That is a pithy example of my youngest. She feels for everything and everyone. She felt sorry for the bird because she lived in a cage. She feels sorry for the first grader with whom she has taken to playing with at recess because the other kids don't seem to like him very much. As she said to me, "His glasses are taped together Dad. I don't think his parents can afford a new pair. And he wanted to play with us so I said sure, but my friends didn't want him to."
So, my daughter played with him, and let her friends do what they wanted.
The morning that Hedwig passed, my daughter woke up early. It was Saturday and she had an indoor soccer game, but she was still up really early. In fact, she came into our room around five with tears in her eyes and woke my wife with the phrase, "Mommy, Hedwig's dying."
I rolled out of bed and came downstairs with her. Sure enough, Hedwig was dying. I held my daughter in my arms and tried to find the words to make the inevitable a little easier. They weren't the right ones, there aren't any right ones for someone who feels life the way she does. But being the empathetic being that she is, she let me believe that what I said made her feel a little better.
We had some breakfast, got her soccer stuff on and off we all went to the soccer game. Afterward the game, my youngest got invited over to the house of one of her teammates for a play date and so she went home with her. My wife, my oldest daughter and I went home.
After we went inside the house, my wife walked into the kitchen and I started to peel off my shoes and coat. She came back immediately with a sad look in her eyes.
"Hedwig's dead," she said with a quiver in her voice.
As the tears welled up in her eyes, I knew that half of them were for Hedwig and the other half were for my youngest whose heart was surely going to break when she heard the news. After a prolonged hug, we decided the best thing we could do is straighten up the scene a bit.
I searched the house for an appropriate container for Hedwig. My oldest daughter had a lovely box that once contained the perfume her homecoming date had given her. It was just parakeet size. It was black and white and contained curly-cue paper shavings that would delicately hold the remains of Hedwig. I then took a clipping of material from the Harry Potter print fabic we used in the evenings to cover the cage. I placed it over the bird's body as if it was sleeping and slowly closed the lid.
At some point, several months ago, my youngest made a name plate for the bird from those plastic rings that you put on a pegged grid and then iron. I took the Hedwig sign and propped it up against the box on the dining room table. And then we waited.
She finally came home around five that afternoon. After the usual thank yous were exchanged and the other mom and kid left, my wife pulled my youngest next to her on the love seat and said "B_____. I have to tell you something.."
With the words, "Hedwig died," my youngest started to cry. But they weren't the standard sobs of a child. They were the mature tears of a soul who FEELS, a soul for whom the passing of a bird had meaning past a mere change in routine or scenery. But she also knew that the time had come for Hedwig. She understood that her passing was a day that was always going to come But that inevitability was cold comfort for someone has caring as my youngest.
As a parent, I am both thrilled and afraid for my daughter. I am thrilled because the ability to care for others with such sincerity is a gift. But it is also a gift that will break her heart over and over again throughout her life. But I know that if we all could have just a piece of that gift, the world would be a much better place. We would all be more forgiving, more caring and more likely to do the things that we know we should for each other but often choose not to because they are hard or inconvenient.
Listen, she not a saint. She gets angry, she fights with her sister over stupid stuff and she's been known to ignore the voice of her parents when she knows they are about to ask her to do something she doesn't want to do. But when it comes to her default setting for people and animals, it is to be caring. It is to be accepting. And it is to be empathetic in both feelings and actions.
If only the rest of us could find those traits in our own hearts as well. Hedwig, you will be missed, and I won't forget the lesson that you and my youngest have taught me.