Our family has recently suffered a loss. Okay, so we lost something we only knew existed for a little over 24 hours, but it was a loss just the same.
The day before yesterday, I was on the phone with a friend when I heard this horrible screeching noise coming from outside. I peered out the blinds onto the back patio first. My three dogs once caught a baby opossum and played with it to death, so I naturally assumed they were part of the reason for the terrible sounds of suffering I was hearing. The back patio was vacant and quiet, meaning the dogs were somewhere in the rest of the yard napping. The sound was definitely coming from the front yard.
I stepped out my front door to see this little white creature hopping frantically in circles and screaming while my cat clumsily stalked it. Thankfully, my cat is a very crappy hunter. The creature in question was a baby bunny. A really freaked out baby bunny. I quickly put my cat in the house and chased the bunny toward my front door. It wedged itself between the building and this old metal milk jug that sits on our front porch. I reached down and picked up the critter, who was sort of frozen in fear at that point. While trying to get a better look at my latest discovery, the little booger did this little ‘ninja maneuver’ where it did a back flip out of my arms and landed back on the concrete. I quickly scooped the furball up in my arms for the second time. My mind was instantly reeling, trying to both figure out where the bunny could have possibly come from and what I could do with it to keep it safe until I knew what we were actually going to do with it. Keep it? Find a home for it? I knew what David would want (not another pet, that’s for sure!) and I knew what the girls and I would want. (The more the merrier, right?)
How could one NOT want to keep this little bundle of adorableness? I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him…and pat him, and pet him…and rub him and caress him…
The girls were so very excited to find out, when they got out of school, that there was a bunny waiting at home. Since I have a bit of experience with rabbits, (from the years I worked in a pet store and the menagerie of critters we had when I was growing up) I know that handling a rabbit too much in general is a bad idea. Handling a young, recently freaked out little rabbit is a really terrible idea. Rabbits are prey; flight animals, if you will. Too much attention can stress a rabbit out when it’s most basic instincts are telling it that it’s life is constantly in danger. Now, once a rabbit is strong and used to it’s people and environment, they can be handled more and even trained to run around the house like a dog. I have personally seen a few rabbits that really didn’t seem to know that they weren’t, in fact, dogs. I carefully explained to the girls that we needed to leave this bunny alone as much as possible until it got over its PTSD or whatever you call the current state of a recently freaked out little critter. (If you have never heard a bunny scream, consider yourself lucky. It’s traumatic for all who have to hear it.)
I gave the rabbit a medicine dropper of water every couple of hours, letting the girls touch and pet it a bit when I had it out. Other than that, the bunny spent most of that first day in a box, hiding under an old beach towel.
We had an old rabbit cage and I was able to get the girls to clean it out. I borrowed a water bottle and some alfalfa hay from my friend (Thanks Jenn!) and had 17YO pick up a small bag of rabbit food. For the rest of the day, the bunny only took small amounts of water and had no interest in eating anything.
The next morning, we woke up to what seemed like a whole new rabbit. Its eyes were brighter, its ears were up and swiveling in the direction of any noise it heard, and its little nose was pink and constantly twitching. It nibbled on a small piece of carrot and a tiny bit of alfalfa hay. I was excited to see it finally had an interest in food, but relieved it only ate a little. Bunnies also have delicate tummies and don’t handle changes in their diet very well.
Seriously, why do people have rabbits as pets? Your instincts to want to feed them a lot of food and snuggle them constantly COULD KILL THEM. What kind of pet is that?
The most freaking adorable kind, that’s what!
11YO poses with the bunny that morning. Seems fine, right?
This little thing fit in my hand! Who wouldn’t want to keep it safe and make sure it thrives?
Basically, we came home yesterday to find the bunny was, once again, listless. Within mere hours, the bright eyes we saw that morning were nowhere to be seen. The ears were not up and there was no fight left in it as we scooped it up and held it. I attempted to give it more water, dehydration being the only thing I would possibly know how to treat…even though, knowing its water intake, I didn’t think that could be it. It didn’t accept or fight the water. I placed it back in the cage, under the towel where I knew it felt safest, and left it alone. I warned the girls that it didn’t look like the bunny would survive. After all, we had no idea where it came from, how old it was, or what had happened to it prior to its appearance in our front yard.
Within half an hour or so, the bunny started having seizures. The girls initially started to giggle because it’s something they have never really witnessed before. Seeing a little baby rabbit rolling across the bottom of its cage was unexpected, to say the least. I quickly explained that it wasn’t a good thing and that it couldn’t help it.
Sadly, 11YO, 8YO, and I watched the bunny take its last breaths within a few minutes. 11YO and I just watched quietly as 8YO threw herself onto the couch, wailing. I explained that the bunny could have come here sick and sometimes things die and we can’t save them. Life is fragile, especially when it comes in the form of a fluffy, white, baby rabbit. After many tears, (all from 8YO, mind you. 11YO is more like I am and doesn’t cry as often.) the girls decided they wanted to bury the rabbit. On their own, they chose a spot and dug the hole. I inspected the hole and, once I helped them make it a bit deeper, we all came inside to get the bunny’s body. I got an old pillowcase and 8YO carefully picked the bunny up and wrapped it up. She ceremoniously carried the bunny outside and placed it in the grave, picked up a handful of dirt, and looked to me for approval before throwing the dirt on the bunny. I told her it was okay to do that and that a lot of people do that at funerals, either dropping handfuls or even shovelfuls of dirt on the casket before it is lowered into the ground. (It gives many people a sense of closure to be a part of the process of burying a loved one and I think it’s a beautiful tradition.) We finished covering the grave with dirt and the girls placed a small stick in the ground to mark the spot.
We stood outside a few minutes and then the girls put the shovels away and we all came back into the house. The rest of the evening included homework, showers, dinner, and making s’mores in the fireplace. There were, however, no more tears. The night was exactly as it needed to be.
While I am certainly not happy that the poor rabbit died, I’m glad my girls got to experience those feelings of loss and sadness. These are life skills that so many kids are being denied the privilege of learning. Like most parents, I don’t take pleasure in seeing my kids suffer. However, I know they need to. I have to put aside my own needs and remind myself that part of being a good parent is letting them fall down sometimes. That’s the only way they can learn to pick themselves back up again. They need know how to feel things, good or bad, and deal with those feelings accordingly. I can’t tell them how to feel or that their feelings are wrong. Everyone needs to come to their own conclusions in life based on their own expectations and experiences. I never follow a lecture or punishment up with an immediate hug and words of affection. They need to feel remorse for wrongful actions and I can’t allow them to skip that part to make myself feel better. They need to learn to feel regret and decide for themselves why their actions or words were a bad choice.
I look around and see so many kids that don’t seem to be getting those life lessons. It would have been so easy to try to shield my girls from the death of the bunny. I could have sent them to their rooms or offered to take them somewhere else. Protect them from the sadness. I could have promised them another bunny right away or something else they have been wanting me to buy them. I could have done so many things to stop the tears and distract them from the sadness they were feeling at that very moment. But they needed to feel that. And I would much rather they learn to deal with their feelings of losing a bunny they had barely known existed for a full day before they lose a significant person in their lives. The stages of grief need to be dealt with whether you are dealing with losing a goldfish or a family member. Death is a big part of life and we have no real control over that. We just have to learn how to get through it.
When I worked at the pet store, I can’t tell you how many phone calls I took from frantic parents who were looking for the exact duplicate of a pet that just died so that they could replace it before their children either got home from school or noticed they were gone. Even at the age of 18, before I had kids or even a clue about life, I had to fight my urge to tell those parents that they should just let their children find out that their pet died. They should be allowed to cry and be sad. If they want to storm to their bedroom and slam their door, let them. If they want it, they should be showered in hugs and kisses and be encouraged to share stories about the pet they lost. They should be reminded of how lucky they were to have spent time with something that grew to mean so much to them. And they should be given the chance to pick themselves up and move on with their lives. It’s okay to be sad. Don’t stifle or distract them from the truth.
Tomorrow’s not promised to any of us, right? That’s a good reminder to enjoy today a little more; appreciate what we have right now and the memories of what we used to have and have already lost. It’s made us who we are and maybe we can use those skills and experiences to make the world a better place, one dead bunny at a time.