Saturday saw the untimely demise of Peeka, a friendly brown hen who was given to our granddaughter as a birthday gift on her second birthday. Peeka was an education for a small child on how to look after a living creature and to understand where her favourite food, eggs, came from.
We do have other hens; our little one will not be without free range eggs for her breakfast. But we still have some explaining to do.
Gramps’ idea was to go buy another brown hen and quickly. Mummy thought we could maybe say she’s flown away. Granna thinks we should be honest and take the opportunity that this poor dead hen presents us with, which is a chance to talk about death in a matter of fact way using appropriate language for a 4-year old.
Three weeks ago I took our little lady to a wooden play park in a small village nearby, which is right next to the village church. Once she had exhausted the need to climb and swing, we headed over to the church for a look inside. Sadly, the door was locked; a sign of the times. Instead we wandered around the churchyard and my granddaughter asked lots of questions about the headstones, and what the wording on them said. All of this culminated in us having a conversation about the people these headstones were for, and what might have happened to them. And we talked about history as some of the dates on them were from two and three centuries ago. I stopped short of explaining that the actual bodies were buried there.
In the car on the way home I had more questions to answer as I had expected. She asked how old we have to be to die. And what happens to us? Where do we go? I replied as honestly as I could without breaking her heart or scaring the living daylights out of her. I was also conscious of the fact that I was treading on territory that her own mother, my daughter, might approach completely differently.
So, this child has a little bit of knowledge about death already, although none of it will make much sense until she loses someone or something close to her that she really cares about. Like Peeka.
I hold the view that it would be better for her to cut her teeth on the sadness and grief of losing a chicken, and getting to grips with the reality of death at this point, and understanding that a hen does not live as long as a human being anyway, rather than finding herself in completely unknown and terrifying human death territory in the future.
And that’s not to say that Peeka is just a “mere” chicken, to be dismissed without care. This little brown hen holds a very special place in our granddaughter’s heart. We will have to tread carefully whichever way it’s dealt with. It’s a tough one.
I would welcome readers’ thoughts on this issue.