30 September 2022

Readers of this blog will know that we live next door to a free-range chicken farm*. The chickens make uninhibited use of the garden around our house, which can be annoying, despite the occasional gift of eggs laid behind the garage. They scratch deep holes in the grass, they get into the vege garden given half a chance and when it rains, they shelter in our doorway, leaving noisome deposits all over the entrance. But in many ways, they are endearing with their beautiful plumage and their ditzy meanderings, and their fluffy, chirping chicks are adorable. We have had a mother hen and her brood in and out of our garden this spring. She started off with eight, which reduced to five in the first couple of days. These chicks have survived for a couple of weeks – every morning, we count the fluffy heads and are relieved when there are still five …

… till this morning when the mother hen and one of her chicks were flattened by a truck on the road directly outside our house. When I saw the feathers flying around and heard the remaining chicks, who will now not survive, cheeping frantically, I felt first sick and then sad. My thoughts since then have been overwhelmingly about the fragility, the uncertainty of life.

People who grow up on farms often say they are more realistic about life and death than others who are not confronted with it on a regular basis. After my sickening experience with the hen and her chick, I saw a herd of cows and their calves running into the paddock behind our house. They had just been let into this expanse of lush green grass and they all ran around joyfully for a while before putting their heads down to graze. Life on one side of the house and death on the road on the other.

If you have not experienced profound grief, it can be difficult to fully sympathise with someone who has. Though sad, it is normal to lose one’s grandparents and parents. However, those who lose their parents when they are children, or a long-lived and much-loved partner, or that worst of all losses, a child, suffer profound loss, which perhaps can only be fully understood by others who have experienced a similar loss. Queen Elizabeth memorably said that grief is the price we pay for love. It may be that, after losing someone we love deeply, we can eventually feel gratitude for having experienced the great love that engenders the overwhelming grief.

*Since writing this, we’ve moved from the farm into the city – perhaps fortuitous given the subject of this piece!


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