Yesterday, my husband and I killed the big rooster and introduced our children to death. Part of me wants to curl up in a ball and hide from the responsibility to guide my children through the sad parts of life. Part of me knows that hiding from it doesn't make the rough patches disappear for my children. They will hurt and mourn whether I show them the tools to deal with it or not.
The back story: We purchased chickens mostly for the eggs. John and I built the chicken coop ourselves then populated it with life. When John bought these chickens, he wanted 1 rooster and 3 hens. When he picked up the chickens, the seller handed him two more adolescent chickens and said no charge. The gal had too many chickens and wanted to be rid of them so we made them part of our family.
1 month later and I noticed that one of the adolescent "females" was revealing very male qualities. The feathers were turning colorful and a red waddle was developing. We finally understood why the other chickens picked on this young chicken more -it was a rival rooster.
After a lot of discussion, we decided we wanted to let the younger rooster take over the flock. The older rooster wasn't as friendly as we wanted and we wanted a break from his constant crowing. We considered giving him away but didn't know anyone who needed a rooster. We then decided to butcher him.
I have to admit, writing what we did feels harsh. We don't take pleasure in killing. We don't enjoy the thought of ending a life. We had to face and own the actual source of the meat we so easy throw into our shopping carts.
After much blundering about, the deed was done but helping our children through this loss will take longer. Only our oldest was around for the process. He was the only one we felt was old enough to see the death. He had to leave several times and we let him come and go as he needed. My heart ached as I watched him mourn the rooster. Tears fell from all.
The younger two didn't see any part of the death so they only understand the rooster is gone. I think the concept the the rooster died isn't concrete yet and I think it should stay that way for a few more years until they have more maturity and life experience to handle death.
As we work through the loss, I feel the most important lessons I am teaching my children are:
- It's OK to hurt. Accept the pain. Avoiding your feelings does not make them go away. Take all the time you need to process what happened (death, injury, heartbreak, etc.). We have talked about why the rooster died, what they think of the rooster being gone and more several times in just 24 hours. I'll talk to them about it as many times as they need to work through this new trial.
- Death is a part of life. While death is sad and birth is happy, we will experience both as we live. We talked about how one day we'll get chicks from some of the eggs and as the chickens get older they will die too.
- We did not kill for fun. We made sure everyone understood John and I did not kill the rooster because we enjoyed it. We killed the rooster for meat to nourish us and so the little rooster could grow up. While watching videos to get ideas on how to kill and butcher the chicken efficiently, we found videos of drunk guys laughing and rejoicing over the deaths. That was not the message we want our children to receive.