We learn life lessons from pets.

Responsibility, unconditional love, training and discipline, scheduling, … The list is endless.

This week one of my cockatiels gave me a lesson in pushing myself around a curve I avoid.


Annie (Anastasia), a white-face pearl cockatiel

I’ll begin my explanation with a confession.

I’m a little lily-livered.

I say “a little” because I do manage blood and injury when I’m the only adult. Something kicks in and I just do what needs to be done. But, if there’s an adultier adult in the room where injury or blood is introduced, I run to fetch. I will fetch anything for that other adult!

  • “Towels? Coming right up!”
  • “Peroxide? I’ll be right back with some.”
  • “What?  No, that’s OK. I don’t need to look. I trust you. Can I get you something?”

Death is pretty much the same story. I manage when I have to. For example, I was home alone when Delilah (one of our cats) brought in a rabbit before the battle was complete. She finished him off, up and down the stairs and through most of the house. At first, I locked myself in my room, banged on the door, and screamed at Delilah: “Stop it!!!” I knew I was being ridiculous, so I came out, collected rabbit bits (they were gifts after all), and began the impossible task of cleaning blood from the wall and carpet.

In most cases, however, I keep my distance from dead.

  • Dead rat at the front door? I tell Steven: “Honey! Meaux left a gift for you”
  • Animal injured or dead on the road? I’ll wait in the car while the other adult checks on it.
  • Funerals? I’ll visit the open casket and linger to reminisce and pray, but I never, ever touch.

Blood, injury, and death don’t have to be real or realistic. I own the “walking” in show title The Walking Dead. During every gory scene, that is, during 90% of the show. I jump out of my seat and, walking frantically around the kitchen and TV room, I ask: “What’s happening now?”

Cockatiel pair

Annie with her mate Dorian: She loved millet and the baby bird formula we would prepare for her chicks.

Back to this week’s lesson

On Wednesday morning, Steven noticed that Annie, our mama bird, didn’t look well. She was on a perch but leaning against the cage. Birds decline quickly when they’re sick or dying. Annie was at least 10, but for all we knew, she was 20 years old.

My inner battle began. “What if she dies while you’re gone!?”

“It’ll be OK. Just keep an eye on her,” Steven said as he left for work.

And just like that, I was the only adult in the house. Please, please get better. 

I checked on Annie after five minutes. She had changed perches. Maybe that was a good sign. Ten minutes later, another perch, and higher. “Maybe you should take her out of the cage,” Steven had said. Annie looked wobbly, and I knew I should.

Our cage is tall and the fall is far. Annie was on the top perch when I reached in for her. She was too light, droopy. I knew this was the end. After five peaceful hours, some time outside for fresh air and birdsong, but mostly inside cuddled against my chest, Annie slipped away quietly. I am grateful Steven encouraged me to take her out of the cage. I feel some solace for having made Annie comfortable during her last hours, for saving her from an unnecessary fall.

Isn’t that all we want to do for our loved ones, pets and human, who go before us? Save them from an unnecessarily far fall? Offer a bit of cuddle, sunshine, and comfort in the end?

I don’t fear death or dying, but I am a little lily-livered about watching it. Thanks to Annie, I’m a little less lily-livered now. I’m grateful for Annie’s lesson. I’m grateful she helped me move past my ridiculousness. This week a cockatiel taught me to be in a room with death without jumping out of my seat and pacing frantically.

Thank you, Annie. May the air be ever bright and gentle under your wings.

Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016