Early one morning, my children found a dead bird on the lawn.
I found them out on the porch, Birds of Ontario in their hands, working at identifying it. They wrapped it in leaves and placed it in a box, and before I had a chance to talk with them about it I saw them busy out on the hill. They were quite solemn about it all and later when I visited the site with the girls, I saw what they had created.
Carefully placed stones encircled the bird's final resting place, complete with a grave marker that reads:
Dide of Window
Violet explained that the pony-hoof clippings were shaped like hearts.
Throughout the day, they visited the grave, even digging the bird back up to look at it closely once again. It was plain and grey, its thin lids covering its dull eyes, but it was beautiful in death all the same. They'd cover it back up, then run off to play again.
Margaret Wise Brown, in her inimitable way, wrote a story about a group of children who come across a dead bird lying in a field. They cradle it gently in their hands, find a box in which to bury it, cry and sing dirges, and create a beautiful grave for the fallen creature. They visit it every day, until they forget about it.
I found an old copy in a "discard" pile at a school library years ago, and have kept it all these years knowing that someday it would come in handy. I haven't read it to my children yet but mentioned it recently to my sister (who is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant) in a conversation we had about the animal "funerals" we used to have as children.
Children play to make sense of the ordinary and the profound. They conjure deep emotions in play, exploring what it feels like to love, hate, celebrate, and grieve in imaginary ways. I know that this bird will come up in conversation in the days to come, and that they may also mention their GG (their closest experience with death).
I felt proud to see them treat the bird with such respect, compassion, and dignity.