Thanksgiving week was a busy one this year. Notice I didn’t say “Thanksgiving Day.” We had so many people visiting from Wednesday through Sunday, I needed extra days just to spend time with everyone and extra caffeine to get through our extended holiday! Not only did we have a huge and wonderful Thanksgiving Day, we also had a wedding shower for my one and only niece on Friday night. When my sister and I were planning the shower, we thought, since everyone will be together, why not have the shower on Friday night? That was in July. When November arrived, I wondered how in the world I would accomplish everything that needed to be done for Thanksgiving and a wedding shower on back-to-back days!
Being home schoolers, we work our school schedule to fit whatever comes our way. So this year, for the first time, my three daughters spent two days in an intensive extended Home Economics class (I think the schools now call it “Life Skills”). We cleaned, sorted, organized, baked, and cooked. We prepared the house for incoming guests, we made dinner for Wednesday and prepared half of the Thanksgiving meal and readied it for transport to my mom’s house. We assembled goodie bags, made up games, and wrapped prizes for the wedding shower. And this was on top of everything we do on a daily basis, from laundry to feeding the two cats, the dog, and the rabbit.
In this daily activity of feeding the pets, the busyness of this holiday came to a screeching halt. It was mid-afternoon on Friday, time for the animals to be fed for the second time that day. My middle child, Amanda, came running in from the outdoor hutch where Rainbow (the rabbit) spent his days.
“Mom, I think Rainbow is dead!” she gasped, her eyes wide and beginning to redden with emotion.
I wasn’t upset at this news because I had heard this before–Rainbow bunny is a solid sleeper, often snoozing through the filling of his food bowl, not waking up until someone scratches him behind the ears or above his cotton tail. He might look dead, when in reality, he’s sleeping. Here I was in the middle of preparing dinner for us and our guests, and I still had plenty to do before the wedding shower. I was a little annoyed and didn’t have time for this story again.
“Maybe he’s just asleep, honey,” I said. “Why don’t you try petting him?”
Amanda shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “No, mom. When I fed him this morning he was stretched out asleep.” Now her chin was quivering. “He’s still in the same position and his food and water haven’t been touched.”
That got my attention.
I walked out to the hutch and lifted the roof. There he was, stretched out in his straw. I watched for signs of life. I called his name. No response. No breathing.
This changes everything, I thought. I closed the roof. “Hon, I think you’re right. I think Rainbow died.”
We stood next to the hutch and I hugged Amanda as she cried. I considered how I would tell the other two daughters. I was no longer stressed by the plans of the evening or preparing dinner. My focus had shifted. My main concern was helping my children deal with the death of their first pet.
We went back inside and I told Amanda to go ahead and have a good cry on her bed. Next I spoke to my oldest daughter, Caitlin. Displaying the classic first sign of grief she said, “No way. You must be mistaken,” as she ran outside to his hutch.
I sighed and went upstairs to tell my youngest daughter, Ailee. Her reaction was to burst into tears and hug me. My husband came into the room and gave me a look of what is going on? After I told him, he, too, went outside to see. Caitlin was still out there, staring into the hutch in disbelief.
Our guests were informed. They kindly asked about the bunny, when did we get him, how old was he, and what fun things we did with him. Amanda drew a picture. Ailee wrote a letter to Rainbow. Caitlin cried some more.
Time marches on and waits for no one. We had dinner and headed for the wedding shower. For a few hours the girls had their minds occupied with games and presents and cake. Only once did I see Amanda momentarily tear up but quickly recover.
The unexpected death gave me a few things to ponder. It reminded me to savor each moment with those I love. It forced me to stop and take time out to give my full attention to my kids when they needed me most. And because we had to continue with the evening’s plans, it provided all of us with the experience of facing grief yet not allowing time to stop–we must move on. Granted, this would have been far more difficult if the death had been human rather than leporidae, but I’d much rather the girls learn about life’s tragedies through small, less traumatic steps.
When the last house guests left on Sunday we all had a bit of time to mourn the loss of our furry little friend. Rainbow, I’m glad we got to know you. From the day when we got you at 6 weeks old to seven summers later when you still loved hopping around the yard eating dandelions, you were a great pet and snuggly buddy. We’ll miss you.