Everything dies. It is inevitable. We can prolong it and avoid it for some time, but ultimately, everything ends. When raising animals, we see life end just as soon as it begins.
The rabbits kindled over the weekend. It is always a joy to welcome the new kits and inspect the new additions to our lines. On the other side of that coin, often quietly and unnoticeable to the excited children, is the culling of the kits that didn’t make it.
There is always one at a minimum. Laying in the bottom of the nest. Cold, lifeless; a runt that wasn’t strong enough to nurse her first night. Or perhaps simply dead at birth; a stillborn forced down from the activity of it’s hungry siblings. I always feel a pang of sadness for those kits. I want to stay up all night to make sure everyone makes it. That is not realistic. We can’t keep everyone alive.
Try explaining it to a three-year old.
One kit. Cold. Lifeless. I saw a video on YouTube showing a man warming up seemingly dead kits on the dashboard of his truck. They weren’t really dead, just in a sort of cold induced coma. Once they warmed up they moved around as active as ever. So I tried to warm the baby bunny from the heat of the pellet stove.
It didn’t work. The baby was dead. Two hours later the blood had settling into the extremities and turned her nails red. I couldn’t bring her back. Jo saw me trying.
“Daddy, why is that baby bunny sleeping?”
Should I entertain her thought that the bunny is sleeping? No. That isn’t fair. But telling her that it is dead will be hard. Sigh. Death is hard.
“This baby died Jo. I tried to help her, but she is not alive anymore.”
“Oh.” She thinks. I slaughter rabbits every few weeks; she knows this. We eat the rabbits; she knows this. This is not a food bunny; she doesn’t understand. “Will she wake up?”
“No. I’m sorry baby. This bunny is not going to wake up. She has died. When things die they don’t wake up again.”
“Oh.” A pause. “Can I hold her?”
“Yes. You can hold her.”
Sitting on the couch with the kit in her lap, she cuddles it just like she would any other kit. She’s very gentle. Very kind. The kit doesn’t move. It’s flaccid extremities bear no weight. There is no wriggle. The three-year old thinks she can help it move. She doesn’t understand. I can see she’s sad. Why doesn’t the bunny move? Why doesn’t it wake up? I take the bunny away, and the questions come.
“When the bunny wakes up, can I play with her then?”
“No, the bunny is not going to wake up”.
“Dad, why to bunnies die?”
“Because sometimes a bunny isn’t strong enough, or gets sick or hurt and we can’t help them get better. They die and they are no longer in pain.”
Mommy Engine helps try to explain. Jo seems to understand.
We sit with the bunny a while longer. I explain that we must take care of this baby so that we can say a proper good-bye when we are ready. She wants to give the bunny a blanket to snuggle up with. We use a small tissue. Satisfied, Jo leaves my side to go watch her cartoons with Mom.
I quietly slide the bunny into the freezer with the others that didn’t survive. We’ll bury them in the spring when the ground is soft. Jo forgets about the bunny for now and life… life goes on.