14 years ago I was in my third year of college and living in an apartment. I had grown up my entire life with a menagerie of animals, and suddenly didn't have any. I tried hiding some hamsters while in the dorms but my roommate turned me in so they had to go. I was lonely. Animals had always given me such a greater comfort than people. I could sit with them and just feel their presence. There didn't have to be small talk or conflicts or really anything. Animals are the epitome of empathic listeners. They can sense how you are feeling and give you what you need in that moment. Be there without intruding. Luckily, my mom noticed how lonely I was and bought me Gulliver. Gully was a gray and white cockatiel with an attitude 5 times his size. It took me 6 months of patience to even be able to pet him without his beak puncturing my skin. But I loved him. He filled that void.
Over the years we became a team. He moved with me from place to place throughout my 20s. He was a constant in my ever changing life. He would greet me in the morning, sing to his heart's content when it was sunny out, squawk bloody murder if someone startled him (better than any watchdog, that's for sure!). More recently when I began working from home he found it funny to talk only when I talked - as in, perfectly quiet so I forgot about him until I began a conference call with clients. Then all hell broke loose as I'm trying to remain professional on the phone while chasing him around my office getting him to either be quiet or leave. But then his sweet side would come out, and my heart melted. His soft little clucks as I was scratching his neck, his "pretty bird" when he wanted my attention.
After 14 long years, he passed away last week. I am normally a tough cookie. I haven't had much death in my life, and when I have, it wasn't deaths that truly affected my day-to-day life. I am usually the one trying to force myself to cry at a funeral because I don't want people to think I'm cold-hearted. In reality, I just have always felt we are all going to die, so why it is always such a shock to people? Shouldn't our lives be reflected upon instead of our deaths at that final moment? What is the big deal? Everyone dies.
Seeing Gully lying there in his cage was a bit of an eye opener. It wasn't simple sadness I felt. It was guilt that he was alone when it happened instead of having me there to comfort him. It was regret that although he got out of his cage a lot, maybe I didn't give him all of the freedom and attention he craved. It was fear that maybe he wasn't really dead but I wasn't picking up on the subtle movements. It was shock that one moment he was here and the next he was gone. All of these different emotions intertwined together. I now understand that grieving isn't always about just being sad. It is way more selfish than that. It is about accepting your part in their life before death - were you good to them? Do everything you could? Be there when they needed you? It is about how it will affect you in the future - what will I do without his morning greeting? Who will cheer me up with his silly songs? Although I dislike being selfish, I let myself fully grieve for a day without judgement.
Death by itself is just death. Something that will happen to every one of us. It is not good or bad, it just is. What makes it so dreaded is when we put ourselves into the equation. Why didn't I spend more time with them while they were here? What will I do now that they are gone? Realizing this has given me a new outlook on my efforts towards the living. Instead of it being too cold to take my dogs for a walk, I will bite the bullet to do it so I don't regret it later. I will plan more activities for my little family unit so I know I am doing what I can to give them my time. I will make the effort to be the best person I know how to be to everyone in my life, so I might feel peace in my own actions once they are gone. It might sound twisted, but to live in a way that is preparing for someone's death is going to make me a better person. Thank you, Gulliver, for such a huge lesson :)