My eldest niece is 34-years-old. She is a very caring and loving person, yet finds it difficult to openly share her innermost thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. However, she is a natural lover of all animals and works with them as a vet tech. She’ll tell you that animals are her therapy. Something about her immediate bonds with them transforms her and she opens up and outwardly shares her love and caring. However, this transformation into an openly compassionate and empathetic lover of people and animals leaves her deeply physically and emotionally saddened and gravely affected for protracted periods of time during life-threatening or loss of life experiences.
For example, on May 6, 2019, my niece’s 6-month-old cockatiel, “Percy,” escaped through her front door. She had raised Percy from a hatchling. For the next week after his disappearance no sleep would come and even daily activities were difficult. And, for weeks on end, she kept searching and posting about Percy in hopes that someone would have found him and that he would be returned. Unfortunately, Percy’s story ended here without any closure for my niece.
Then, on September 9, 2019, a friend of hers contacted her to say she had 5 cockatiel eggs that she would very much like my niece to care for. While recognizing the personal sacrifice of being a mother to these not yet hatched birds, my niece, quickly agreed. On this day, the one and only cockatiel came out of its eggshell and joined the world of the living. This began her 26-night and day-journey of caring for and feeding this miniature “dust-bunny” like creature. She virtually became its mother with feedings every two hours round the clock of a special bird milk formula. She also took daily pictures of their progress together and shared them on Facebook so her friends and family could join in on the experience. The little bird depended on my niece for everything. So much so, she was concerned that the little tike didn’t know who or what it was. On day 11 it’s eyes opened and it took its first look at the world in great wonderment. So she set up an Ipad on her bed and streamed YouTube videos of cockatiel birds and their activities. On day 24, you could see its first real feathers. It was still too young to identify its gender or to give it a name that depicted its developing personality.
There were a couple of serious scares along the way, but together they battled the roller coaster ride with the help of an avian veterinary practice about 45 miles away.
Next, on Saturday, October 4, 2019, my niece decided to take her cockatiel back to the avian clinic for supplies and to ask advice about its overall growth and health. When they entered the clinic her bird was squawking as though it was hungry, much like it did on many other days and nights before. At one point she thought about naming it “Sass Squawk.” The vets decided to give it fluids and vitamin B12 subcutaneously. When they handed my niece her bird, it was cold, so she held it and warmed it up. And then in an instant her bird started seizing. My niece was frantic and in only a few moments, her bird passed away in her arms.
For nearly a month they had been inseparable and fighting this battle of new life together. Their love was intimate, yet an openly shared experience. Now she is devastated once again and questioning her decision to take the bird back to the clinic. Once again she faces the absence of sleep and severe grief. She has managed to make a plaster mold of the bird’s feet and is preparing her burial place beside her cat’s grave. But she’s posted that “I’m not going to be ok for a while.”
All of my niece’s family and friends because of her sharing the pictures and their journey are saddened and feel to varying degrees the loss that she must be experiencing. The question now is what is the healthiest way to support my niece through this period in her life?