My Greatest Teacher: A Duck
As healers, we are taught that healing can come in all forms, that healing for an individual may not mean, "full recovery." It has infinite meanings. Infinite ways of coming into existence. Still, language does not do justice for us in those instances when the healing is actually an ending. There are many taboos in our species about death. A huge fear-based belief that death is something that is to be feared, ignored, shut up, or even hidden from others.
And this shows up in so many areas of our life: not just physical death, but endings or transitions of any kind, in the west, we are taught to believe that they are definitive end points. But death is, in fact, that opposite.
Weeks ago, one of our Indian Runner ducks, Ellen-O, fell ill. I began working with her immediately, talking to her and asking her what she needed. She kept saying, "I need you to help me heal."
As the days progressed, and I whipped out every healing remedy (physical and energetic) in my arsenal, I kept checking in with her. Her symptoms plateaued for a day or two, and then they got worse. By the end of the week, it was clear Ellen-O was not going to survive for much longer; more importantly, her symptoms: extreme light sensitivity, constant diarrhea, tremors, dehydration despite insatiable thirst, lethargy, depression, and extreme isolation(we had to isolate her from her flock, and ducks are inherently social and flock creatures, meaning a single duck is a recipe for a lonely duck). Her symptoms led me to believe she had one of two incredibly contagious (among birds) diseases: Duck Cholera or Duck Plague. In both situations, survival rates are incredibly low, and death is often quick. Ellen-O was holding on, waiting.
I consulted with some fellow healers, as I was beginning to listen to the voice in my head that had been quietly saying, "Amy, she is suffering. You need to HELP HER," but was afraid to understand what that could truly mean.
It became clear Ellen-O was waiting. For me. She was waiting for me to ready to let her go. More than that, she was waiting for me to help her safely through the healing and the release that was her death. There are these moments after you witness someone's transformation, when, as a healer, you wonder if you could have said or done more. The regret seeps in in fits sometimes, particularly when the healing is not what you imagined. Ellen-O's desire for her healing meant I would have to facilitate her humane death, and I wanted no part of it. This was not what healing was, was it? How could this choice be the most compassionate one? And yet, it was clear this was what her little spirit wished for, as she lay dehydrated and trembling in the dark of her kennel, barely able to eat, stand, or move.
As soon as I realized, I did not want to wait any longer; I did not want to let her suffer any more. I took her out of her kennel and held her in my lap and asked her what she meant by "healing," and if she meant she was ready to transition from her body. She grew very calm; the tremors in her body ceased, and she grew still. A wave of anticipation flooded the room as the reality of what was needed to help little Ellen-O humanely die suddenly struck me. I would have to do it. I told her that she did not have to wait any longer, that I would be okay letting her heal this way, and that she did not have to suffer any more if she was ready to go.
Having spent decades now studying food and working in kitchens across the world, I have had my fair share of direct contact with animal carcasses, but this would be the first time butchering a living bird. Butchering is something that always came naturally to me; I never had to work too hard to dissociate from the traumatic experience of deboning a carcass, of separating joints, descaling a fish, yanking skin, trimming fat, so when it came time to help Ellen-O, I was comfortable with handling the machete my husband sharpened for me moments after he returned home from the farmer's market that Saturday morning. We wasted no time, and carried out a large slab of Monkey Pod wood I had been saving for over a year to turn into a sign for our Mana Hale. The seven months of rain on our farm had invited bugs, termites into the wood, and it was no longer viable as a sign. We placed it, instead, atop two cement blocks to make a table.
I cut a small hole in the corner of one of our macadamia nut harvest bags, and Corey and I went inside to carry Ellen-O, in her carrier, outside. The mid-morning light hurt her eyes, so as I lifted her through the bag, and gently brought her head out the cut corner, I cupped my palm over her head, to protect her from the pain she felt from the light. The bag swaddled her, and Corey gently held her body as we lay her down on the table. Ellen-O became very calm in this moment, and her body stopped its uncontrollable tremors. My husband held her body, and I cupped her head, allowing her neck to relax its beautiful silvery feathers down across the magnificent fibers of tree beneath her. It was a bright day, and the sound of the enormous five foot long wind chime steadily rung a complementary sound with the breeze in a pattern that alerted all of us there that this was a time of reverence.
I held the machete in my hand, and muttered some words of encouragement to myself; the tears freely moving down my face; the heat of the morning warmed my cheek, and the wind cool it down, and I looked at my husband who glanced at me and closed his eyes in a prolonged blink. I closed my eyes, and found myself praying, as the majesty of Ellen-O's gratitude and readiness made us all fall quiet, it was as if my husband, myself, and our good friend who was visiting were no longer separate but one silent and humbled witness to the gratitude of this gentle and loving duck.
In the end, the death was quick; simple, surgical and violent in its beautiful efficiency, the flow of colors, and the instantaneousness of her spirit leaving her body; Ellen-O did not remain delay in her transition. As soon as she was gone, her physical remains were just that, and the sorrow and ecstasy I felt washed into my form, bringing tears of awe and awareness, trembling and powerful, all through out my being.