Weeds: The passing of Goose stirs thoughts on mortality
I don’t have a great singing voice. But there was a time when I had an audience who seemed to like it, even if I put them to sleep. I sang to our young children in the rocking chair when it was my turn to get them to sleep and into their crib.
My repertoire included the classics: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Hush Little Baby.” There were contemporary hits: “The Barney Song” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Then there was the one about a dead goose:
“Go tell Aunt Rhody…that the old gray goose is dead.
The goslings are mourning… because their mother’s dead.
She died in the mill pond…from standing on her head.”
It’s a little morbid. But babies don’t care about lyrics much.
That song came to me when one of our geese died a couple weeks ago. We don’t have a mill pond, and cause of death was more old age than standing on its head. The goose, named Goose, came to the farm some years back. He was a 4-H project from the Covington and Trebesch families who needed a home. We had a reputation for being a refuge for wayward animals.
Goose passed during the night in the barn where he and New Goose go in at night. (We like to keep names simple around here.) Later that morning I set Goose out in the yard while funeral services were pending. New Goose came and stood next to him. It made for a poignant photo, in a poultry sort of way.
I sent a picture of the mourning goose to our kids. It was seen by three-year-old grandson Levi. Levi knew Goose from visiting the farm. He and Grandpa had regular “conversations” with the geese. Herding them in at night was a routine.
By coincidence, Levi and mom Anna had recently walked through a cemetery. Anna talked to Levi about things dying, as much as one can with a three-year-old. She explained that everyone grows old and will die one day. It was a gentle introduction to the topic. Anna said you could see Levi’s little mind trying to process that. He asked about some people they knew and if that was true for them. But then he stated flatly, “But you won’t get old Mom.” Hopefully he will have many years to grasp that reality.
Later, Anna sent a picture of Levi with some playdough. Several little clumps on the table in front of him were animal sculptures. One of them was the dead goose. In the way that young children learn how the world works, this was a teaching moment.
It’s not an easy concept to grasp, this thing called death. At the beginning of life, awareness of self comes gradually as fetus turns to baby turns to child. It is one of the joys of parenting to watch. We see them discover they have fingers and toes. We see them figure out sounds they make mean something. We see them learn they are themselves. This takes time.
That’s at the beginning of life. At the end, there is a moment we are alive followed by a moment when we are not. There is the gradual climb to consciousness as if climbing foothills to a higher and higher place. The end of consciousness is not gradual; it is falling off a cliff. Death is final and abrupt.
Pam and I have spent time lately doing estate work. With that, we’ve completed health care directives and even talked about a burial plot. None of this is fun. I’d rather do anything else than think about this stuff. All of this presupposes my demise. Previous planning I have done in my life involved me in it. End of life planning is for a time I won’t part of.
I understand we’re being responsible. We’d rather not leave lots of loose ends for our children to make sense of. It would help if we had some idea how this is going to play out. Pam and I could both die tomorrow if a meteor hits our house. We could both live to 100, joining a senior volleyball league in our nineties. Or one of us could go early and the other late. There’s something to be said about not knowing, but it complicates planning.
Wakes and funerals are a regular part of my calendar nowadays. Each gives me an opportunity to reflect on my own mortality. Despite that, I’m not sure my understanding of death is much better than Levi’s. I am here; I don’t really know what it’s like to not be here.
The closest to the process of dying I came was my parents’ deaths. They died six months apart 20 years ago. I was with my dad when he passed, and I was with my mom hours before her death. Despite experiencing those along with their wakes, funerals, and burials, it took me a while to accept that they weren’t here. I found myself thinking, “I should tell my dad this,” or “I have to ask my mom that.” Then, “Oh. That’s right.” That lasted several months. It was as if my subconscious needed time to catch up.
We say things like, “Every day above ground is a good day,” and “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” We aren’t so sure about this death thing. Most of us have said of someone who has passed, “They’re in a better place.” But I like this place. Why do I have to leave?
My faith informs me that there is an after-life, a heaven if I earned such a reward. I believe that, as much as I believe anything that I can’t see or touch.
But there is in me the apostle Thomas, who did not believe what he had not seen. There are small dark recesses in my mind where doubt lingers. I’d like to say I’ll give you all a heads-up when I get to the other side, that I’ll write a final column from the beyond. But that’s not going to happen. Each of us will see when we get there. Or not.
We’re going to miss Goose around here. He joins a long list of creatures who have come and gone. Knowing that geese are social animals, we have already gotten another goose. His name? Newer Goose, of course. (We have charged Levi with coming up for names for New Goose and Newer Goose.)
Instead of one old goose, we now have two young geese. There are reports of domestic geese living 40 years. We probably need to put them in our will.