Fear of Loss

Little Bear has had an emotional few weeks. It began with the unfortunate death of his pet hen. It was unfortunate because he hadn’t had her that long and she was originally called Curious George (before he re-named her Izzy, that is) and curiosity really did kill the hen. She was a serial escaper, the true Houdini of hens, scaling the 6 foot fence on innumerable occasions and outwitting all our attempts to contain her. Alas one night she must have taken one chance too many and been met by an errant fox.

When Grizzly, Big Bear and I discovered the loss, we could already foresee the problem: this would hit Little Bear hard. We did the usual thing; Grizzly and Big Bear went to the farm to get another hen that we planned to pop into the hen run without Little Bear being any the wiser. However, Izzy was a beautiful black hen, with shiny iridescent feathers and when the boys arrived at the farm, there were no black hens left. Eek. We were left with no choice but to tell him the truth and replace Izzy with a different coloured hen.

Little Bear initially took the news quite well. The distraction of a new hen waiting outside for him in a box was helpful, especially when she turned out to be the friendliest hen we’ve ever had and allowed Little Bear to pick her up and cuddle her straight away. She was immediately christened Ronaldo and apart from the poor thing’s gender confusion, all was well with the world.

However, as the day wore on, there were several occasions when Little Bear’s eyes filled with tears and he said how sad he was about Izzy. This alone was probably quite triggering but to add insult to injury, Grizzly had to go away that evening to Germany. Grizzly travels a fair bit with work, he is generally away overnight most weeks but it is usually in the UK and evidently the idea of him going away for 3 sleeps and in a plane felt quite different to Little Bear. We could tell something was bothering him from his behaviour. Over the morning, Little Bear found it harder and harder to listen, becoming rude and a little verbally aggressive. Much of this was targeted at Grizzly.

After lunch we decided to go to the park for a few hours to have some quality family time before Grizzly went. When Little Bear and I were in the downstairs loo, him stood on the loo seat looking into the mirror while I applied his sun cream, he took me by surprise with a throwaway comment. “I don’t remember being in that girl’s tummy,” he said out of nowhere. “Your birth mum?” I asked and said her name. “Yeah,” “Well, most people don’t remember being inside someone’s tummy either,” I reassured. “Ok,” he replied, hopped down and wandered off.

Sometimes these life story chats are so random and out of the blue that you are left wondering if they really happened. I made a mental note to fill Grizzly in when we got to the park, as evidently Little Bear had a busy mind that day.

In the car, the situation between Little Bear and Grizzly was deteriorating further. I don’t think Little Bear had followed some instruction or other and appeared to be being purposefully combative. Grizzly was rapidly running out of patience. Things were heading towards explosion territory. Without wanting to replay the conversation we’d had in the toilet in front of Little Bear, I suggested to Grizzly that Little Bear might have a lot on his mind and that might be why he was behaving as he was. Grizzly managed to wind himself back, which is so hard when you are already at the getting mad stage and wondered aloud to Little Bear whether he might be getting annoyed with him because he was really sad about him going to Germany. It’s so obvious now when we’ve got the wondering right because Little Bear crumbles in front of your eyes and can turn in a split second from furious rage to heartbreak. Sure enough, he just dissolved. Yes, he didn’t want Grizzly to go and he was sad his hen had died. We did the usual reassurances but on this occasion Little Bear was so upset that we only got a few metres down the road before we had to pull the car over. He climbed into the front, into Grizzly’s knee and wept.

It was such a shame. Its times like this when being adopted is different. For children who have not lost an entire previous life, losing a pet does not spiral into wondering whether daddy really will come back. It doesn’t trigger all those feelings of having lost precious people before. It doesn’t make them think about the mysterious woman who gave birth to them or the family they never see. It doesn’t make them fearful of losing everything all over again.

Little Bear’s hen loss was a real loss. His dad going to Germany for three days and coming back again was not. However, having the background that Little Bear has causes him to perceive a small or temporary separation as a potential loss. The threat of real loss is never too far away when you’re adopted. He has been with us more than 2 and a half years now. That time has been really stable. Nobody has left him. However, the significant losses of his birth family and then his foster carers in his formative years have left an indelible stain on his memory. I wonder whether that will fade over time or whether the threat of loss will always haunt him like this.

I spoke with school on the Monday morning, to make them aware of Little Bear’s fragile emotional state. It was a good job because that day, for the first time ever, he talked to Mrs C, his TA, about some of his life story. I have spoken to her since and she said that Grizzly being away really impacted on Little Bear. He had struggled more in school; regressed in his attitude to learning and even sabotaged his work, something he had completely stopped doing.

Unfortunately, shortly after Grizzly got back, it became obvious he had caught some lurgy from the plane and was unwell. He wasn’t at death’s door ill, just man flu ill, but Little Bear was worried in a death’s door kind of way, I suppose because his threat of loss censors where still on high alert. It’s so hard for him, having to carry around the weight of worry that something bad might happen to someone he loves all the time.

Thankfully, Mrs C seemed to get it and made the link with Little Bear’s earlier life without me needing to point it out. I really feel as though she has been listening to us rabbiting on all year and she is pretty tuned into the little dude now, thank goodness. Having an understanding approach at school and some extra cuddles will no doubt have helped Little Bear to get back on track a little quicker.


*In looking for a medical term for ‘fear of loss’, I stumbled upon this list of fears: 

Phobias list

Check it out, it’s pretty entertaining. Obviously I don’t find people having fears funny but I’m hard pushed to believe some of them are real… Fear of sitting down, Tuberculosis or being infested by worms anyone?


Fear of Loss

The death of a hen

Last weekend Grizzly and I noticed that one of our hens was looking less than healthy. We consulted the hen book and as with most things hen-related, the answer seemed to be human dispatch. However, she seemed comfortable enough and I didn’t have the heart for it. She sat on my knee for a while and we fed her some mealworms and she perked up a little. She obviously wasn’t cured but we decided to let nature take its course. After a couple of days it was obvious she was taking a turn for the worse and it was clear she was going to die.

Grizzly and I realised that although she’s a hen and in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, this would be the boys’ first experience of death and therefore the situation was going to require some careful handling.

Both boys had, at around about the age of 3 or 4, been through a phase of asking a lot of questions about death. I think it’s probably a normal phase, where children have the realisation that death is permanent. The idea of death seemed to play on Little Bear’s mind for a while because he was very interested in whose parents were whose e.g. that granny is daddy’s mummy and he had noticed, or Big Bear had pointed out, that Grizzly didn’t have a daddy. That raised the obvious question of where he was and in the very direct way that children do, Big Bear had announced to him that he was dead. We then had to try to explain heaven etc. I kept thinking that Little Bear had got it but then at very random points he would say “where’s yours dad, he’s dead?”. He then went on to invent a flying car that he was going to use to get to heaven and bring Grizzly’s Dad back. It was very sweet and did show an intrinsic understanding about relationships and missing people. It did however suggest that he wasn’t really getting the death thing. In this situation I’m quite ok with blissful ignorance for as long as possible so didn’t try to correct him too much.

Little Bear must have been continuing to ruminate on the idea as he then started to ask whether, once Grizzly and I were dead, he would go back and live with his foster carers! I wasn’t really sure if this was because he wanted it to happen (!!) or if he was just checking that it wouldn’t. The whole situation is made more complicated by his difficulties with language so I have tried to say that generally people die when they’re really old and have white hair so it is not something he needs to worry about. However, I have tried to point out that grandpa has white hair and is very much alive. I have also pointed out that Supergran is 86 and really old and also very much alive!

Anyway, so you can see why I was approaching the imminent hen death with some consternation.

In the event it was Big Bear who was really upset. I told him that I thought she would die before she actually did, so that he could say bye to her and hopefully be a bit prepared for it. Each evening he sat outside with the hen on his knee, cuddling her and crying into her feathers. He kept telling me how sad he was. I tried to acknowledge that but say that she seemed so settled and that stroking her was making her happy and that he was doing the best he could to comfort her. We kept her away from the other hens for the last couple of nights and made sure she was snug with a hot water bottle etc. Big Bear had lots of thoughts on her burial and that we would need to get flowers for her.

In the end, when she finally passed away (I was glad because the poor thing hung on for quite a bit longer that we thought and was quite comatose), both boys just took it in their stride. They painted a cardboard box coffin for her and then decorated a big stone to put on top of the grave. They helped Grizzly bury her under the hedge and I obliged with a tub of pansies.

I’m glad that we involved them. I think their reactions have shown it was the right thing to do. However, I don’t know if it has done much to help Little Bear understand it all. How do you explain to a small child, especially one with language difficulties that the hen has died and gone to heaven, yet there she is, in plain sight, sitting (although rather stiffly) in a box right before you? I started trying to say that her body was still here but her personality had gone to heaven. After Little Bear had said “what?” for the 5th time, I pretty much gave up. It’s not like me to be at a complete loss but the concept is just too abstract. I think I’ll leave him in blissful ignorance for as long as possible.


The death of a hen