Mom and I came home the other night to find Andrew on the front porch. He looked very worried, and he was rocking back and forth slightly, trying not to cry.
On the glider in front of him lay a little gray bird, dead. It was a graceful little thing, and it wasn’t all bloody or anything, but it was very dead nonetheless. It worried him. It worried me, too. With small children, sometimes you can get away with a simple, “Oh, he’s sleeping, dear. It’ll be okay.” But Andrew is 19. He has Downs and Autism, but that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. Telling him that everything’s going to be okay isn’t going to make that bird come back to life, and he knows it.
So Mom went in, and I took the “explaining the hardships of life” shift for the evening. There wasn’t much to explain. “Is it dead?” Yes. “What happened to it?” Pantomiming: the bird hit the front window. Hasn’t moved since. “Do you think it was an accident?” Yes. “The bird died when it hit the window?” Yes.
So we put the bird in the garden – gently – and covered it up with some leaves. Still dead, but at least it looks comfortable enough for a makeshift grave. That seemed to provide enough closure to go back in the house, at least. I insisted we both wash our hands, since dead bird is not a good thing to have on them.
Andrew was very thoughtful while washing his hands. “Are you okay?” Yes. A hesitant yes. Still thoughtful as he dried his hands and left the room. I turned around to dry my hands, wondering if there was anything else I could do here.
Andrew came running back into the room, holding his Angry Birds T-shirt. He pointed enthusiastically at the little gray bird near the top of the shirt.
“Was that an angry bird?”
“Is that why it hit the glass?”
And life, once more, is explained through comedy and video games.