Flapper passed away on the morning of March 25, 2011 from old age and congestive heart failure. He was the light of my life and an amazing little fluffy personality that I miss dearly. I keep sharing this news because visitors keep coming to the site and learning this news for the first time. Thank you very much to everyone who has sent condolences. In the future, you can find us…
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WARNING: This post is about death. If you don’t want to read about death in great detail, stop reading now.
Flapper had a lot of health issues in his life, and that meant that I spent a lot of time worrying about him. I really didn’t know the toll this took on me until he was gone.
His final months, when I knew he had congestive heart failure, were very special to me. I didn’t know if he would be around a few weeks, a few months or a year, but I knew it would never be long enough. Still, I was okay with it, because I knew his body was wearing out, and he would be just fine with death.
In case anyone is in denial, I can tell you that life is terminal. And the leading cause of death is… life. We are all here in whatever this is for however long we have, and we need to make the very most of it. With Flapper in my life, I became hyper-aware of how careless and cavalier we people can sometimes be with each other. It’s so much easier to appreciate pets, because they love us for who we are, and in spite of who we are.
Throughout his life, but especially near the end, I tried to tell Flapper how precious he was as often as possible. How special and wonderful and amazing and fragile and strong and goofy and optimistic he was.
In his last months, Flapper lost his appetite completely three separate times. The first two times I was able to jump start his appetite with his beloved french fries. But in late March he started to struggle with me when I would give him his heart medications. It started one night and I made him take it anyway. Then he did it again and again, and I stopped one morning and stared at him and just asked him “are you done?” He looked right at me and nodded and “bwaaah’d” to me.
I sat there and held him and looked at him for awhile, petting him and talking to him, and really looking at him. He couldn’t walk more than a few steps because of severe arthritis. He couldn’t play outside anymore for more than a few minutes because he was too weak. His heart would race when he’d swim because it couldn’t keep up with him anymore. He had scar tissue build-up all the time on his vent from his years-ago surgery that made it difficult to pass waste. I wouldn’t say he was suffering, because I have seen suffering and I know what that looks like. But his body was just almost done working for him. It had done the best it could for him.
Death is a process and in old age it is a natural process. With birds, especially rescues that aren’t hand-raised, they hide their illnesses to protect themselves, and they don’t want to be touched when they’re dying. They just want to hide away where they feel safe. It can be stressful for them if people interfere. But with Flapper, his safe place was with me. He was most comfortable sitting with me and being near me.
This made his last few days very special.
A body slowly shuts down over about a week as death occurs. Flapper no longer wanted food and began to sleep more and more. With every passing day, he was a little less “there” but he was never in any stress. I absolutely knew without a doubt that he was done and didn’t want to continue living much longer, but I also didn’t trust myself 100%. So as he approached his final days, I bought him some french fries just to see if he’d eat them.
He wanted to want them, and he ate a few, but it just wasn’t like before. I watched for any signs of stress or pain, like agitation or panting, but he never showed any. I was at work on Thursday, March 24th and I knew that Flapper was close to death. It bothered me the entire day that I might not be there when he passed, but I also wondered if he’d prefer it that way. Either way, I knew he knew I was doing the best I could, and while I was sad, I was surprisingly calm. In his last days, I told him how grateful I was to know him and have him in my life, and how thankful I was to be able to help him move on.
I left work a little early and came home to find him still alive and talking. He was sleeping a lot, but he was still “there.” I took care of all the other ducks and clucks and brought him onto the bed with me for the night. At that point, Flapper started to pant a little bit. For anyone who does duck rescue, you’ll know this as “the death pant.” In other rescues I have lost, it always terrifies me because I know it’s too late for me to help and I’m going to lose the battle to save them. But with Flapper, I knew it was just part of the normal process of death, and he seemed fine with it. With some rescues, the death pant is very brief and they’re gone in a few minutes. Other times it can be a few hours or more. With Flapper, he panted for quite a few hours and then he stood upright and quacked. I looked at him and asked, “are you ready to go? Is it time now?” He shook his head and threw up undigested french fries at me from two days previous.
Ha ha ha ha ha!
All I could do was laugh at that point. Flapper stopped panting and I got up to clean the gooey french fry parts off of myself and the bed as best I could. Throwing up is a natural part of the death process, as Flapper’s body had stopped working slowly over the past few days. But it surprised me, and it served me right for trying to feed him french fries when we both knew he was done with food.
In my past death experiences with rescues, the death pant is near the final minutes of life, but with Flapper that wasn’t the case. With rescues, it’s hard to tell if they’re panting from stress or panting near death, and sometimes it can stress them out further if you try to help them and handle them while they’re dying, which just results in them dying faster. It has to be done because you might be saving their life. It’s too hard to tell with a rescue. You don’t know if they’re able to be saved or if they’re on the verge of death, so you have to try to save them.
With Flapper, I knew he was near death, so I wasn’t trying to stabilize and medicate or rush him to a vet. So once his body was done panting, he just laid down calmly and talked with me. I went to sleep that night next to him knowing he might die while I slept. I decided that might be what he preferred. I woke up a few times during the night and offered him a bit of water. Sometimes he wanted it and sometimes he didn’t. He was becoming limp and not moving much, but he was still “there.” We just stared at each other and he was as peaceful as could be. I told him how much I loved him and asked him to send me lotto numbers in my dreams if he could find a way after his death. Not just the weekly drawing but one of the big Mega Millions.
Early the morning of Friday, March 25th, Flapper wasn’t moving at all but he was still breathing. I placed him on my chest and we fell back asleep like that for awhile. At around 7am I woke up and knew he was near the end. I don’t know how I know because he was just quiet and peaceful and calm. I held him quietly and told him I would be okay without him. His breathing slowed over the next 20 minutes and he became limp and lighter minute by minute. The moment he passed on, I knew he was gone, because whatever it is that lives inside a body… a soul or energy or whatever you believe… that energy transferred from Flapper’s feathery back into my fingertips and into my right hand.
Then he was empty and he was gone.
I laid there with him sitting on me for a little while, amazed that I had felt his energy leave him so clearly. I was sad, of course, but also at peace. I was pretty amazed that the whole death process had been so calm and special, and pretty happy that I had the privilege to support him in his death. I’ve had pets pass away in different ways before, and rescues have died in my arms from injuries and infections, but this was so different and so much better. It was just the end, and it happened the best way it possibly could.
It was kind of beautiful.
The cat needed breakfast and the chickens wanted out. The ducks needed lettuces and Lester wanted to talk. The day started as it should, but without my little guy. His time was over.
The days that followed were a little weird for me. I knew Flapper touched a lot of people but I didn’t realize how much. I know I disappeared a bit but I needed to be alone. Yes, I shared him with everyone and some people even met him in person, but really… I was the only one who knew him and held him and loved him. I felt protective of him in his death. He was not for the world, he was just my little boy.
I wholeheartedly appreciated all the outpouring of support and the condolences. And I honor the genuine validity of everyone’s true feelings of loss over his death. I also thank everyone for sharing his journey with me for all these years.
I thought I would write more “Lessons from Flapper” after his death, but once he was gone, my voice was too. I don’t mean that in a sad way, it’s just the truth. He was the voice of this blog and his voice has moved on. This might be the last post here, but new voices are taking shape on our new website, Ducks & Clucks. I hope you’ll join us there.
I’m amazed at how fast things change around here. Can you believe we’ve had 3 more rescues come through since late March? This site and all these archives will stay here for the foreseeable future. But no new posts will be added anymore.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned how Flapper’s life-long health problems took a toll on me. Now that he’s gone, I’m thankful to say that much of the worry I carried with me for him all his years has gone as well. Life isn’t the same, and I’d love to still have him with me, but I’m also more peaceful and less worried. And that has been a nice, new way of living for me.
Flapper my boy… thank you again for gracing my life and teaching me so much about love and life, and even death. There’ll never be another you.
P.S. Please do me a favor. Do not post about your God or rainbow bridges or religion or any other interpretation of Flapper’s death. That experience is his and mine to share, and ours alone. But please do feel free to share your own experiences of death if you like. Thank you for your respect.