Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eulogy for a Parakeet

This past Wednesday I lost my feathered companion of nearly 10 years.  After miraculously recovering from a near fatal respiratory infection at Christmas, my beloved "killer"-parakeet, Tiki, finally gave up the ghost.

I know there are so many people out there who don't understand a person's attachment to animals.  I ofter struggle with whether or not we even have the right to keep animals in our homes, rather than letting them remain in the wild.  But for those of us who do welcome an animal into our lives, they have a way of touching our hearts forever.

Almost 10 years ago my younger sister insisted on getting a parakeet.  A friend of hers was working for a woman who bred birds and hand raised them... allowing them to be much more social than a bird who has spent it's youth only with other birds.  My mother was absolutely opposed to the idea... I on the other hand fought the case for my sister.  After all, when I was in middle school I had pets of my own (a mouse and later a hamster).  I thought it would be good for my sister, and naturally I wouldn't mind helping out where I could.

After wearing down Mom's resistance, we finally went and picked out a bird.  Kristy settled on a beautiful blue parakeet - and we gave it the name "Tiki" after the Disney World attraction, "The Enchanted Tiki Room"... the place where loads of animatronic birds sing and dance.

Initially we thought Tiki was a male.  It was actually suggested to us that we get her (thinking she was a male) because male parakeets can learn to talk and also tend to have a more mild demeanor.  For years, Tiki fooled us.... though we should have guessed her true gender when she would boldly bite our late golden retriever's nose any time he stuck it in her cage, and would ride fearlessly on his back throughout the house --- and drew blood from my father on numerous occasions -- learning that once you teach a bird something (he taught her to bite) it's hard to UN-TEACH it.

It wasn't until we started bird-sitting for a neighbor's parakeet that we discovered Tiki's true nature.  When put in the same room as a male, Tiki's biological alarm clock went off and she became an egg laying factory for years to come.  "Tiki-man" as we had called the bird became "Tiki-woman".  I thought her first egg was hysterical.. my sister thought it was disgusting.

As my mother had envisioned, the novelty of having a bird quickly wore off for my sister, so Tiki became my sole responsibility -- though she remained in my sister's bedroom for most of her life.  Not being afraid of the little blue powder puff's temper tantrums, I had no qualms about her being out of her cage.  We quickly bonded - a type of bond I didn't know birds were capable of.  She knew the sound of my footsteps - even the sound of my car.  She would be mostly silent for the majority of the day, and then hear my car pull up or my footsteps coming through the front door and she would start chirping up a storm.

In the early years when she could fly, her and I loved to play tag.  She'd sit on the roof of her cage and I'd take off down the hall way -- and she'd come zooming after me.  Of course we couldn't do this when Mom was around... as the very sight of Tiki outside the confines of her cage caused my mother to go into cardiac arrest.

Tiki's fierceness and bold nature earned her the nickname of "killer parakeet".  Though she did have a very sweet and gentle side, I learned on a few occasions not to cross her.  Once, while she was sitting on her cage roof gazing at herself in the mirror, I tried to give her a kiss on the back.  When I held her, she was fine with getting kissed and pet.. but once she was perched on her house.. she wanted to be left alone.  As I would lean in, she'd turn around and peck at me -- I'd try again.. and again, she'd whip around and peck.  Finally, with a slight laugh, I leaned in and kissed her... she whipped around like a shot.. and grabbed my nose with her beak... just enough to make it bleed on and off all night.  She taught me that when a bird says "no", she means it!

There are so many stories I could share about her, but there isn't enough memory on my hard-drive to contain them all.  She kept me laughing on a constant basis... especially on days when nothing else in the world seemed to make me smile.  Some of my fondest memories are just the two of us laying down, her nuzzled against my cheek... cooing her little heart out.

Her last day or so seemed to be rough on her.  We're not quite sure what happened -- perhaps it was a burst of energy that people say we get before we die -- perhaps it was something else... but she was going crazy the day before she passed away.  She would climb all over her cage trying to get out, and would keep falling from her perches, but would spring right back up and try again.  We knew something was wrong.  I'd take her out periodically and sit with her, and that would calm her down for a bit.

I couldn't sleep that night thinking of her, and around 12:30am I decided to check on her.  I lifted the towel over her cage and saw her sleeping on the floor.. when she saw me she darted up and again attempted to climb the walls of the cage, signaling she wanted out.  I took her out and over to the couch where we lay together for a while.  She was restless, but eventually settled near my cheek.. pulling gently on the whiskers of my goatee every now and then when I would move my head to glance in her direction.  I gave her a kiss on the back and returned her to her cage for her to sleep.

I dreaded waking up in the morning.  I knew that if she had survived the night I would have to contact the vet to have her put to sleep.  Her increased weakened state and inability to keep herself on a perch was a clear sign the tumor she had developed was finally taking it's toll... or her heart was simply too weak to carry on. 

I finally got out of bed around 11:30am.. thinking that if something had happened, my parents would have surely woken me up sooner.  As I went up the stairs, I noticed no one was home: Dad was on his walk and mom had gone to a doctor appointment.  As I turned to go into the kitchen, I noticed the towel was taken off her cage, and expected to see her napping on the bottom.  Sadly, I found she had passed... her little heart finally gave up after both my parents had left the house.

After taking a few minutes to compose myself I quietly laid her to rest in the garden in our back yard.  The rain that was falling seemed to echo the tears that were welling up in my eyes as I laid my "baby bird" in the ground.  The gift that God had graced me with for so long had now been returned to Him.

Theologians have argued for centuries whether or not animals have souls - and thus go to Heaven.  I'm not God.. nor a theologian, but after having the companionship of a dog for 13 years and a bird for nearly 10, I have come to the conclusion that they certainly do.  The way they bond with people, the insight into our souls that they seem to have tells me that there is more to them than just what we see on the outside.  It is my belief that God gives us these companions to remind man how to love unconditionally.. something we seem to forget often. 

The house is a very different place without Tiki... no chirps or squeaks... or squawks... radiating through the house.  That simple yet beautiful presence is now gone, and we all feel it.  I am consoled by a saying a friend told me when my dog passed away, and it can be modified for any animal who has touched our hearts: "Heaven would not heaven be, without my bird to welcome me."

Thanks for 10 years of companionship and love, Tiki-woman!  Fly free!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


"Remember Man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return."

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season... a time of penance, fasting and atonement for our sins.  We make small sacrifices throughout these 40 days to remind ourselves of the ultimate sacrifice Our Lord made of Himself on the cross.

I shall refrain from my usual rambling about the history of various Lenten practices.  If you miss these tidbits of information, you are welcome to view last year's Ash Wednesday post.

I'm always grumbling about how lazy Catholics have become.  Many only do what they feel they "have" to... just going through the motions and not putting any real effort or thought into what they are doing.  We've become obsessed with ourselves and concern only on what we "get out of it".  Faith isn't like that.  Our practices, customs and Mass are supposed to be about worshiping and glorifying God -- not making it "all about me".  If you're not "getting anything out of it", maybe you're not putting anything into it!

I did over hear a conversation recently that really made me laugh, and perfectly summed up the whole idea behind Lent. This conversation was between two women: "Ugh, Lent is almost here isn't it?" - "Yea, Ash Wednesday is this week."  - "I hate Lent.  What a pain in the ass." - "Oh yea... Jesus fasted and wandered the desert, stayed up all night alone in the garden, was beaten up and crucified for you.  And you have to give up meat on Friday, fast a little and maybe give up something extra for a few weeks.  Yea.. you poor baby."

That woman made my day! :-)

I found this above image while browsing the internet.  The author wanted to remind people that Lent isn't just about giving something up for 40 days (ie: chocolate), but it's for giving ourselves up to God everyday, and remembering all His human body had to endure.. giving our frail bodies the inspiration to keep going!