Cate and I stood in reverent silence in front of the newly-made grave for a long while. Shortly after my arrival at the Center this past Monday morning, she had summoned me, explaining that she and some of her friends had just buried a dead catbird that they found. Did I want to see the grave?
I followed her down the grass-covered hill to the edge of the thorny thicket where she and her young playmates spend hours at their Princess role-playing game. Then, there it was before us.
The grave had been fashioned with loving care at the border between the bushes and the playing field, only a few feet away from where they had found the bird. A rectangle of short stout branches framed a bare patch of dirt; six white stones had been carefully placed in the center. Just behind the rustic wooden frame, a small cross--two twigs fastened together with blue tape--was inserted into the ground at a slight angle. Just inside the border was a small yellow paper taped to a stick with the following, carefully printed in block letters:
WE LOVE YOU
Cate explained that they had chosen the name Iverey because they did not know if the bird was a girl or a boy, so they picked a name that could be for either. I asked her how they dug the hole. Cate replied, “We just used our hands.”
I detected a hint of pride that they did not need adults to help them to help them with either the grave construction, or processing the inexplicable reality of death. The girls had done what should be done, on their own, drawing from their understanding of traditions appropriate to observing the death of a fellow creature, without the need of any guidance from staff. Cate did not seem sad, but, rather, composed and clear that she and her friends had done the proper thing for Iverey.
Cate informed me that each visitor to the grave was to take the small white rock from a pile they had prepared just a few feet away and place it in the center of the grave as a token of their visit. I selected just the right rock and placed it along side the others. Then we stood in silence for that long, precious time.
Something about our standing there together touched me to the core, bringing me to the verge of tears. Perhaps it was the girls’ act of love and recognition of their connection with their departed fellow being. Perhaps it was a sense of privilege of being invited into their world of experiencing and responding to one of life’s biggest challenges. What was clear was my feeling of deep gratitude for being able to share that moment with Cate. And that we both have the great fortune to be part of this profound community that allows us all--kids and staff--to experience and respond to real life, in real time.
Late that afternoon, after Maggie and Andrea and I had drawn and colored paper dragons to add to those adorning the walls of the art room, Maggie decided to paint a larger, perhaps more fitting, grave marker for Iverey in black paint, with a black border. Andrea was inspired to make one too, in purple marker.
Arriving back at the gravesite, the two girls carefully fastened their new markers to the twig frame with blue tape. Andrea pointed out the bouquet of now-wilting yellow buttercups she had placed that afternoon on Iverey’s grave, and we noticed that several more visitors had reverently added their white rocks to the others.
Then, after shooing away a gang of sword-fighting boys from the precious grave site, the girls proceeded to have an acrobatics competition nearby in the brilliant May sun, and went on with their joyful play.