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August 2000 Edition

This First Edition of Anecdotes
Is Dedicated to the Memory of
Ginny Goodrich
And the Wonderful Way She Knew Animals

Squirrel, Sitting Shiva

~ A friend was sitting Shiva for the passing of her mate. When I went out to buy flowers, I found a squirrel in the road a block from home. He was not bleeding, had no visible wounds. His body was warm. But his eye had a film over it, covered with dust. I wrapped him in a sheet and brought him home. Adding a warm towel, hoping he would emerge from the shock of lying in the terribly cold street, I couldn't detect any breath. His arms were getting stiff; the eye, closing. I took him outside and laid him on the exposed root of a sycamore near the house.

Then, as I began to prepare sweet bread for my friend, another squirrel appeared on the porch. With his back held stiffly to me, he signaled that something was not right. Could the other squirrel still be alive? Hurrying out, I retrieved him, while the second squirrel peered down at us from over the porch ledge.

Back inside, I held one hand on his chest, but he was getting colder; the eye, nearly closed. For a second, a smile glimmered. Invoking the Holy Spirit, I thanked him for his presence in my life. I had entered into a ritual for a human friend who lost her mate; it included a handmade card with poetry, orchids, home baked food. But what about the squirrel? Other cultures honored the animals they loved and lived with. Egyptians mummified cats; the Maya, monkeys. Who says only humans should be honored in the passing from life to death? The squirrel, part of our neighborhood, just lost someone dear. He feeds here every day. But I had no idea what would to do for the squirrels, both the dead one and the one observing what I did with his friend.

Wrapping the squirrel in a towel, I headed for a woods. With the ground frozen and not an option for burial, I located instead a huge rotting tree with catacombs, open chambers of worm-eaten wood. In that belly, I laid the squirrel. The wind blew a fierce, sad song, hollow and cold. Life would never be the same without this furry creature with brown front teeth, whose uplifted tail once held the air in an arc.

Since traditional Shiva is seven days, I used that as my model. I left piles of cracked corn and peanuts for the squirrel in mourning. I even gave it an extra day or two; on the ninth, I stopped. He turned his back to me. Apologizing for my ignorance and insensitivity, I continued the additional offering for another week. We have much to learn about relating to grief in non-human forms of life around us.

- Sue Holloway

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