It may sound strange, but sometimes in this life we are lucky because we get to say ‘goodbye’. Recently we said goodbye to our beloved Beepbeep. Our blind duck. But she was so much more than her blindness. She was tiny. And fierce. A true force to be reckoned with.
When we introduced some new call duck females to our duck flock she was very quick to put them in their place. Even though she was smaller than they were (and call ducks are small!). Not to mention she couldn’t see them. That fierce.
Beepbeep started to go blind about 4 years ago. It was a gradual thing. So gradual we didn’t even notice until she was more or less blind. By the time we knew of it she could only see shadows, changes in light and dark. She still tried to fly now and then, but it was not actively encouraged.
It was a wonder to watch her manage, to see the other ducks help her. Sir Studly, one of our oldest male ducks and a true gentleman, he in particular took to being her seeing eye duck. He would walk about and she would follow his sounds. He told her when there was food, water, treats or danger.
As her blindness worsened, he became her constant companion. She would waddle beside and slightly behind Studly, sometimes touching her beak to his back feathers to ascertain he was there. This way she was able to still, more or less, freely roam our enclosed garden.
Because she arrived at our new home before she went blind, she knew the lay of the land. What the house layout was, and where it was. Where the barn was and their winter bedroom. And of course how the garden was set up and where her enclosure sat within it.
You may not know this, but ducks have very good memories. At least 2 years, but I have found generally much more. Our Maggie always recognised visitors she had met before, no matter how many years had passed. The better she remembered them the more keen she was to go up and say hello. This always included nibbling a toe, or shoe if toes were covered, in greeting. So we were glad that our little Beeps had the opportunity to learn her home before she truly lost her sight.
We learned not to move the ‘furniture’ in the duck enclosure and she could wander around at ease. If we had to pick her up for any reason, we learned to set her down near something she was familiar with. She truly did amaze us with her abilities.
Last autumn we started to notice she left the enclosure less and less. She was losing her ability to discern light and dark, which made it more difficult for her. She obviously had a sense of safety in the enclosure as she was still her fierce, talkative little self there. And quite happy to give her male followers a setting down if they needed it.
Then this spring she started to go quiet. Not a good sign. Ducks are talkative creatures. Although BeepBeep has always known when it is good to go quiet, such as if there is a potential predator. But when ducks in their day to day don’t make some sounds it’s time to worry.
We knew there was nothing we could do for her. Her blindness was progressive. She was not in pain, she was just … fading into darkness. She was still eating. Always a good sign, so we knew she was essentially doing alright. And then she stopped eating.
We hoped it was just the blindness taking over completely and that it was becoming harder and harder to find the food bowl. So upstairs into the house she came, where we could feed her ourselves. She was set up on the sofa with me, and we settled into a movie marathon day. With regular breaks for food and water. She ate well enough, but not with great gusto. Still she was eating.
As the weekend progressed, a multitude of movies (so Beeps could listen in) were watched. We also watched her slowly declining. We now knew we were going to be saying goodbye to Beepbeep before too long. She stopped eating on the Sunday morning, and no amount of mealy worms could entice her.
While I held her in those last hours, I really had the sense she was tired. That she was ready to go. It didn’t stop me crying, as I selfishly wished to have more years, even weeks with her. I watched the light leave her eyes as she dropped off into her final sleep and was gone.
I gave myself some precious time to mourn my littlest, yet fiercest duck. She always inspired me with awe in her fortitude. Her cheeky personality will sorely be missed. We have never had another duck to equal her largess of personality against such a tiny body.
When I was ready, I took her down to the enclosure to give Sir Studly, and any of the other ducks who needed it, their own closure. They say it is good to be able to see a body, to be able to say goodbye to it. It turns out that this is true for ducks too.
We have discovered over the years that ducks grieve as strongly as humans. Our George is a primary example of that as he still tries to come to terms with being without Maggie after many months. But he, nor I, ever had a body to mourn. So it seemed important to let the ducks see BeepBeep resting in peace.
We laid her out on the back stone wall, so those who wished to come see her could. Sit Studly was the first to go up to her. He nudged her a few times and then eerily he let out this staccato sound I have never heard before. All the ducks, who had been dozing sleepily in the afternoon warmth, suddenly stood up and all faced her. And went quiet. They all gave her a minute of silence. It was truly amazing to see and hear. And heart-rendering.
Studly then sat down beside our little Beeps. He wouldn’t let anyone else near her. They could come close, but he shooed them away if they tried to come to her. He sat with her for over an hour, whilst I sat nearby grieving, humbled by my ducks.
I was so glad that we gave the ducks the opportunity to say goodbye, and to grieve. And I will be forever grateful I too had the opportunity. I did not have it with Maggie’s passing, so this time was doubly precious as I said a true goodbye to her as well.
Pumpjack made our little Beeps a wooden coffin which we filled with fragrant herbs and buttercups. We then buried her in the enclosure. It seemed fitting as ultimately she had had, or possibly even chosen, to live so much of her life in her safe haven.
Goodbye our beloved Beepbeep. You will forever be in all of our hearts. May your fierce spirit soar free.