I had two geese . . . two demon possessed, attack trained geese. Please note the use of the verb “had”. I started out with Gus, Grady, and Ducky (who was, coincidentally, a duck—a beautiful mallard with an emerald green head). All of them came with the property which wasn’t so bad. At least in the beginning. They were always together, an unlikely threesome swimming around the pond-lake or wandering about the shoreline—until one day they weren’t . . . Ducky was the first to simply disappear, possibly the victim of fowl play (yes, I know . . . but I couldn’t resist). Next was Grady, who rather than just vanishing into thin air or becoming a late night snack, died in plain sight. So there could be a burial. That left Gus, a now very lonely goose who would stand by the pond-lake and look across the water. Waiting. Just waiting.
A friend of mine decided Gus needed company. So did he bring one more goose? Maybe a girl goose? Nope. Two pair (for the mathematically challenged, that’s four geese) appeared on the property. I named them Grant and Gertie, and Graham and Gwendolyn. And one by one they all disappeared . . . all except Grant. It was then that Grant and Gus became best buds. If you saw one you saw the other. Swimming together. Waddling around the property together. Attacking anyone who pulled up at the cabin together. They were my ever-present, annoyingly vocal, driveway alerts and grounds maintenance crew. And so it went for over a year.
Then one Saturday, when I arrived for a blissful day of solitude and intermittent honking, there was only Gus. He slowly meandered around the cabin and down to the pond-lake where he would stand and loudly, plaintively honk. And then wait. And then honk. And then wait.
As the sky grew dusky and the sun began to drop below the trees, I went out onto the porch to feed Gus. Imagine my surprise (and, believe it or not, delight) when my call of “Geeseels!” was met by not one honking, hungry goose, but two. Grant had returned from whatever adventure he’d experienced, a bit worse for the wear, but waddling right beside Gus as they wandered about the yard and attacked my husband and my daughter and her family when they arrived later that evening.
Two days after his return, Grant was gone again. And Gus just stood quietly beside a huge oak tree that shaded the entire front yard. He didn’t honk. He didn’t move. He just stood. Two more days passed and at the next trip to the property I understood why Gus had been so vigilant. The smell of death around the oak was overwhelming; further investigation revealed Grant, seemingly unharmed by the wild creatures that inhabit the woods—probably thanks to Gus standing guard—but very, very dead.
Gus moved aside as we prepared to bury Grant, watching from a safe distance, never offering to harm anyone. When we were through he slowly waddled to the back of the cabin, nestling into the pine needles that covered the ground at the water’s edge.
Two days later, Gus was gone.
I don’t know if he let his guard down and something took advantage of the moment, or if he was so lonely he just left in search of a new, goose-filled home . . . or if his heart was so broken at the loss of his friend that he simply disappeared into the woods and died.
It isn’t the first time I’ve watched animals grieve. We’ve had (and still have) a multitude of cats, two of which were the best of friends, constantly engaging in playful kitty fights and chasing each other around the yard. But one day Sam didn’t show up for supper—and I never saw him again. Little Tip would come in when it was time to eat but would just stand at the doors or the windows, looking out across the yard, waiting for her buddy to come back.
When my daughter and her husband finally made the difficult decision to euthanize Josie, one of their two dogs, the other one refused to eat unless there was also food in Josie’s bowl. If her bowl was empty, Beau wasn’t going to touch his. And it was a very long time before that changed.
Animals know when Life is irreversibly altered. They know when Death claims one of their own—or the human who has loved them and cared for them. And they grieve that loss just as we would. Whether it’s an animal in the wild or a household pet . . . or a gray and white goose guarding the body of his friend . . . they understand far more about Grief than we will ever know.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.