I have been very aware of late that my parrot is aging. The lifespan for domestic African Greys is about 28-32 years, whereas in the wild they live to about 60.
I have always thought Asterix was born May 19, 1989. That has always been my story, but it may have been earlier? My memory is that my baby brother brought home a baby parrot that he purchased with some high school graduation scholarship money. But that would have been 1985. So, is Asterix 28 or 32?
No matter- Asterix has aged nonetheless. And I have found myself acutely aware of the fact. My daughter is 32, my son almost 30- they have almost always known life as including Asterix.
I inherited Asterix (along with our dog, Tobey) from my mother before she passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2008. My father had a stroke in 2005 and was in care. Once those two pets came on board, I lived with my daughter (she moved in and out), son, two cats- Riley and Violet, Tobey and Asterix and all our stuff in a very little apartment and somehow it worked. Chaotic, joyous, creative, – a full and loving life.
Since then, my mom and dad have passed away. So has Riley, Violet and Tobey. Asterix has been with us through all the other big life markers. My two brothers’ weddings, births of my nephew Henrik and niece Vivienne, my kids starting pre-school and becoming teenagers and adults, my divorce, crisis, breakdowns, breakthroughs, moves and jobs and the passing of all the other pets- Milton, Tina, Oliver, Martha, Larry, Carbella…
He has ruined furniture and books. And remotes, He has chewed my foam boards, china markers and kept a close eye as I crafted. Always a creative director.
My mom and dad have lived on through Asterix– as he belly-laughs like mom, answers the phone like Dad, joins in our conversations in Swedish and English. Yelling Hejdå as we leave.
As I mentioned, I have had Asterix’s aging on my mind a lot. Why?
I met Mike from Mike’s Critters last week at my nephew’s 6th birthday party and I asked him about parrot lifespans. Mike said “maybe 60 years”— I felt some comfort, but knew that in reality Asterix has reached his twilight years. Mike also told me that parrots usually live sad lives as they are hard to look after- and tend to be dropped off at shelters, move from family to family, be returned to pet stores etc. I am so happy that Asterix has never experienced any of that. He (and his soundtrack) has always been celebrated. Well- his loudness, stalking, nips, demanding food, squawking, chewing furniture etc. has raised some blood pressure.
Oh, how I love his cuddles, sharing pizza, watching him snooze as he sits on the edge of the laundry basket while I read in the tub.
I frickin’ love him so much. He’s my pal, my old man, my confidante. And so of late, yes– I have been very aware of his aging. Savouring each moment with him.
I got worried last Sunday when Asterix seemed very tired. Unusually so. I obsessed, I admit. Keeping my eye on him. Kept checking in. He was— just quiet. Probably needed sleep. The next day I started a new gig and texted my son.
And indeed Asterix was fine. And he has had a great week! Eating, chirping, laughing, whistling, hanging out, walking around. Playing with his beloved bell. (A new one after the old one was so torn and bent and too sharp). Oh his bell obsession- true true love.
He did seem a little subdued sometimes- spending a lot of time just observing us. Keeping an eye. Staying close, but gently so.
And so here we are. It is September 24, 2017 as I write this.
Asterix and I went to bed at 12:35 AM (just this early early morning). I made my bed on the pull out couch in the living room beside his cage as my studio-bedroom is in chaotic re-organization mode and I wanted some space. I covered Asterix and he said his usual happy and friendly GOOD NIGHT!
I was smiling as I covered him, happy he had had such a good day- playing and eating and back to his old self. Saying hi repeatedly. Hanging out around the house. Playing with his bell. He had a bath earlier in the day- his usual Saturday habit.
But, I just couldn’t sleep- my heart was racing. I hadn’t had my usual evening coffee- so could’t blame it on that. Yes, rent is coming and it is time to hustle, but it was not that kind of feeling. I lay with my hands on my chest trying to soothe my heart.
Stay neutral, stay present.
I must have slipped into some kind of stupor. At 3 AM, I shot out of bed as Asterix was making a strange repeated squeaking sound. I lifted the blanket and he was in distress, clutching the side of his cage with one claw, and holding on with his beak, one wing strangely draped over one of the cage perches.
I knew. Just knew.
I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a little towel, gently pried his claw off the cage, pulled off the cage (which sits on a stand) with my adrenaline and gently wrapped Asterix in the towel and held him like a little swaddled baby as I sat on the edge of the bed. I looked into his eyes, and talked to him gently- saying I love you. I love you. He continued to make the the repeated sound for a minute or so, then let out a little gasp and… he died.
I held him warm, gently. Look at his sweet face. This little bird- with such a large presence. Has died. For 30 minutes I walked around holding him. Thanking him for what he has given me. I cried. Cried for losing him. My companion. For losing my mother’s laugh. My father’s hallå. For the beauty of sharing my life with him. I cried in relief that I was there for him. That he didn’t die alone, hanging in the awkward position. In relief he had lived a rich, happy, family life. That he died in my arms- in his lady‘s arms, the way he loved to cuddle. Cried in gratitude that he managed to live the full lifespan of the domestic African Grey with never any health issues. A natural, beautiful, good death.
I called my daughter and woke up my son. He and I chatted for hours about what it all meant. How stunned and moved we are.
And me, the person who draws dead birds, drew my sweet Asterix as he peacefully laid on my couch bed.
His cage has been cleaned. And sits.
The oven mitts that used to protect our hands.
His last food dish and water.
The tag on the stuffed animal bears his signature chew marks.
The sock version of Asterix pulled out of the toy box. He is now at rest in a basket that matches his colours.
By a candle, and the angel card Asterix once picked out (and modified) for me.
How appropriate and poignant that it reads: Birth.
Good night, Asterix. Good night.
I always left the TV on in the background if Asterix was home alone during the day. Please press play on one of his favorite shows in his honor:
We had a sweet surprise ceremony late this afternoon.