There was a dead bird in the sewer grate. Right on the edge, at the verge of the lawn, in the shadow of green grass, easy to overlook. It was black or maybe navy, with skinny bird legs like birds tend to have.
Small child discovered it. I suppose all the small children discovered it over the course of many days. As we walked by each day, she'd become increasingly alarmed. "Why is that bird dead, Mama?" "It's dead now, but then it's going to fly away, right?" And each time we'd say, "Everything dies. It's not going to fly away. Being dead means you can't fly anymore. Maybe someone will come and move it." We didn't move it.
Days passed. I was relieved the other birds and bugs hadn't come to tear this small dead bird apart, to make its essence part of their own. It remained, perfectly preserved, unlike the dead birds we too often see sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. She'd exclaim, "That bird is going to get up and fly away!" or "Oh, poor dead bird. Don't touch! Don't touch the bird!" Other small children said to her, "Being dead means you're in heaven."
I'd say, "Being dead means the stuff that was happening in your body to make you alive is not happening anymore. Lots of stuff is happening in your body still, but you don't know about it. You can't walk or talk or fly anymore. But other people can still think about you. That's what being dead is." All of your processes of animation are now generalized, simply part of the wider universe. There is no longer any meaningful difference between you and not-you. You are At One.
This is what happened to Bubbe - do you remember how we buried her on a freezing, snowy day in December? And everyone was sad, but not really that sad, because she was very old and very sick and also we all had such complicated relationships and had been grieving for so long already? Do you remember how you kissed her on her last day of living and she didn't respond, hadn't responded for weeks, and your cousins fretted about your hurting her, that you were leaning on her as you kissed her perfectly soft cheek.
And this will happen, someday soon, to GG, and will happen to all of your grandparents and then your parents and aunts and uncles and then you and everyone you love, if we're all lucky. I don't know how to say this to an almost 3-year-old who reminds me weekly that she'll be going to school in September.
Suddenly, the bird was gone. Someone really did come and move it.