Loss & Grief – Remembering Ziggy
– by Charise Mixa
As I write this, I’ve just completed my Master of Arts in studio art. This is just the latest endeavor in a life full of experiences and opportunities. I’ve served in the USMC, managed an independent bookstore, and worked with a fabulous avian veterinarian. But no matter where I am in life, one thing has remained a constant: my love of parrots. Words can’t express how deeply my parrots have influenced me. My parrot flock is the perfect social system for which I’ve always searched. I’ve been unconditionally accepted as a member, but I also act as caregiver and I am ultimately responsible for each member’s health and wellbeing. Their lives touch me in such immense ways. But what comes with that commitment and attachment is the profound sense of loss when one exits your life.
And so it was when Ziggy left. He was an older, wild caught, Orange-winged Amazon (Amazona a. tobagensis). His four secondaries signified the physically larger subspecies native to Trinidad/Tobago. Imported for the pet trade long before we ever met, he came to me from a couple who had a child and no longer had room in their lives for a parrot. He was sweet and gentle and vocal. I would marvel at the volume of sound that came from that little body! Every morning and evening he’d sit on the back of the couch, look out the window, and “sing to the sun.” I oftentimes wondered if he was calling to his flock back in the Caribbean (and if they may be able to hear him!) or if it was just some innate behavior, written in his genes.
In the quiet of the morning I’d lay on the couch with Ziggy perched on my chest, his head bent low, soliciting me for scratches. But I wasn’t sad or jealous when he “dumped me” for another. In fact, I was overjoyed when he immediately took to Caesar, a captive raised, Yellow-naped Amazon (Amazona o. auropalliata) that came to live with us from a shelter. Those two would form a bond that no human or parrot could shake. Ziggy would become Caesar’s protector and mentor, teaching him the ways of wild Amazons…or as much as one can be wild in a human environment…flying (when appropriately supervised), foraging, chewing and vocalizing.
And as our Amazon flock grew, so did that natural interaction that one would expect to see amongst a tight-knit group of parrots. I was (and still am) thrilled that I could provide Ziggy, Caesar and the others, the flock they so needed and deserved. And I marvel at the interactions and relationships that developed over the years.
Ziggy had a fatal illness. I am very attuned to the birds, their actions and physical appearance and Ziggy looked fabulous. But within days after I completed a summer class, he took ill and I rushed him to our avian vet, 4 hours away. When I received the diagnosis, I knew his chances weren’t good. But somehow I held on to hope that a daily regiment of medications and therapy would somehow help…that he would be the one in a thousand cases that would go into remission. But sadly, remission was not in the cards. Even though it was hard to witness his decline in health, I am so very grateful to have the time to focus on him and offer my love and support. I oftentimes contemplate the timing…6 weeks between diagnosis and death…6 weeks of total attention I could give my boy without classes to distract me. He would leave me the day before fall session began…It’s almost as if he knew…someone knew…and chose the timing appropriately…
Caesar knew what was happening, too. Because of Ziggy’s illness, the relationship shifted subtly, and Caesar, once the protected, began taking on the role of guardian. I bear a cup-shaped scar, like a tattoo, on my forearm as a testament to Caesar’s new role. I didn’t mind. He was doing his job—protecting his ailing partner from my medications and me. And that scar is a daily reminder of Caesar’s and my profound love for a bird that no longer graces us with his presence.
As I write this, I hear Miriam, a yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona o. belizensis) calling in Ziggy’s dialect. It’s something they used to do—she and him—carry on these elaborate duets. I wonder if she’s simply mimicking his vocalizations, misses him, or maybe she’s talking to his spirit. Whatever the reason, she reminds me of how Ziggy affected us all in such profound ways.
Today is the 2-year anniversary of Ziggy’s death. His spirit flew away, August 20, 2012, in the early morning. I held him while he passed, in the bird room and in the presence of his flock, my own body in racking sobs. I was a mess. On the outside I looked sad and everyone knew why. My family and friends consoled me, but went about their lives and I stewed in this fetid grief. I was a gaping hole of misery and felt alone in my despair. And I somehow needed to get all this out and deal with it. Dealing with it wouldn’t make it go away, but at least it wouldn’t fester inside of me.
That’s why I wrote this blog. Through visual art and writing I am sharing my experience in hopes of healing that festering wound. It’s been 2 years and I still cry over my loss. In fact, I’m crying as I write this. But I’ve learned to let it out, and not feel self-conscious or weak for it. And every day gets better.
If you’ve experienced this level of loss and sadness, I encourage you to find an outlet. Talk to like-minded people, join a pet-loss support group, or write in a journal or blog. Keep it private or go public, but get it out. Trust me, it will help. I certainly know what you’re going through—and there are a lot of us out here.
P.S. Although Caesar and Ziggy were inseparable for over a decade, and were together until the end, Caesar knew Ziggy was gone. He had a short time of what seemed quiet introspection, but quickly began soliciting the Amazon girls for companionship. Since Ziggy’s passing, he has found company with Luna, a former shelter bird and domestically raised, Blue-fronted Amazon, (Amazona a. aestiva). Their relationship is new, but they very well may develop that lasting bond that Caesar and Ziggy once had. (And those, my friends, are happy tales for another day…)