Kate came downstairs during the bedtime preparations and told me she wanted to go outside and check on the bunny since she had been away most of the day. Ever the conscientious pet owner, she wanted to refill his water supply and assure his comfort in the outdoor hutch during a rainy drizzle.
About 30 seconds after she went outside, I heard her howling cry as she rushed back into the house. My husband and I jumped up and followed the sounds of hysterical tears. We collided with a terrified Kate in the dining room.
"Something got, Bear," she sobbed, "The hutch is destroyed. He's gone."
My husband and I exchanged panicked looks as we ran outside into the rain and darkness.
As Kate had described, the hutch was indeed mangled. Two entire sections of wire paneling had been pulled back and three wooden planks had been pried off the structure.
The bunny was not in the hutch.
"He's so fast and so smart," I hopefully offered. "I'll bet he is hiding safely under the storage shed."
As the words came from my mouth Ryland tersely instructed us to get out of the rain and go back inside. I knew from his tone he had insight into the situation and we should heed his advice.
The commotion drew RyGuy back downstairs. Although Bear officially belongs to Kate, RyGuy has also taken a strong interest. He craves responsibility and has a soft spot for animals. He frequently feeds the bunny as a favor to his sister and faithfully checks on him daily. As we caught RyGuy up on the situation, the concern on his face was immediate. He quickly pulled on shoes and straightened his shoulders into a masculine rescue stance.
"I'll get a flashlight and help Dad find him. I know the places he likes to hide."
Ryland came back in the house with a face full of dread. Kate wrapped herself around him like a spider monkey as he picked her up for comfort. She buried her face in his neck and over her dark curly head he shot me a look that instantly conveyed Bear had not survived.
We broke the news to Kate and RyGuy. Their pained responses were enough to beckon Parker, our resident introvert, back downstairs from the comfort of from his nighttime book and bed. I was forced to deliver the traumatic news all over again.
The next half hour was painful and tender as we cried and hugged and talked about love and loss. Kate wanted to understand every detail. The fact that she and her Daddy had spent hours selecting and building the hutch for the rabbit's protection added an additional layer of pain. What kind of predator was likely to blame? Did Bear experience a painful death or could he have died of fear? What type of injuries did he appear to sustain? Where was he left? When do we think it happened?
Ryland tried to be more stoic--pressing his fingers into the corners of his eyes to stop the tears. He blamed himself because he had been the last one to see the bunny alive. He confessed that he had a fearful feeling following a nightmare earlier in the week of something dark crashing into the hutch and killing the bunny.
Parker expressed his broken heart openly through painful wails. After a few minutes he rose to retrieve a journal where he wrote an epitaph and attempted to cheer us up with his quirky sense of humor stating "Well, 2016 has managed to take another victim."
Around 10:30 we were finally able to get everyone settled down for bed. Ryland and I were then left to deal with our own emotions and questions. We eventually settled on a theory that it must have been a fox that struck the hutch. We felt violated, sad and angry. Not only had we lost a beloved pet, but our kids had been hurt deeply in the process. Then the second guessing ensued. How had we allowed this to happen? Had we been foolish to leave the bunny outside? In 6 months of bunny raising we had felt no threat of predators. Shouldn't we have known better? We had invested in a fine and sturdy hutch. What more could we have done?
As I laid down and attempted to find rest I couldn't help but think about how this marks a new stage of parenting. When our children were younger we could tightly control their environments, severely limit their exposure to harmful threats--but they are now entering a period of adolescence where figurative (and, I suppose, literal) foxes are lurking. We identify and prepare for as many threats as possible, but there are things we can't predict.
We pray. We plan. We talk. We love. We protect. And yet, we cannot guard against everything.
When I posted about Bear's death on Instagram several people messaged me with their own memories of the traumatic loss of a pet at about this same age. I remembered my devastation at age 13 as I found our cat, Patches, surrounded by the feathers of my parakeet, PJ. Like Kate, I had purchased him with my own money and been fiercely protective. And like Bear, PJ had fallen victim in one rare moment of opportunity when a predator could pounce.
2016 has been full of goodbyes for us--my Grandmother, three foster children and in the last 2 hours of the year, a beloved pet. Love followed by the heartache of loss and grief is a part of the human condition. We cannot spare our children the very pain and life lessons that will be used to mature them into thinking, feeling, compassionate adults, but even that truth doesn't make it feel any better.
Yet, as we sat together in the family room sharing our grief--loving each other through it-- I realized even if protecting against all hurt were possible, it would also mean blocking moments like these. The bittersweet times when we get to put all these years of loving, intentional investment to work by being each other's soft place to land are foundational for future relational needs.
I am reminded again that adolescence is a different season, but one God has been working us steadily towards. Our parental roles are shifting. As our children bud into young adulthood we have a choice: We can try to protect them from life or prepare them for life...including the times when the sneaky foxes break our hearts.
I am so grateful for my faith that God created every life in this family for His purposes--all of this is training ground for what lies ahead. So we lean into Him, trust His Hand and love the hearts He has entrusted to this home. Even when it hurts.