Happy Is the Corpse the Rain Falls Upon

I almost didn’t go out to the chicken coop this morning because I knew Brenda wouldn’t be there. Any other day, she’d run up to greet me as I made my way through the short list of farm chores that needed to be done before I started “desk work.” She was the only chicken that ever ran to me instead of away. I’ve posthumously dubbed her “Brenda the Brave” for this reason.

Sure, you could say that she was merely hopeful that I’d come bearing treats from the kitchen or garden—maybe the seed-filled core of a tomato or a few beetles plucked from the sunflower leaves. Brenda was smart, but she wasn’t the only intelligent chicken in our flock. Her BFF, Honey, is a very clever bird. But Honey doesn’t show 1/10 of the personality Brenda did. Honey would wait and observe while Brenda walked right up and sampled a new food.

Brenda and Honey eating some warm porridge

Last winter, I started bringing the chickens warm oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds on colder mornings. The first couple of times I set the dish down in the coop, the birds looked at me like I was crazy. I wasn’t surprised that Brenda was the one to show the others what to do with a nice, nourishing meal.

The first time I brought oatmeal to the chickens, they thought I was crazy. Thankfully, Brenda knew what was up.

She wasn’t only brave when it came to new foods. Brenda always blazed her own trail. She did things most chickens wouldn’t, like venture out in several inches of snow just to get some fresh air on a winter day.

Exploring on their own isn’t something most hens do, but Brenda did. Last summer, I spent an entire afternoon searching for her. The rest of the flock was in the front yard, and I thought it was unusual that Brenda wasn’t anywhere to be seen. After hours of searching my 10+-acre field, my husband hollered that he found her nestled in some tall grass by the shed. She had laid an egg in one of the discarded flower pots there.

Brenda was also friendly. After we established a relationship, I tried feeding her from my hand. Eventually, she let me pet her. Over time, she started reciprocating with gentle pecks on my hands and feet that I interpreted as signs of affection. Occasionally, I’d pick her up and talk to her, like a crazy cat lady does with her cats. Some friends have received videos of Brenda “talking” to them. Brenda was a very vocal bird. She had a lot to say. She was sassy.

Brenda rarely wanted to sit on eggs (brood), instead preferring to roam the farm. However, I’m almost positive that the one hen we kept from the four chicks that hatched last year is Brenda’s daughter. She looks like Brenda, with a bit of brownish-red highlighting the black feathers she inherited from her rooster dad. I started calling her Little Brenda when I saw the two of them side-by-side in the snow. It seems that Little Brenda inherited some of her mom’s adventurous spirit.

Brenda and Little Brenda together in the snow

But Little Brenda, who I’ve now dubbed “Brenda the Bitchy,” isn’t nearly as sweet. Little Brenda likes to sit on eggs. She pecks my hand when I reach for them, and not in an affectionate way.

Before you tell me what a great name Brenda is for a chicken, I’ll admit I can’t take credit for it. My cousin, Amy, suggested the name. Amy also started an Instagram account for Brenda even though they never met.

When I told Amy that we were going to adopt a small flock of older chickens from a neighbor who was moving, she asked if I would name one Brenda.

“Is that a 90210 reference?” I asked.

She explained that wasn’t her intention. “Brenda just sounds like a troublemaker.”

It took a few days of observation before I knew which bird would be Brenda. The only ginger silkie in the flock, Brenda put her attitude and her independence on display right from the start. If all the chickens were doing one thing, Brenda was doing something different. Much as she loved autonomy, Brenda also cherished her friends. She was often found exploring the farm with Honey and our late rooster, Terrence (RIP).

After Terrence passed away last winter, Brenda and Honey became almost inseparable. They were always the first hens out the door in the morning and the last to return to the coop at night.

Brenda was affectionate, and often let me pet her

Yesterday, as I was making my morning coffee, I heard squawking noises from the chicken yard. I looked out the window to see Honey frantically running away. My eyes moved to the coop, where Brenda’s limp form was visible in the doorway. Panicked, I rushed outside in my pajamas. I thought a predator might have gotten into the chicken yard, attacked Brenda, and spooked Honey.

But when I got out there, I didn’t see the usual evidence of an invasion. There was no pile of feathers, no bird of prey standing over their prize. There was just Brenda, collapsed in the coop doorway and struggling to lift her head. I realized the squawking was coming from another silkie. She was standing on the ladder leading up to the coop, impatiently demanding that Brenda move.


I ran back to the house to get gloves (in case she had an open wound I couldn’t see) and a clean cardboard box to put her in. I texted my husband to see if Brenda had been acting weird that morning.

“No. She was the first one out like normal this morning. What is she acting like?”

In the minute it took me to get back to the coop, Brenda’s life had ended.

It was raining.

I lifted her up and scanned her body. No sign of an injury. No sign of suffering.

The saying, “happy is the bride the sun shines upon / happy is the corpse the corpse the rain falls upon,” ran through my head. Repeatedly.

I looked up at the sky.

Something about that moment felt idyllic. Peaceful. Maybe even slightly poetic. Like, if I were to write a fictional scene in which my eccentric-yet-loving protagonist loses her favorite chicken, I might create it exactly this way.

I knew grief and sadness would come—and they have—but at that moment, I felt grateful. Relieved, even. I can only hope for it to be so quick and easy when death finally comes for me.

I brought the box inside and set it in my writing room, safely gated off from my dogs.

“I have to find something to wrap her in.” 

I searched for a makeshift shroud—something made of natural fibers that would biodegrade. Ultimately, I chose one of my own flannel shirts. It felt right to leave her with a piece of me.

I called my husband. “We’re going to have to dig another grave in the garden.”

When Jason came home yesterday afternoon, we cried together and hugged. While I finished my work for the day, he dug her a resting place in the garden, right next to the flower bed where we buried Terrence.

As I carried the little flannel bundle outside, I encountered Jason talking to Honey. “I’m sorry,” he was saying. Honey was squawking and clucking in the loud, agitated manner she only uses when she thinks something is wrong. She did this for a few days after Terrence died. She was doing it again this morning.

The rain had stopped—briefly—as I said a few words and laid Brenda in the ground.

Jason went back inside, and the drizzle resumed. I picked a few calendula flowers from Terrence’s grave site and laid them over the spot where Brenda was buried. Then, I took a few handfuls of seeds from the dried flower heads and pressed them into the earth.

Brenda embodied the fullest expression of herself, right up to the very end. She lived her best life by showing courage, accepting the gifts offered, and forming strong bonds.

Though we’ll miss her, we’re happy that she lived with gusto and seemed to have died swiftly in the comfort of home. I can only imagine it was some kind of chicken stroke or heart attack. All our birds—except for Little Brenda—have aged out of their typical life expectancy.

I hope these last two years of Brenda’s life were the absolute best. I hope calendula flowers continue to blossom and reseed themselves in my garden long after we’re all gone.

Before I went back inside, I pressed my hand into the freshly turned and seeded soil and said, “Thank you.”

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