Matilda arrived on January 12th 2009. She died at 2.43am on Monday 3rd October 2011. She was buried at 7.30 pm on 4th October, 2011 at the cemetery here at Eden.
Matilda became ill early in the Summer of 2011. She appeared to recover on two occasions but then her condition deteriorated again. We desperately regret that her life was not saved. Like most hens bred for human use, Matilda suffered from the effects of selective breeding and overproduction of eggs.
As her vet thought she might recover, Matilda spent the last 48 hours of her life on my bed; we kept her hydrated and medicated to relieve any pain she might have experienced. Because of the language barrier between us we can only hope that our care helped her and did not add to her distress.
We are deeply grateful to Matilda for what she taught us and our visitors about animal sentience and for showing us her individual personhood. We are heartbroken at her loss.
We are not alone in being affected by her death. We underestimated the degree to which Matilda was something of a leader to her friends. Claude, the rooster, and the hens who used to spend all day wandering around Eden with Matilda now seem to be lost. They used to come out of their gate with great enthusiasm every morning and now they peer out and go back inside again.
Matilda was wrapped in a piece of cotton and a scarf, discarded because it was silk. We placed her in cardboard box. She was surrounded by all the things she loved:
Branches and leaves from the place under the Orange Blossom and laurel hedge where she used to shelter from the rain and where she hid when she was ill. These were obvious reminders of where she felt safe.
Leaves from the front avenue where I last saw her scratching only a few days previously.
Dust from the polytunnel where she had her last dustbath and where the imprint of her body was still visible.
A slice of bread and some sunflower seeds to celebrate all the mornings she came into the kitchen and ate from my hand.
Her favourite food in the whole world – spaghetti.
I placed a piece of lavender inside her shroud and tucked in a copy of her eulogy. We placed her on a soft cloth with a pillow for her head.
We will never forget Matilda; we will be forever grateful to her for what she brought to our lives. In her memory I have named the Animal Rights and Vegan Education Centre attached to Eden “Matilda’s Promise”, so that it will forever echo the promise I made to her on the night she died, to educate humans about other animals and the imperative for us to be vegan.
Eulogy: A Love Letter to Matilda
Matilda, you came into our lives on a dark, cold January evening, bringing its opposite with you – a brightness, warmth and levity that was as welcome as it was unexpected.
We were immediately struck by your physical magnificence – the beauty of your glossy blue black feathers, your proud red comb and wattles, your long, soft white ears, and the intelligence of your tawny brown eyes. But what shone brightest of all was the nature of your being. I looked at you and I no longer saw a chicken or a hen; I saw an individual person. The image of you running to me from your first days with us is stark in my memory. You ran in trust and friendship, and you were confident that our response would be kind. From this I learned my first lesson. Your nature was more pure than mine and an example to me.
You gave yourself to us so generously and never asked for anything in return. Anything we gave you was given with absolute delight. I never saw you fight with another hen or peck anyone. To me you are goodness and love personified and I aspire to be as you were.
In your too short time with us I witnessed the many occasions on which you were the teacher and humans your pupils. You brought a smile to many faces, and you melted the hardest of hearts. You made me so proud of you. You diffused many arguments as you shared our meals at the table outside, eating Ronnie’s porridge and Sany’s sandwiches. You taught me the sacredness of life in whatever form it takes, and that all that matters is the love that connects us. As I watched you savour a warm sunny day, and witnessed your delight in a dust bath, or in grabbing a piece of spaghetti and running with it dangling in your beak, my life lit up, I felt joy and delight in you, and I found my purpose. I will forever cherish these gifts from you for the jewels they are.
I always preach that every living creature has their own purpose and now I must accept that your purpose was not to stay here in your physical form. The enormity of what you shared with me and taught me on my life’s journey will only fully unfold as I become accustomed to the loss of your physical life and hold onto the memory of your magnificent character.
That weighs heavy on me now as I try to grasp that you will not be the first I see as I open the door every morning. Your enthusiasm to greet the day was an ongoing inspiration to me, and instilled in me a new found enthusiasm to greet you at dawn. Your friends are lost at the gate without their leader. Claude is calling for his girl. There will be a strange space on your perch at night, where your eyes used to meet mine as I said ‘Goodnight Matilda, have a good sleep and I will see you in the morning’. Your friends miss your gentle goodnight coos and whines. There will be a strange reticence when I want to call Ma-tilda knowing you will not come tripping along on your elegant legs and claws to reassure me that you are OK or with your head to one side and your intelligent eyes betraying your curiosity in what I might have for you. There will be an empty space in our kitchen every morning where once you waited at the bread drawer and I can’t tell you what I would give to once more hold a slice of bread for you to eat.
As I used to tell you, I was always delighted to see you.
Wherever you flew to at the time of your death you took a part of me with you, and left a part of yourself with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you gave us. Truly you are an Ambassador for Animals and I will ensure that your memory lives on to raise human consciousness. The pain of losing you is a small price to pay for the privilege of having had you in our lives. People tell me that death is an illusion. I wish. I think that you are gone but that what you have left behind will live and grow. Nevertheless, I will continue to talk to you as if you are beside me. People tell me that you are now in a place deserving of your goodness, where your own journey continues unhampered by the blindness and cruelties of this life. I can only offer my wishes as protection and hope that it is a beautiful place and that you are as adored there as you are here.
Good night my good friend Matilda. Have a good sleep and I will see you in the morning.