How to Grieve

Lessons from little lives

Yi Shun Lai
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readMay 2


sunset by the seaside. the light is tangerine and grey. on the left is the ocean, gentle lapping waves. a narrow stretch of dark beach follows to the right, and the, a stretch of beachgrass, light orange and black in the shadows.
Photo by Petr Vyšohlíd on Unsplash

The Rabbit

Last month, my friend Jamie posted a photo of a deceased bunny on her social feeds.

Was it awful? No:

Jamie Wallace’s Facebook post, from late March. Text reads: “Because every creature deserves respect and reverence. Each life matters, no matter how small or anonymous. Rest in peace, little rabbit.” Photo of a brown rabbit with white underbelly lying on its side in leaf litter. Jamie has arranged flowers — purple blooms, roses, and baby’s breath — around its body, with a candle lit close to the rabbit.

When I saw this roll across my feed, I had to stop. I was alone in my office, but I still said, out loud, feeling dismayed, “Ohhhhhh.” The rabbit looks so defenseless. The beauty of the staging, its last resting place, is arresting. It seems so useless to say that such a thing is “sad,” but I did feel sadness, looking at this picture.

The aesthetic appeal of this photo is obvious, as is the care and tenderness in it. I could picture Jamie kneeling over the rabbit, tucking blooms between its legs; choosing how to best evoke the running, jumping life it had led.

I could imagine my own fingers, brushing up against soft bunny fur. I could imagine wanting to stroke its feet; its delicate, but powerful, ears.

And, just beneath all the sentiment of tenderness, I could sense the frisson that the idea of decay always brings. The knowledge that, even as Jamie worked to honor this life, the forest floor was working; insects helping the body to decompose. In a week, Jamie’s rabbit will be not much more than bones and fur, if that.

Since Jamie first posted that photo, I’ve come back to it time and again in my memory.

The bird

And then yesterday, walking to the dentist, I passed a dead bird on the verge of the sidewalk.

I don’t know what kind of bird it is. (I think it is either a female goldfinch or a California Towhee.)

I do know that I was struck by pathos and bathos at the same time: I couldn’t quite get over the awkward juxtaposition of the busy, busy street, so mundane, people going by in their cars; and this loss of life. I know that, much the same way Jamie’s photograph had evoked an exhalation from me at my desk, this bird also made me want to say something. “Ohhhh,” I said, out loud, there on the sidewalk. “You poor thing. Poor, poor, bird.”



Yi Shun Lai
Human Parts

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer.; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!