BESSEMER CITY, NC (WBTV) - You wouldn't expect a 4-year-old to understand death. The very word is one you wish they'd not have to hear until they're much older. But when you live on a farm, things are different. Animals sometimes die, and little girls sometimes get their hearts broken.
"I don't know what it was, but there was just this thing between them," explained Austyn Chappel.
Austyn is the mother of little Gracie, who fell in love with a little blind chicken named Bethany.
"I was worried that chicken would forget how to walk because Gracie carried her everywhere with her," Austyn said.
Gracie would take her blind chicken on rides in her toy dump truck, and she'd always make sure Bethany was fed. The two were almost inseparable, until one day when Bethany got sick.
The process of making her better would have been brutal on the chicken, and might not have worked. The family decided to put her down - after seeking the approval of the little girl who loved her.
Gracie asked her mom if Bethany was going to go to heaven.
"I said, 'of course, baby," Austyn said, "And she said, 'So she's going to be with Mimi?'"
Austyn's mother and Gracie's grandmother passed away a few years ago. It put Gracie at ease to know her beloved friend would have a new friend in heaven to show her around.
But she was still devastated by the loss of her friend.
"She wouldn't eat, she wouldn't get out of bed. She just cried and cried," Austyn said.
Austyn posted about the loss on her Facebook page and very quickly got an offer from the owner of Joyful Acres in Rock Hill.
"She told us we could bring Gracie and let her pick out any chicken she wanted," Austyn said.
So Gracie did just that, and came home with a new baby. She decided to call her "Sweetie Pie."
No one can ever replace Bethany, but Sweetie Pie has quickly become close with her new 4-year-old friend.
And Gracie has a peaceful perspective about Bethany she tells about as she points into the sky, "She's up in heaven now, and she can see."