A Bird in the Storm

The sky darkened suddenly around the little bird. He felt a storm was coming close. Bursts of rain were common in the forest and no cause for alarm.

“A bird must keep going,” he had often told his chicks when they were afraid. “The forest is the forest in the sun, and it is still the forest in the rain. We mustn’t let a little rain keep us from our work or tiny birds don’t get their worms.”

But a storm – that was a different thing. A storm was to be respected and guarded against. His ladybird watched for signs and tried to prepare. He never did and, in fact, he often chided her for her caution. In his opinion, storms were inevitable and no amount of preparation can help when the forest is angry.

Far from the safety of his nest and anxious about the gathering wind, the bird left off his search for worms and pointed toward home. But the rain was tremendous; it struck his outstretched wings and pushed him earthward as he attempted to fly.

A lunge. A leap. Little bursts of energy rising against the fury of the storm. Blinding light accompanied by a deafening crack of thunder gave pause to the little bird’s effort. Still, he knew he wasn’t safe until he reached his nest and further, his chicks would be frightened in such a storm. So, he pushed on.

The storm is relentless… loud… unyielding. It fights him at every turn. His confidence wanes even as he makes slow progress. It builds around him as if he is the target of wrath. Every peal of thunder seems greater than the last and every streak of lighting gets closer. The wind throws the little bird off course again and again and he curses its strength. But he keeps going.

Finally, after great effort, he sees little nest, high in the home tree. The storm is dwindling, the forest’s anger passing. He stretches his exhausted wings for a final climb and soars inside. Something is wrong. He knows it instantly from the sad look on the face of ladybird. He counts little feathered heads, little closed beaks. One, two, three… One is missing – taken by the storm.

“What happened?”

There is no answer because there is no answer. The storms of life take what they take. Only the forest knows. He has been taught this and knows it to be true. But still he wonders. Thoughts like great tempests assault his grieving mind.

If I had only been here!

Why not me instead?

What if I had built the nest stronger or in a different place?

Why didn’t I listen to the warnings about the storm?

What do we do now?

What do we do now? He is only a little bird – what could he possibly do?

He listens as his neighbors called mournfully. Songs of sorrow fill the trees and he loves them for it.

When morning comes, the little bird surveys three little feathered heads, three little empty beaks and knows they need to be filled. Leaving again is the hardest thing, but the only way to sate their mounting hunger. Back to work, back to the worms.

But nothing would never be the same. While he watches with joy as his three little chicks grow into fledglings, there is always something missing. Her absence makes the nest a hard place to be, but somehow, it is the only place that gives comfort.

Every day the forest shares something that reminds him of his little chick. In the early days, the reminders stung as hard as the rain of the storm he cannot forget. But in time, the little pieces of her give him joy and hope. And he is thankful to the forest for what it gives even while he is sad for what it took – a contradiction he would ever recognize, but too lofty a thought to understand.

After all, he is only a little bird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Roulette

It is nearly December… sigh.

In all honesty, I dread the arrival of the holidays. We are Christmas people who over-decorate every inch of our home. We have amassed an attic full of trinkets and baubles that I just lugged downstairs. The end of the Georgia summer heat sets off a season of much-loved family tradition and I should be excited for its arrival. But, now… now there is a specter – a tangible presence is ushered in with the falling leaves and hovers in our home. It would be more apt to label it a tangible absence.

I would best describe it as a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen – like I’ve got a bill due that I cannot pay or a tense confrontation that is imminent. I can function, smile, and do what I’m supposed to do. But this feeling is perpetual and keeps me on edge.

The specter haunts anyone who has experienced recent loss and certainly every grieving parent I know shares my dread of the Christmas. This time of year is the ultimate paradox and I’ll share the main reasons why.

The holidays bring family together. We sit, talk, reminisce, and look forward. And while we laugh, my mind drifts back to chilly February days when this same group of loved ones sat vigil watching Kylie’s body deteriorate. Days later we gathered around a coffin. Those images resurface when our larger family is together. Same group of people, same scenes floating through my mind. I wish they would stop, but I can’t make them and don’t know if I ever will.

Holiday traditions are another struggle. Sometimes following them makes me happy and sometimes it leaves me gasping for breath because the hole is magnified times ten. I have no way of knowing which emotion will surface – grief’s most callous trick is its randomness. To compound the problem, modifying traditions feels like I am trying move on from a space I can’t and don’t want to leave. It becomes a game of Christmas Roulette – spin the chamber and fire, never knowing which tradition will shoot a bullet straight through the heart.

Do we hang the stocking?      Yes

Will it cause me to sigh every time I pass?      Yes

Do we hang Kylie’s ornaments?      Yes

Can we ever make a Christmas card again?      Not Likely

When we watch Elf will I always hear her Buddy impersonations?      Yes

Oh, the memories that this time of year brings: tree shopping, elf tricks, screaming babies in Santa’s lap, early morning sprints to the stockings, red and green wrapping paper explosive mayhem. In the silence of the season, I love them and I crave them. But I also despise them because one of my children won’t be coming downstairs to pour through her stocking.

It’s a very cruel Holiday Paradox.

 

Rather than leave this post without any hope or positivity, I’ve been trying to figure out what advice to offer those who might have a friend or loved one living this paradox. This is hard because I do not believe time heals all wounds and since the circumstance that caused the grief cannot be altered, there is almost nothing anyone can do to help. I think the greatest gift I could receive is for friends to understand that they just can’t understand nor can they fix. Words likely won’t comfort but a listening ear is to be cherished.

In the end, I suppose my Christmas wish is for my friends to enjoy their holidays, love their families, and know I might need an extra ear or shoulder from time to time in December. If they can do that and tolerate my lunacy until January, I’ll get by. And when the game is roulette without a wheel, getting by is the best and only option.