We called my maternal grandfather Papa. My sisters and I visited him often and he loved to joke around and tease us. I remember sitting with him for hours watching old movies and game shows on hot summer days. The only rule was, “don’t sit in Papa’s chair.” The punishment for such an offense, he would sit on YOU.
I was in high school when we learned Papa had developed lung cancer. It had never really occurred to me that the grandparents I had loved so much would not be with us forever. I was heartbroken. The lung cancer eventually went into remission but when it came back, it came back with a vengeance. Cancer traveled into his bones and later into his brain. The sweet, loving grandfather I had once known was now stern and angry. The only thing that made him smile was sitting in his living room looking at the birds that frequented his bird feeders. He specifically pointed one out to me one day. It was a sweet little brown bird with a yellow breast.
A week or so later I sat in my creative writing class and wrote a poem about a little yellow bird that finally found his way. In my mind this little bird was my Papa and he had found a place to be free from pain and fear of death and leaving his family. I was so proud of this poem, but not confident enough to do anything with it other than leave it in my blue and white striped journal.
I thought of this poem often in the months leading up to his death. I thought of it especially when I sat on the curb in the front of his house as the firemen volunteered to come and move him from his bed to the hospital bed that had been delivered. He winced in pain and the agony could be heard and felt a couple of houses down. I thought of this poem when I sat with him the last two weeks of his life as his body got weaker and weaker and each breath more shallow. I thought of this poem the morning that we woke up before dawn and realized that the first night we all went to sleep Papa took his last breath.
The thought of the peace and hope that came from this bird I had imagined in my head has brought me comfort in the 10 years since my Papa’s death. I would think of its innocence and sweet song when I would imagine what my grandfather would say about my mom and all of her struggles.
Days, weeks, years passed and the memories of this bird and the pain of the loss of my Papa became more and more faint. But the pain of what to do for my mother, how do I help her, how do I tell her I love her grew heavier on my heart. The place I found solace was our summer home in New Mexico. There I could go and feel close to God and Creation. It was here, the week of Mom’s death, the bird came to see me again.
I arrived at the cabin Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful day and I was surprisingly energetic after an 8 hour car ride with two toddlers. I walked in and looked out the window and there was this little bird looking back at me. I smiled, walked away and went on with our unpacking. I went in to check on dinner a little while later….there the bird sat still looking at us. Later, I gave the boys a bath to calm them down and ease them into bedtime. I looked out the window at Hermit’s Peak and was distracted by that bird that was watching our nighttime routine. I walked in and commented to my aunt, “I think that bird just wants to watch us.”
The next day my aunt and I laughed each time we would notice the bird sitting on the fence watching us as we went about our day. At one point she commented that she might take some food to that side of the cabin, “maybe he is frightened to go to the front.” I looked out at her sweet face and said, “no, I think she just likes watching us.”
Wednesday morning the bird watched us make breakfast and I said, I think that bird has a name. In my head it was Lucy, but my aunt said she had been calling her Lucille. We laughed and went about our business of sewing and tending to the kids. I told the bird goodnight when I saw her as the sun was setting knowing I would see her again in the morning.
I woke up Thursday morning to a spectacular day. We decided to go on a picnic up at Johnson’s Mesa. I made sandwiches and we gathered the boys. I went into brush my teeth as the phone rang. It was my husband, “Your mom is dead,” he said. I took a deep breath, it was like I had been punched in the stomach. We spoke briefly about details and I told him I was on my way home. I hung up the phone and walked to the kitchen window. I looked out and saw the bird peering in….it wasn’t until then that I realized that the bird had a yellow breast and made the connection that my Papa’s wife’s given name was Lucye, we called her Nanny. My mom had found peace and was with her parents now. That was what the bird was trying to tell me all week.