My mom and I had always enjoyed bird watching. When dementia took her brain to a child’s level, her joy at spotting birds became even more infectious. I often took my mom on bird-spotting car trips to look for ospreys, mockingbirds, egrets, herons, cardinals, mourning doves, house wrens and favorites, turkey buzzards, especially those having a ‘happy meal.’ It endeared me more to my mom when she saw moss on power lines and grabbed my arm shouting out her garbled version of, “Look, Dody..birds!”
The day was sunny and hot yet a slight breeze cooled us as we gathered beneath some grand old oak trees in the cemetery that had been the site of my father’s grave for almost 60 years. Our Hospice chaplain was reading faith-filled passages from the Bible and recounting sweet memories of his visits with our mother during her last few months of life. Some might expect that my tension would have lessened since my Care Bear duties were now over. Grief, though, has its own version of tension and I had my head bowed trying to relax before reading a tribute to my mom.
Taking a deep breath, I lifted up my head in time to witness the arrival of two unexpected visitors just beyond the boundary of our little cemetery. Laughter burst out of me, interrupting the chaplain. Others began laughing too as I pointed towards two large turkey buzzards that had just landed in a spot of sun on the road that divided the cemetery from a tree-filled park. The buzzards began hopping around, flapping their wings and cavorting with each other. I figured that there was a dead squirrel or other animal on the road yet there was none. The buzzards then entertained us further by flying up onto a large sloping branch of an oak tree. They were still flapping and squawking, putting on a show for us all. ‘Eva and Carl sent them,’ I laughingly said, explaining to everyone about our enjoyment at spotting those turkey buzzards on our rides. Those two buzzards eventually quieted down and sat on the branch throughout the rest of the service.Life is full of mysterious meanings and signs, beyond the obvious. To my sisters and I, those two turkey buzzards were sent by our mother’s fun-loving spirit. It was a way for her to give us the message that she was ‘just fine!’ Our sadness got lifted and we felt more assurance that our mom was free of her old, tired body and was cavorting around in her heaven with our dad.
No matter how much we humans want to hang on to someone or something special, the time for letting go always makes itself known in some way. It had been 4 months since my mom had died. To honor my mother’s long-time wish for me to write a book, I had begun using my journal entries and writing a rough draft of what eventually became a memoir, ADVENTURES IN MOTHER-SITTING. It was January and Florida was having unusually cold weather. I had the sense that my old kitty, Sierra, was still hanging on with me, serving as an anchor to keep me more at home writing and typing. I was typing on the last chapter when Sierra let go of her tired, old body.
At Sierra’s death, the house became empty of companions. I went to bed that night thinking, ‘My hum is gone.’ My 62nd birthday was just around the corner. I hit a ‘rock bottom’ kind of place, cold and dark; everything that used to be important felt meaningless though the emotional coldness had nothing to do with wanting to die. It helped to know that family and friends were there yet I knew that I had finally dropped into the colder, deeper part of depression, an integral part of the journey through grief. I did what I had learned to do as Mother’s Care Bear; keep breathing through the cold, empty moments. Waking up one morning a week later, out loud I said, ‘I’m back!’
It was still ice cold outside. I sat at the dining room table so I could view the sky and trees, signs of life to me. Sierra was no longer with me yet, every day in her stead were large groups of turkey buzzards flying in the sky and amongst the trees outside my window. They inspired me to keep on writing. Turkey buzzards are ugly to some people yet to me they are funny and cute. When they fly, however, no other bird can match the effortless way in which they catch the drifts of the wind. These birds do not fight the powerful winds; they simply synchronize their flights with the winds’ flow. I could not help but wonder if the spirits of my mother and Sierra colluded to send the turkey buzzards en masse, as encouragement for me to stay in my flow; complete our memoir.