You have been holding a bird of sadness in your palm, for a long time now.
Life has ebbed and flowed, rivers of days rushing past your door without end. You have tended children, borne life’s obligatory burdens, clutched the hand of troubled strangers and worked long days until you were cold and weary in your bones.
Quietly, without a word, all the time, you have carried that small bird with you.
Grief is a bird you have learned to tend alone. You have screamed your wretched heart out until only arid echoes escaped from your lungs. You have wept, in the shower, soap in your eyes. Finally, you buried your sorrow ten layers below the surface of your skin. Now your body is a desert; nothing can grow from dust.
But still, there is the bird.
You are stronger than you thought you were, though, before you loved and lost someone. You do things that not so long ago, you believed you could never do. You let go of tiny offenses, you forgive more easily. You pluck your words thoughtfully. You comprehend other people’s loss, how it cuts them and clutches, how it creeps up and consumes. Your chest is heavy on the highway, as you peer into the cars of strangers and wonder about their personal heartbreaks: the mothers who have lost babies, babies who have lost mothers, husbands gone, estranged brothers and sisters and grandparents far away, forever.
There are just things you can not unlearn after you have known grief.
You know now that you are small and the world is very big. This is the secret of living that terrifies you most–the potential inconsequence of your solitary pain in the wide, blue ocean of hurt. The smallness of his life, your life, this loss. If grief is a downpour, beating against the window, your heartache is just one drop of rain, sliding down the glass. You trace it with your fingertip until it disappears, until another falls in it’s place.
He is dead and you are living, but a little bit of you died too. We are all going to die someday—this is another secret that scares you. You feel like a child that has discovered a terrible, unyielding truth. You want to write those words down in a notebook somewhere, in big block print. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE SOMEDAY. Your stomach aches just to read them back. You haven’t decided yet what to do with this information. It’s so very big and you feel so very small. Do you live every minute now as though it will be your last, because his last came too soon, because you know that there is no plan, no dream that will prevail death? Or do you live with measured righteousness, to guard against the illogical blow of demise, aiming your sights ultimately on heaven and salvation and immortality?
Or maybe, you just try not to think about it.
The bird, though.
All the other birds outside the kitchen window are singing a late-winter song. Cardinals and blue jays. An oriole. Golden birds that you can not remember by name. Are these other peoples’ birds, the spirits and the sadnesses of mourning, the kind-voiced happinesses of lives lived full, before they too were lost? When you look into the backyard, you can see holes in the snow where the sun has eaten through. There are holes in your skin, where the sorrow has seeped out. It’s getting harder to hide your sadness now. Feeling nothing just doesn’t feel good anymore.
You slide the back door open, think about flinging your grief to the wind. Is letting go of the pain the same thing as deciding to forget? No, it can’t be. Is setting the sadness free an affront to his memory? Can you release that bird of mourning and still finger the soft, bulky shape of loss—can you miss him without mourning him? Can you separate the living from the dying, can you tease the years he existed, bright and beautiful, from the lonely, agonizing end?
The birds are fluttering their wings in the sun, their wings make mottled shadows on the snowy ground. Birds of sorrow, birds of joy, in chorus together. You can not tell the voices apart, you can not discern the grieving voices from the triumphant ones. You can not single out the orioles from the golden birds without a name. It all sounds like one song.
Maybe you just don’t know enough about birds.
You can let the sadness go and you can forgive yourself for setting it free. Releasing the pain only opens up a little space in your bones. To breathe and build, to grow yourself again. You will not forget him, but you will move on. It’s time now. You must let it go.
Open the windows and even in the deadness of March, you can hear those birds and do not fear, you will remember.
It’s all one song and it will always be.