Mom was dying. You could feel it the way one feels incense. It was unknowable but so present. It was understood but we never gave it a name. Perhaps as there is a word for death but no word for the in between. She had to live to the dying place. Mom had to traverse that path.
I was a frenzied dog whose work is to protect its master. But really my pack animal instinct had kicked in. The fearful beast intuiting that it would soon be alone .
I was spending nights on mothers fold out couch, to help spell the anxiety that the dark and her emphysemic breathing caused her. Our nights were spent watching Jeopardy and me learning how to make egg custard. Or relearning as I did not make it to mom’s specifications. “Do not let the milk boil it will scald.” (So many unearthed wisdom's go to the grave.)
In the mornings, I rose early to ready for my day at school. My routines were off and my commute longer from my night at mom’s.
As I rose she would be up, her cap of brown curls crowning her face. She would sit at the table with her cup of coffee saying her prayers.
The morning prior to Parent Teacher Conference at my school ( a day treatment for emotionally Impaired students) I had a restless night at her home. I would be working an 11 hour day. As usual she was at her morning ritual and I asked her to send some prayer off my way.
(It was always a comfort to me that when a student had a uniquely horrific event I could call on mom to be a prayer warrior in their behalf)
I arrived at work a bit off sorts, bumpy bed, bumpy night, unprepared for a long and intense day. The paper work all in order for conferences I escorted my students from their morning prep to the classroom. At our special ed facility each day began with a group therapy session. This event sacrosanct in efforts to steward these students through the inferno of their world and behaviors. The students were edgy as they had a half day of school. I sat upright, the queen mother hoping to calm her subjects during the air strikes.
The courtyard out my classroom windows November’s beauty was a balm to my own anxiety. The branches of the sugar maple waved a last golden leaf as if promising to return in the spring. I looked to my student’s eyes to measure whether the agitated flicker had abated, when a bird full force slammed its body into the window.
The students startled. “What’s that?” Their anxiety more provoked by flashbacks. I the queen mother calmly state “oh nothing, just a bird bumping into the windows glare.”
But now I am the quivering child. At that instant I knew the bird was dead and very soon my mom would be as well. The most fearsome thing for all young children is the death of a parent…a world without mom or dad. Terror? There is no word, it supersedes a horror show. As sat there in that class room, perseverating on what I was sure was a dead bird out my window; I was sitting on my hands trying to stifle myself from reacting.
Group ended with a traditional group chant of “I am having a good day” and the students blessedly went off to a special.
I pressed my nose to the window and there in patchy browned grass rested the corpse of a Robin Red Breast.
After dad had died Mary my sister declared, “Dad is a blue jay, whenever we see one its dad connecting to us from the other side”.
Mother then was a robin. She had perfected its warble and enchanted us with it. And she seemed to run her own rescue mission for bruised, battered or denested bids, having once nursed a bird with a broken wing back to health.
The dormant grass enshrouded the bird foreshadowing my mother’s death.
I sleepwalked through conference, dazed as if it was I who had hit the glass. When I had a break in the deluge of families looking for assurance that their special needs child would read and eventually soar… I tuned out the lights and sat in the dark looking at the illumined windows on the other side of the courtyard. I wept for the bird and I wept for the orphan I would soon be. Then I wept a bit for my students whose lives were frequently Dikensonian in their sorrows.
Mom died. Out here window during the in-between nether world of her transition we placed a potted evergreen decked out with twinkling Christmas lights., We sang soft carols of “ sleeping in heavenly peace.”
Her breathing laborious until it was no more. That spring in the little evergreen a mother robin birthed her brood of eight babies (mom had birthed eight little babies) .So my mother was a robin.
Broken birds. Broken boys. Broken hearts. Recently by chance I came upon a coworker at the roadside on my way home from work. She had her young daughters’ in the car. She stood in front of the school trying to decide what to do about a shrieking banshee of bird. It was wailing, hurt. The daughters wide eyed watched their mother. She had recently lost a sister when the car wrapped itself around a tree. She was on crusade against death. There had between much illness in her family and spent her workdays in soul defying efforts with her classroom of five and six year old emotionally impaired students. She, trying like a crusader to bring light to those who loomed yet in the dark.
I watched this mother teacher, her dark tangle of hair billowing about in the breeze giving her an other worldly look. Her features furrowed in concern…
What to do for the bird and what mind movie shall she make for her own children about life and endings of life? Like Francis of Assisi she scooped the trembling creature into her hand. Cupped him calmly and cooed softly to the creature. The bird silenced and settled. They drove off to nurse and care for the bird.
Good endings? There is much dissonance and cacophony. Soon I will leave this school where I taught for 17 years. The courtyard out my classroom window has been my worldview. I have watched the sugar maple grow to new heights. I have seen a families of ducks get born, raised and fly away. I have stared out the window and traveled to that dream place that only lovely visions can take us. The cloud formations seemed to energize me to persevere with the student. I will miss my window to the courtyard and the glimpses of beauty. I miss my mother. I will miss how the walls of this old place seem echo of the children with the broken wings who came about to mend so that they might fly.
With regard to flying…It is significant to me that on those last days at this school my last week of school my friend finds this beat up bird… So as we move to a new chapter the ending of this is contained in our email correspondence, subject: About the Bird
Ok, so the bird survived about 3 hours before she expired in our back yard. There were tears. After all, we had given her a lovely little chicken wire hutch to live in, a Frisbee birdbath, birdseed, eyedroppers of water, etc. We had named her Chickadee, because a few cool chicks decided to rescue her. Hmm... the circle of life and all that. We're burying her and planting something lovely in her name. See you tomorrow.
My mother saved birds all the time...I could not tell you how she loved me... I got the impression that she did not. Yet she taught me so much about the sanctity of life with one little robin she rescued that I now through my moment of viewing you with the bird know she gave a masters course in love. Collette
And so this window to the courtyard has perhaps been “my prayer alter” where I witnessed the circle of life. And in this witnessing, we are stirred to carry on, to go forth.