92: A Miracle Made for One

92: A Miracle Made for One

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

A Miracle Made for One

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.

~Robert Ingersoll

“Good morning,” I said to my daughter-in-law as I slipped into her kitchen. “You’re up early. How did you sleep?”

“Okay, I guess. And you?”

“Pretty well,” I said as I poured myself a cup of coffee, remembering all we had shared the previous day. “I’ll be back in a little while,” I said, scooping up my keys. “I think I’ll have my morning coffee with Ray.”

The day before, I had buried my husband of forty-two years, father of seven and grandfather to nine, the love of my life. We had enjoyed our morning coffee together for as long as I could remember. Driving away from the cemetery the previous afternoon, I vowed to share this one last ritual with him.

We chose to bury Ray in a rural cemetery with a view of the Colorado valley we love and have called home for nearly thirty years. Although he and I had recently moved to coastal North Carolina, hoping to improve his quality of life as he battled lung disease, Ray died unexpectedly two weeks after we arrived. I brought him back home for burial. And this morning was typical Colorado… sunny, still and magnificent.

I had driven past this churchyard cemetery thousands of times over the years, but now it was changed. My husband was dead. I had never done this before.

Slowing as I neared the cemetery entrance, I felt the crunch of gravel beneath my tires as I turned from the two-lane highway onto the narrow, rocky road leading to Ray’s grave. Tears spilled from my eyes when I spotted the funeral flowers standing guard over the clumps of earth holding the remains of the man I loved.

I parked the car and sat motionless. I had no script for what should come next. Clutching my travel mug filled with lukewarm coffee, I opened the door, slid from behind the wheel and walked slowly to his grave.

“Baby, I’m here,” I whispered. I felt bewildered, searching for something I couldn’t name.

After forty-two years of marriage, we knew each other better than we knew ourselves; we could finish one another’s sentences without a second guess. Ray and I had prepared ourselves for his passing and my widowhood as best we could. We said things we needed to say, forgave one another and shared heart-to-heart talks about death, dying and the legacy he wanted to leave. But way too soon, I held him as he took his last labored breath.

My greatest fear since falling in love with my husband was that he would die and leave me alone. He did. How could I survive without my best friend?

“Lord, help,” I prayed. “I don’t even know how to pray. But I know I’m scared and sad and overwhelmed. I need something from you, with your fingerprints all over it, to let me know I’m not forgotten, and that you are with me.”

Aimlessly, I walked back to my car, slipped behind the wheel, sipped my coffee and waited. For what? Then I noticed birds. Scores of them flocked toward Ray’s grave while outlying trees stood silent. They flitted from branch to branch and chirped bossily to one another while hopping on his grave or circling above it. What a party! Oh, how Ray would have loved it.

Ray had always enjoyed birds. He would contentedly sit and watch them, fill his feeders, or patiently scatter seeds for them with the grandkids. I loved that about him. But birds were his thing. I’d never really taken an interest in them until they quietly morphed into part of our retirement plan.

“I’m concerned about our expectations of one another when we retire,” I had shared one evening as we talked about our imminent empty nest and impending retirement. “I don’t think I want to do it the way you do.” We had watched countless couples stumble in this season. Some drifted apart from one another while others became suffocating and inseparable. How could we navigate this transition and do it well? Over time, we agreed we could each be boss of ourselves. We would develop our individual interests and cultivate mutual ones.

“So, what else could we do together besides golf?” I continued.

“Well, I do really like birds,” he said.

“I can do that! I love how you take time to be still and notice them. I want to learn how to do that,” I said.

And so I did. I began to learn the names and characteristics of common birds that visited our feeders. We identified different shore-birds when we travelled to the coast. I started to notice their beauty and individuality.

This morning, plain brown sparrows and colorful mountain bluebirds darted about Ray’s grave. I watched and listened, mesmerized. Then, startled, I ducked as a bluebird dive-bombed straight toward me, veering sharply upward before smashing into my windshield. I gasped. Within a few seconds, it happened again — and then a third time, as if the birds, under someone’s command, lined up, took aim and targeted me behind the driver’s wheel, my peaceful cup of coffee long forgotten.

“I get it, Lord. It’s my answer.”

Then, punctuating the obvious, a bluebird fluttered beside the passenger window before calmly perching on my side mirror. Stealing sideways glances through soft brown eyes, he seemed to be asking, “Are you watching this?” I was, and I was captivated.

My heart raced, overwhelmed by the number of birds surrounding Ray’s grave — three diving bluebirds and one perched within my grasp, engaging me, willing me to know he was an answer to my prayer.

That morning, I had returned to the cemetery to share a cup of coffee with my beloved and ask God to send a sign just for me. He did. He sent birds.

~Paula Freeman

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