49: Little Bird

49: Little Bird

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Little Bird

Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.

~Emory Austin

On our first Christmas without Mom, I was shopping with my daughter at a craft show and we found the perfect tree ornament: a little red glass bird. Mom used to sit in her wheelchair at the back window so she could watch the birds play in the yard. The previous Christmas she had delighted in the antics of a pretty red cardinal that would flit in and out of the sweeping branches of the old spruce tree.

Months earlier, when she came home from the hospital, she fretted, “What will they think of an old lady with only one leg?” Her little face was knitted with despair.

“They will love you, Mom. You’re still the same person you always were, with the same huge heart.” She trusted that I would be right and that she wouldn’t get hurt. She had become my child.

My younger brother and I had been living with her, caring for her, in order to fulfill her fervent wish to return to her own home for as long as she could. It wasn’t easy but it was worth every minute, and we would both do it again in a heartbeat.

She could be obstinate, and enjoyed thinking she was giving us a challenge. We would say to her, “Who’s a monkey?”

She would flash her toothless grin (she didn’t like her new dentures) and gleefully chirp, “Mee-eee!”

She wouldn’t always do the things that were in her own best interest, things that would have helped her. It took a lot of persuading to convince her to take her pain medication, for example. She had great faith in television tabloid news shows, and had seen a story on mothers who sold their children for street drugs. Based on that dubious information, she stubbornly refused to avail herself of any pain relief. Finally we were able to convince her that it was not at all the same thing, and she took her pills as they were needed.

Her hair stuck out all over her head in wispy tufts, prompting my brother to bestow upon her the nickname of “Yoda.” To her it was a compliment; she knew Yoda was wise.

One morning as I was brushing her hair, gray with age and thinning from illness, she said, “A couple of summers ago I called the Humane Society about a bird.”

“You did?” I asked.

“Yes. It was the last summer Dad was with us. I went out on the front porch to water the flowers. Remember how hot it was that summer? Well, I saw a bird lying on the table beside the impatiens. It was still alive but not really moving. I thought it might be sick, so I looked up the Humane Society in the phone book and called them.”

“Oh, Mom,” I said, still trying to tame her unruly hair. “Good for you. What did they say?”

She turned and looked up at me. “They said the poor thing was probably dehydrated because it was so hot out, and to try giving it a drink of water. They didn’t think it was sick.”

“What happened then?” I asked.

“Well, I took out a small dish of water. The poor little thing had a drink, and a while later it flew off.”

“What a wonderful story, Mom. You saved the little bird’s life!”

“I hope so. It was really cute.”

“And now, you’re really cute,” I said as I laid down the brush.

It was her habit, after a bit of primping and preening, to crow happily to my brother, or my husband and daughter if they were over, “Here I come! Cinderella is ready for the ball!” Everyone did love her. We were in awe of her strength in the face of all she had been through.

She would watch television, with her lunchtime soup and sandwich in front of her. Hands bent outward with arthritis, resembling broken wings, she would clap and sing along to the theme song of The Golden Girls (“... thank you for being a friend... ”). It cheered us to hear the innocent promises of our sweet songbird.

Sitting beside her, I would reach over and gently grasp her hand. She would ask, “What are you doing?”

I answered that I was just making sure she was nice and warm, but really it was because I couldn’t get enough of her. A cautionary voice inside me said to touch her as much as I could while I still had the chance.

On her last Christmas Eve, I watched her decorate cookies with my daughter. It was an age-old tradition, the passing down of the shortbread recipe through the generations. We had rolled her wheelchair right up to the dining room table, where the baked cookies cooled and awaited the pastel frostings and coloured sprinkles my daughter had prepared. It filled me with pleasure to see them working together, Mom carefully spreading white icing on an angel cookie while her granddaughter lovingly looked on.

We are consoled now by knowing that she is as light as a feather, soaring high above us and enjoying every minute.

Birds and angels don’t need both legs to fly.

~Diane Wilson

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