Life, death and life - mourning loss and building new nests at once.
This past spring, if you looked beyond the white curtains and protective iron bars lacing our kitchen window, you would have seen a pair of mourning doves making their nest atop the storage cabinet on our back porch. Last year, they made a home in the same spot and their eggs fell. Cleaning up the crushed potential of a life was depressing. However, those hopeful birds came back and made their nest in the exact same spot. Does their name seal their fate? Will they always be in mourning? We watched closely as they prepared to lay their eggs. Autumn and Violet, now 18 months old, sat in their booster seats at every meal and were entertained by the fluttering, cooing, and flying away. We all learned the sign for bird. Now every time the girls hear one, their little thumbs and first fingers meet in repetition, pulling me out of my thoughts and reminding me to pay attention and notice the birds, too.
Last week, my uncle Chris fell from a bridge to the end of his life. He was only 45 years old, with two sons in elementary school. He coached both of their baseball teams. He and my aunt were still in love like they were teenagers, as one of his friends described at the funeral. My grandma is one of my closest friends. That she knows the loss of a child tears at my heart. That my aunt, a woman who embodies the word grace, knows the loss of her soulmate makes my throat contract. That my cousins know the loss of a parent, well, the sadness is great. There is no way to prepare for such a tragic accident. Unlike the egg shells I cleaned up from the porch, Chris was in the midst of a loving, generous, fun, and full life.
Around the same time the mourning doves were building their nest, I started to teach my daughters the skill of a deep, calming breath. I want to give them the tools to deal with the inevitable anxieties of life, and breathing deep seemed like a good place to start. We’re still working on remembering how to take that audible inhale and exhale when they can’t have the toy their sister is playing with at that exact moment, but we’ll get there. Connecting to this breath is healing, rejuvenating, centering. Now more than ever, these deep breaths remind me that I am alive, that my daughters are alive, and that there are no guarantees that we will go on breathing tomorrow. It reminds me to be in the moment, and each moment of life is a blessing.
When we came back home after my uncle’s funeral, it seemed wrong for the buses to keep rumbling down Broadway Avenue and the stores to keep selling on Clark Street, when someone we love is no longer there to witness it. But the world keeps running. We keep breathing. Life is still happening here.
This year we watched the mama mourning dove sit with dedication on her precious eggs, never leaving them alone in the nest. We watched those eggs hatch to reveal slimy little birds. We watched those babies grow fluffier and eventually we saw them fly away. They grew up so fast. I wish that Chris could come back and learn to fly like those birds. Instead, we are all looking at ways for his spirit to live on. To start, Mandi and I now tell our daughters every night how lucky we are to be their moms, just like Chris told his sons that he was lucky to be their dad.
All of these things – the birds on our back porch, the deep breaths by Violet and Autumn, and tragically losing a member of our family – all of these things remind me that life is meaningful yet small, short yet broad. When I am deep in my own thoughts of sadness and loss, my girls do something to remind me that it’s the people in our lives that make your life great. That paying attention and appreciating and offering something positive to the people around you – just like my uncle did – is what it’s all about. We make the best nest we can, in the place of our choice, and then one day we will fall or fly and either way the world will go on and we will become part of something much larger than ourselves.