Death makes you think things.
Like, even if you’re beautiful and cerulean-flashy and you have wings, your end will come. Beauty won’t stave the grim reaper, much as we’d like to believe. Still, I always thought a pair of wings would be super. That way, when life got dicey, I could just fly away. Hawks especially have always enchanted me, partly because they fly hundreds of feet above where stress lives and partly because they swoop down in an instant and kill unsuspecting prey before climbing back to their heavenly abode where nothing, nothing touches them. (unfortunately pet stores don’t stock hawks) What does my favorite animal choice reveal about my nature? Thank goodness I’m not applying to colleges.
Life can come to an abrupt and unexpected end and– unless you flap your wings around and screech about it– not all that many people will notice. For 10+ years that bird tweeted sweetly in her cage, bringing song and life to our kitchen and simultaneously acting as our carbon monoxide detector.
Her name was Sunflower. We got her for Luke when he was eight or so and in that I-want-every-pet-imaginable phase. That’s how we got all our pets, as each one of our children got to be about eight, we had to find something new. We began with hamsters, moved on to a cat, thousands of lice (they came with the cat), a dog, goldfish, real fish (the kind with a tank that actually requires work), and then finally on to birds. First, parakeets, then lovebirds. Whoever named them lovebirds should have named them Loudbirds. They scream their expensive, colorful beaks off, especially when they hear my voice. No, I don’t just think I’m special. My friend’s lovebirds also begin screaming whenever I talk. Birds either love or hate the timbre of my voice.
So the loudbirds got evicted, but Sunflower was polite. She was part of the family. And then she died. Poof. It was a Friday night, and Gabe had a swim meet the next morning; Luke was at soccer practice, and I didn’t feel like doing death right then. Am I the only mother/wife who doesn’t want to be the messenger? Honey, the washer’s broken. The fridge is leaking. X crashed the car again. We’re volunteering for XYZ. The bird died. So I chose not to be the messenger that night, and Bob agreed. He’d gone into work at 4am, and death-right-now wasn’t sounding good to him, either.
A cleaned chocolate tin with some paper towels served as her casket, and I interred her on a shelf in the garage. Don’t say I don’t respect the dead. Total dignity, that chocolate tin. Total class.
I had in mind to do an experiment and see how long it would take the kids to notice that the cage was empty. Except my real motivation was that I still didn’t want to be the messenger. It was easier just to keep the empty cage in its spot. As you were… carry on.
Luke’s girlfriend noticed the empty cage.
“What happened to the bird?” asks Luke, after the emptiness is pointed out to him. I glide into the kitchen and don the solemn look I see in funeral homes.
“It’s dead,” I tell him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks.
“I just did.”
This is my parenting style. Why bring death and sadness into the equation when I can wait and let it come to me? I did tell him. Just not at the moment it happened.
“What?! When?” Now the curiosity, the how-could-I-have-missed-this?
“Three days ago.”
And I’ll bet my feathers that, had Luke’s girlfriend not noticed the empty cage, it would still be in my kitchen and no one would be the wiser. We could have gotten several more months out of that pet, post-mortem.
All that to say what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years. Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. …that no one much notices unless you flap about and use your bullhorn. If you’re quietly desperate, only the quiet will be noted.
No one noticed Sunflower’s passing because she was so polite about it. All our other pets had the poor taste to die drawn-out, dramatic deaths full of sound and fury and urine and feathers and poo. Like Sunflower’s partner, who bleated for several days before becoming eternally mute. Why did we not take her to the bird doctor, you ask. Please don’t ask that. People eat birds. People don’t hit the brakes for birds. We fed her, watered her, cleaned her cage. But I was not about to incur a vet bill over a bird, screaming or no.
And, in my defense, I thought the screaming would stop, not in death. I just figured birds do that sometimes. He was molting. I heard molting was stressful. I scream sometimes when I’m stressed.
A parent makes many mistakes. Death makes me think this, too. Some deaths have to be full-on in your face. No retreating into the stress-free treetops until you feel like dealing with death. But Sunflower, beautiful little thing, offered a reprieve by dying ever so quietly, and I took it.
Death makes me think things. But it doesn’t always make me do things.