An Ending Too Soon

My greater community lost three iconic men the past several weeks. Three men who dedicated their lives to helping others and our community. Three men who shared love, gifts, strengths, struggles and passion with all of us.

I also have seen numerous clients in my office the past several weeks grieving the loss of a loved one. Bonds broken, relationships ripped all ending before we wanted them to.

Collectively we are brokenhearted and in shock. Those closest to these people are having to bear the weight in a way the rest of us only can imagine. How difficult it is to celebrate the life you shared while knowing the loss lasts forever.

For those of us who want to support the grief stricken, it can be hard to know how. People struggle with comforting words. Sometimes it’s just as important to know how and when to be silent as it is to know what to say. Being all right with a loved one hurting helps them feel more normal in expressing their sorrow when sometimes our tendency is to want to fix it, deny it, or numb it.

I attended one of the funerals - the husband of a friend - and was awed by the priest’s homily. He unraveled the tale written by anthropologist Loren Eiseley in his essay, “The Bird and the Machine.”

Eiseley had traveled to an abandoned cabin to capture birds for the zoo. He crawls up a ladder to find himself face-to-face with two (a female and a male) young sparrow hawks. The male fights with Eiseley until his mate is able to escape through a hole in the cabin roof. At that point, the young male sparrow hawk gives in, “he neither gave nor expected any mercy,” Eiseley writes.

He puts the bird in a box overnight and returns the next morning. He decides to let the bird go, “I suppose I must have had an idea then of what I was going to do, but I never let it come up into consciousness. I just reached over and laid the hawk on the grass.”

The young male sparrow hawk flaps his wings once and is gone in a split-second without a sound up into the great blue, silent abyss of the sky. Eiseley stares up but cannot find the bird in the sunlight. Then, he hears a cry ring down through the stillness.

Not the cry of the just-freed hawk. No. The female companion who must have kept vigil for hours on end came careening toward her mate. “And from far up, ringing from peak to peak of the summits over us, came a cry of such unutterable and ecstatic joy,” Eiseley writes. “I saw them both now. He was rising fast to meet her. They met in a great soaring gyre that turned to a whirling circle and a dance of wings. Once more, just once, their two voices, joined in a harsh wild medley of question and response, struck and echoed against the pinnacles of the valley. Then they were gone forever somewhere into those upper regions beyond the eyes of men.”

That is both what our love and our grief feels like. A collision of souls that cannot be untangled by Earthly time and space - they collide and we rise and we tumble together.