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Monday, November 17, 2014

He kindly stopped for me

The other morning, on the way to work, I found the body of a little bird outside my door. Still warm, but stiff. Eyes half open.

A dead bird has always seemed ominous to me. A harbinger of doom, or a reminder of fragility. When you come upon them, it's often hard to believe they're dead. They are still so perfect and beautiful, usually with no apparent injury or sickness. Like they just fell out of the sky. A memento mori. 

As if I needed one.

After Sherri died in August, I felt, I don't know, adrift somehow. I only knew her online, and in a sense she'd died for me before she left her body, because her posts stopped appearing. I cried many times before her death. But when she did go, I felt lost and empty, tears all dried up. I couldn't understand it, as stupid as that sounds. 

Last year, Showtime ran a series called Time of Death. It is an unprecedented documentary about terminally ill people in their final days. When it came out, I heard about it, I registered it, I filed it away as one of those important things that I wasn't ready for. After Sherri died, I decided it was time. 

Because death is visceral, solid, hard, and it felt as though she was spirited away, gone in a puff of smoke. I knew that wasn't true. I wanted to know what her final days might have looked like. 

I watched the entire series in a few days, while I was recovering from surgery. It was hard, undoubtedly, but not impossible. It was unflinching, it was kind. It was important. Most of the people profiled had cancer. They all died differently. As differently, probably, as they lived. Some at home, some in the hospital. Some with a glorious intention, others slipping away, struggling, not ready. Some surrounded by family, friends, nurses, cameramen, and one, completely alone.

When talking with a friend over the summer, he let slip, "If I die..." Not if, I said. When. When.

I wrapped the dead bird in a paper towel and took her to the garden. A policeman's funeral was happening down the block as I buried the little thrush, and the bagpipes started up as I poured earth over her body with my trowel.

I felt a squeeze in my heart for her, and all the other lost ones.