Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

hope is the thing with feathers

The day was bright and clear. I sat in my little living room, chair pulled up close to the big picture window shaded by the Mountain Ash tree, heavy laden with orange berries. The sun flitted and sparkled as it pushed its way through the branches, spilling wavy patterns over my lap and onto the wooden floor.

My mom sat across from me on the couch. She was dying. Except in that moment, we still believed there was a chance. I’d always struggled with anxiety but when my mom was diagnosed I felt like I started unraveling; the earth slipped on its axis and everything tilted just a little to the left. I stumbled along, unsure if I would ever regain sure footing.

I started having panic attacks around that time except I can’t recall exactly when they started. Was it before this visit or after? Not every detail is so clear anymore.

But there I was and it was sunny and the Bohemian Waxwings filled the tree just outside my window. My favorite bird. And for a moment I felt something stir within me. Hope maybe. Or the realization that the world was still beautiful after all. A flicker of happiness.

How strange to feel happy in that moment. Sacrilegious. But she was there with me, talking as we always had, and in that moment my cup was full. And as I already mentioned there were the sun and the birds and they felt like gifts, handpicked and wrapped up special for such a time as this.

Reminders that life is never all bad or all good.

It is a messy, unwieldy tangle of both, unwilling to be clipped and ordered like the shrubs that border the sidewalks where I walked, foggy with grief after she was gone.

In that little, imperfect house, on that otherwise ordinary day, I learned something that I needed. Not “needed” like one needs a new cute pair of summer sandals or maybe a set of dishes to replace those that are a little chipped but still entirely functional.

What I really mean was desperately needed to survive the aftermath. A glue that would patch me up just enough when I broke and was completely filled up with a nauseating fear; when I began binge eating again to try and numb the pain just for an hour or so in the middle of the night when the horrible dreams came steadily the second I drifted off. When I doubted life would ever be lovely again.

It was a quiet moment. We just sat there like old friends. Safe and comfortable in each other’s presence. We liked each other so it was easy in a way that it has never been easy since she left. But I knew that something significant had just taken place. A slight shift. A knowing that could never be unknown.

The tiniest tendril of something had sprouted within me. An awakening. A whisper that I did not exactly understand but somehow caught the gist of. Like when you’re learning a new language and you begin to absorb some of its cadence and character; you can’t explain how you know, just that you know something to be true.

Joy and pain can coexist.

Beauty and suffering are old friends; they hang out together all the time.

It is possible to feel happiness as someone you love is dying.

It was just a taste. A furtive glance. A quick peek. Just enough to wet my lips and remind me there was more where that came from.

The Waxwings brought it to me. They pretended they were only there to eat the berries. But I saw it – the stroke of vibrant yellow brushed boldly along the tips of their otherwise somber tails. The tiny pop of bright red splashed onto their wings like a creative afterthought. Hope. Hope is the thing with feathers.

And then, of course, they were gone. And so was she.

And I remember the day, not that long before she left that she called me on the phone and told me all was well with her soul.

All was well with her soul.

I hid in the bathroom, in the shower with the water loud to muffle my sound so my young children would not be frightened. And I wailed. The angry torrent of sound that poured out of my body was unlike any I had ever heard; I didn’t know at first it came from me.

I knew she was leaving then, even though she said she didn’t know what it meant.

Only that all was well with her soul.

How could it be? She was leaving behind her babies and the man who had loved her since they were teens and he drove the milk truck and they flirted with each other and there was the promise of a happier tomorrow. And nobody had asked her if she wanted to die.

Hope.

But we think life is all or nothing. Black or white. Straight up happiness or abject misery. And the truth falls somewhere messy in between.

Joy and pain.

Beauty and suffering.

Happiness and uncertainty and rage and grief all inextricably intertwined.

A simple, ordinary day brimming with love and friendship.

Death is not the end.

Given the choice, she would surely have chosen one more messy, ordinary, scruffy day just to be with her children. She wouldn’t have cared that the floors needing mopping and money was tight and the boys were roughhousing in the living room. She wouldn’t have mourned an imperfect body, a mismatched home or withheld forgiveness from someone she loved. She would remember that perfection was not required.

It took years for me to regain my footing after she left. Slowly but surely, one foot in front of the other. The terrorizing dreams finally relented. I broke out into tears a little less frequently. I practiced looking for hope.

Today, I sit on a different couch looking out a different living room window overlooking a different tree. The ornamental apple tree out front, with its rough flaky bark and wine colored miniature apples, has offered me great comfort over the years.

The waxwings come still, here and there, and varied flocks of other birds visit me too. Singing their familiar tune. They clean up my tree, chattering, squabbling, going about their ordinary lives; pretending they don’t see me. But even though my windows need a good wash I see more clearly now.

I see hope. It is the thing with feathers.

Krista xo

*Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm, Emily Dickinson (affiliate link to wall art)

If you can relate at all please let me know & I’d love for you to share this post. And if you want support around the topic of grief, you may enjoy One Thousand Gifts or A Grief Observed (affiliate links).

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28 comments on “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

  1. “Reminders that life is never all bad or all good”

    I needed to hear and be reminded of this. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Krista, this is a beautiful post. My Dad died at 51 from cancer and my Mom at 69. I miss her every day but know I will see them again in heaven.

    Happy birthday. Savor every moment! Here is a saying I like.:

    LIFE BELONGS TO THE LIVING, AND HE WHO LIVES MUST BE REPARED FOR CHANGES. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  3. Krista, sorry to leave two comments but I wanted to add something.

    You may already know this, but “All is Well With My Soul” is a beautiful Christian song . It is often sung at funerals because it is basically about someone coming to the end of their life, but everything is OK, because all is well with their soul, and they know they are going to heaven. You might find it on you tube if you have not heard it before. Perhaps this would add more clarity to your Mom’s comment.

  4. Krista,
    This took me back to the days around my mother’s death – so long ago, but the familiar ache returns – your post really resonated with me….hope is there. My Mom died just after I was married, and I SO missed her when my boys were born, and grew up never knowing anything more than her picture and my stories. Thank you for your lovely thoughts. You have blessed my day, and I hope yours is blessed too!

  5. This was quite literally the most beautifully written piece on the loss of a parent that I have ever read. It touched me to the core, and even though my parents have been gone for many years, it still gave me hope for the future, knowing that more grief and partings are ahead of me. Hope is truly the thing with feathers, and I will think of that every time I look out of the window at the antics of the blue jay family that live in the huge pine tree, or listen to the beautiful call of the robins and cardinals, or watch the hawks soaring on the updraft. Thank you so much for this gift. I know it cost you a great deal, but it is priceless to those you have gifted it to.

  6. I lost both my parents,6 months apart one from another 3 years ago.
    There is not a day that I don’t miss them.
    I struggle with IBS after this ,one baby step after another.
    Hugs

  7. I may be biased, but a more beautiful observation on the basic human predicament i have not read.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Alhough you owe me coffee for mking me tear up at work.

  8. Krista, thank you yet again. It is a gift to find a heart that so closely sings in tune with my own. This mingling of joy and sorrow is the only way I know how to do life. And while I wouldn’t have signed up for a lifetime of heartache, I truly believe that tradgedy, grief, and loss can cultivate a beauty-full and hope-full life. I can only explain it as the goodness and grace of God. It IS well with my soul, even when it all seems so very wrong.

  9. I don’t often leave comments on blogs but I have to thank you for writing that post, it was beautiful. I felt your honesty and your heart in your words. I relate to so many things you say in your posts while at the same time you often provide a perspective that I have never thought of before. You are very inspiring. Thanks again.

  10. Dearest Krista, You blow me away my dear, with a feather of hope and words of truth.

    Your writing is beautiful my friend and this piece is stunning. Wow, you are gifted. You are one of the truth tellers in my life about the reality of living, which is, as you say:

    Joy and pain can coexist.

    Beauty and suffering are old friends; they hang out together all the time.

    I have not yet lost a very closed loved one, like a parent. I dread the day but your writing gives hope for the reality of that painful future. This is life and the acceptance of both the loss and the gifts are the the journey.
    Love you.

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