Bird Nest with Funeral Flowers
I visited Gray's Cemetery two mornings this week. The first of the two mornings, on a quest for a shot of some wild turkeys, I ended up chasing a red-tailed hawk from one end of the cemetery to the other.
Shortly after noon on the day of the red-tailed hawk, a friend of mine passed away in the hospital, with her husband at her side. She was a woman I had worked with for many years. She was 49, just two years older than me; way too young to die.
She had initially battled breast cancer and beat it; we had a party to celebrate her triumph over death. After five years of remission, the cancer came back, settled in her lungs. She quit her job, focused on doing things she wanted to do, tried to tie up loose ends.
I had last visited my friend about two weeks ago. The ravages of cancer had aged her, leaving her thin and weak, with a cough that wouldn't go away. As a young woman, she had been known for her loud voice and booming laughter. In the final grip of cancer, her voice was reduced to a whisper. She struggled to participate in conversations: short answers, draw a breath, the wracking cough. She seemed to be slipping away before our eyes.
The afternoon my friend died, my watch stopped. Even when it is expected, death is a shock. Someone came to my office and told me; I didn't believe him. It just couldn't be true; couldn't be happening. She left behind many friends; a loving husband, a daughter who will graduate from high school in the spring, a son who will graduate from college then too. Their mother will not be there to watch them walk to receive their diplomas. The thought of it brought me to tears. I couldn't make sense of it.
I had a strange dream that night. I was at a party at my friend's house, and she (knowing she was dying) was standing by the door saying farewell to everyone as they left. She was encouraging each of us to take something of hers, something to remember her by. You know how it is in dreams. You remember some things, not others. I had something in my hands, couldn't tell you what I chose, but I held it out to her. She inspected it carefully. "Good choice," she said, and then she nodded and smiled at me; hugged me one more time before I went out the door into the night.
The night my friend died, it snowed, leaving a winter wonderland behind. I didn't have time Thursday to take as many photographs as I had wanted to. So Friday morning I allowed myself a little extra time for just me and my camera and the snow. I returned to the cemetery of the red-tailed hawk. I could tell it was a good choice. Unbroken snow greeted me. My footsteps were the only ones. It was silent and peaceful and bitterly cold.
At the very back of the cemetery was a thicket of weeds, briars, and broken tombstones. I noticed some flowers caught in the weeds and pushed my way through the briars to see. Looked closer: noticed it was not just weeds, but a nest.
A bird had used the pinky-purple funeral flowers that the wind had blown there as the basis for a nest. I marveled at her intricate handiwork: how she had woven together the strands of weeds and funeral flowers to make something that would nurture new life. It was all beautiful, the strands inseparable.
I thought of my friend, of life and death inextricably woven together. I took one last photo of an angel in the snow, said a prayer for my friend and for all of us who knew and loved her, and left the graveyard.