Funeral For a Songbird
I conducted a funeral this morning.
In gumboots and coat, in the soft grey fog, my five-year-old daughter laid a songbird to rest at the foot of a gingko tree.
I had found the bird on the laundry floor. I was taking it to the compost bin when my daughter walked in - feathers everywhere, the bird in my hand, and a teaspoon of blood on the floor between us.
It was her wide eyes that caused mine to fill with tears. She had seen dead birds before, but something about this moment felt different. The bird was still warm, the cat crouched in the corner. Life, and the end of it, hung in the air.
Her beloved pet had killed the bird. I could feel her holding the confusion, finding space to love the cat and mourn the bird.
I was confused, too. She seemed to find the bird’s death as beautiful as it was sad. She did not shy away from any part of it. My own attempts to avoid grief felt childish, unnecessary, in contrast.
My daughter chose the tree. “Because the bird might look up at the golden leaves and think they are its wings. And because the tree will drink the bird and become stronger.”
The bird lay in its grave, ready to be covered, when she asked me to stop. She climbed the tall, rickety ladder that leans against the gingko – the ladder she climbs when she wants to feel strong – and stood there a moment. Later, she told me “I climbed up in case the bird looked up and thought I was flying”.
The bird tucked safely in the earth, we walked back to the house.
“Does the whole garden seem sad to you?” she asked. I nodded. I had no words in the face of such tiny wisdom.
She found a dewy spiderweb strung across the box hedge. “I think the plant asked the spider to do that so it would be beautiful for the bird.”
“Those branches are hanging low because they feel so sad.”
“That tree lost its leaves because it cried them all off.”
Finally, at the back door, “at least it was only one bird,” she said. “There are lots more.”
One bird may be dead, I thought, but the garden has come to life.