The much-loved brother of my friend has died at the age of 36 after fighting leukaemia for 10 months. He will be buried tomorrow, so tonight, as is the tradition here, he is being “waked” at the family home. I have just been to see him and pay my respects, and did not quite feel the full force of the grief until I put my arms around his little sister, my friend, to tell her how sorry I was. Now I am sitting at home trying to find some scrap of sense in a world that seems very cruel.
When faced with loss and pain I always seem to find my way back to the birds in my garden. In my bleakest moments a few years ago I began feeding the birds, and their colour and their song began to seem like little gifts given just to me, often at a time when I really needed them. I began to recognise the different species that were regular visitors, and always felt thrilled when a new arrival showed up.
One bird that I always wanted to see was a long-tailed tit, a very sweet little ball of pink feathers with the longest tails of any of our native birds. I never held out much hope though, I assumed that if the birds don’t live in this area then I am never going to see them through my kitchen window, so I was happy with the stunning goldfinches and tiny redpoll and all of their little friends.
One afternoon though, following several days of very heavy and exhausting appointments to try to organise some help for my daughter in her time of anxiety, I happened to turn and look out at the bird feeders, as I often do. Flitting about, and lifting my heart, were seven beautiful long tailed tits. They swarmed like a cloud of exotic butterflies, just long enough for me to take one quick snap with my camera and call quietly to the both children to come and see. I had to lift my boy so he could see out of the window, and my girl stood on the other side of me on her tiptoes. We stood like that watching the birds that I had waited so long to see, until, just like that, they were gone again, leaving no trace that they had ever been at all.
Since that magical moment, those little birds have never been back. The one photo I managed to get is so blurred that it is unrecognisable but I treasure the memory of that moment, because it was another little gift to remind me how special life is, with the usual perfect timing that convinces me that there just has to be something more to all of this.
Maybe every blessing in our lives is like a bird, flitting in and bringing joy, and then leaving us so suddenly. I feel so very sad that one of the most beautiful birds in my friend’s life has flown away, and can never come back. I hope, I really hope, that the joy and love he brought when he was here will get her through the pain of losing him.