Sacrament of Dying
This morning I came across this piece, written nearly a year ago. On a day of remembering the dead of our wars, in a time of remembering the hundred thousand souls who have succumbed to COVID19, it seemed fitting to polish and share this snippet of a story. I had no sooner decided to do so when the feather of a mourning dove floated gently from the sky and landed at my foot. The photograph remembers it.
“If you stop and look deeply, you will recognize your beloved manifesting again and again in many forms.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
The drama of life passing into dust was about to unfold into the minutes in front of us. My husband and I floated lazily in our backyard swimming pool, cooled by sweet desert breezes, under a softening early evening sun. The flailing mourning dove dropped from the sky. Our quiet conversation and laughter were interrupted by the spill and splash of water that announced her.
We eyed the dove, speechless in astonishment. She eyed us, wary, uncertain, and out of her element. Her brown and white wings beat as she attempted an escape from her watery runway. Her efforts were futile. Something was amiss with her body. Wings flailing helplessly, she could not lift herself back into the air.
Once his surprise had passed, Bill went in search of something to help extract the mourning dove from the pool, warmish from simmering in high July heat
Sensing that the dove was desperate to escape, I moved closer, inch by inch, careful to avoid disturbing the water. I spoke to her, quietly, “Don’t be afraid. I want to help. I won’t harm you.”
A dark eye ringed by a dusky blue halo regarded me. The dove grew more still. I moved in, cupped my hands beneath her body and lifted her to the cement walk. She was startled and attempted to fly. Sadly, it was clear she was grounded. After fluttering around the yard for a time and attempting multiple take-offs, she settled into a corner of the soft grass. Waiting. Shocked. Truth dawning. Dying.
Bill had gone into the house to get a phone book with the intention of searching for an emergency vet. I watched our visitor silently. I knew she was passing.
In time, her stillness burst into a ferocious surge of energy. Her wings beat frantically. She bounced around on spindly orange feet. It was as if she was telling me, “I must resist. I refuse to disappear.”
No sound emerged from my lips. I spoke to her, instead, via the slender threads of thought that connect us in the tapestry of life.
“I know you are dying. I am with you. I pray your agony is over soon. It must be hard to let go of flight, of seeing the beauty of this amazing and colorful world with sky vision. Be free. Don’t struggle too hard. Let go.”
The mourning dove flopped onto her back. Her feet and wings scrabbled in a final act of visceral defiance of fate. I watched. I breathed. I sent her more love.
One last weak beat of her wings signaled her departure.
The wind chimes hanging from the porch, just to my left, sang softly, quickened by a sudden stir of a breeze. A crow lighted on our south gate. Another mourning dove lighted on the west gate. A third crow lighted on the east gate. I watched the arrival of these avian mourners with awe. I held the energy of the north gate. We stood like sentries, witnesses to the sacredness of the mourning dove’s passage.
Nobody survives this life, but we leave a mark that endures as long as we are remembered.
When my father died, the funeral director gathered my family together and asked us to think of a word that described him before he got ill, before his 16-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease. “Strong”, “funny”, “smart”, “able to fix anything and everything”, “loving” and “always there.” These words were offered as gifts by my mother, me and my four siblings.
Remember your father as he was at his best,” the director said. His suggestion held me up through grief.
Before her death, the mourning dove sang her beautiful cooing song, the one that always reminds me of Hawaii. She soared from palm tree to palm tree. I remember her that way. Strong. Aloft. Free.
Copyright 2020 Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.
Dr. Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, can be found at www.thedrspettit.com. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding and clinical experience in service to others. She is available for on-line consultations. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.