We’re all touched by death throughout our lives. Many of us are called to witness the transition from a viable entity, to an empty vessel. It’s a sad, helpless feeling that is sometimes accompanied with relief, if the passing spirit was suffering, but most often it’s just sad and shocking, and we’re filled with profound grief. We’d really rather be somewhere else. Let someone else be the witness. Not me.
Today it was my turn again when I held a hummingbird in my hand as it died. How profoundly sad that was, watching the life soundlessly escape that beautiful tiny body. It was all iridescent green with a spot of gold on it’s breast. So pretty.
This little bird wound up on our porch as a gift from Breezie, a testament of her hunting prowess. She was proud of her accomplishment and I couldn’t be mad at her because that’s how she survived the first year or so of her short life. Panzie alerted me of the injured bird when she made Breezie back off. I picked it up and cradled it in my hand, light as a cotton ball. It’s wings were askew, but the eyes were still alert and it moved it’s head around as if on guard, but made no attempt to flee. Ever the optimist, I thought maybe it was gathering it’s strength to once again fly, but that didn’t happen. Instead, it gathered it’s wings to itself, opened it’s little beak in a soundless cry, and was gone. By the clock it was about 2 minutes, but it seemed to take much longer. I hoped it knew I was friend at the end.
I held it for a bit, wondering what to do. The garbage came to mind, but that just didn’t seem right, so I wrapped it in a napkin and buried it in our tiny garden, near the feeder where it was captured. That seemed appropriate.
As this brief event transpired, I remembered all the other times I was called to witness death. Most were small animals when I was young, but the most significant was when I stood next to Diane and watched our first son, Brad, die. He was seven weeks old. His little heart just wasn’t up to the task. I didn’t think I would ever feel that kind of loss again, but then Mom and I were with Dad when he died in 1992. It was just as bad because things like that are compounded, bringing back memories of all deaths you’ve witnessed. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.
So, the passing of this little bird today was as bad as any loss I’ve ever experienced because of the memories it evoked. It doesn’t get any easier and it isn’t any clearer about why I must endure as the witness. I suppose this sounds a lot like complaining because my experiences are few and infrequent, when this day and age young men and women are witnessing the deaths of their friends on a daily basis. I submit to you, however, that witnessing the loss of any life is traumatic, tragic, and memorable, no matter the reason for that loss. That’s why we’re there … to remember that loss and not allow it to go unrecorded. These memories help give those lives meaning.
It gives them immortality.
So, remember them.