Of Blackbirds and Souls: How to Cope with Grief

I wrote this post some twenty four hours before Grandpa drew his last shuddering breath in July. Although it never mentions him or the grief Grandma and my uncle and aunts were suspended in, to publish it then seemed sacrilegious somehow. Today marks the six-month anniversary: it’s time.


I see there’s only a smudge left on the road; it would be ’bout the size of a sour cream container if it were actually round.

But, yesterday.

Rushing cherry metal met flitting, red-capped, black wing.

In the wake of the vehicle, the feathers shuddered and a wing flapped, but surely life had flown.

Minutes later I heard a desperate “Peep,” even from my half block away and looked.

The wings beat anxiously, propelling the bird a foot closer to the shoulder and safety.

I looked both ways, no strawberry customer in sight, and walked across the road, making little puffs of dust on the shoulder. Driven by instinct, I only wanted to help.

Red-winged blackbirds are territorial creatures. One flew menacingly at my grandma on her walks, because she happened to cross into his territory. I’ve, too, glanced warily at a red-winged blackbird hovering over me as I walk my river path.

This blackbird–will it let me help it?

I pick up a paintbrush on the shoulder. Wide as my hand, the lush bristles look nearly new. I wonder who’s missing it, though it seems God-sent to me.

Waiting on the shoulder in line with the desperate bird, I wait for the next vehicle to pass. I notice that its tires are lined up exactly with the bird. They spin and spin. I close my eyes.

When I open them again, the bird is flattened, the vehicle slowing for the stop sign, and my heart divides.

What would I have done with a wounded red-winged blackbird? In helping it to the safety of the shoulder, would I have only prolonged it’s slow death? Really, all this is for the best.

Then, why does it still feel so wrong? Why can’t I reconcile myself to the death of a bossy, worthless bird?

I cross back over the road, wondering about sparrows and The Man Who valued them. I know He saw this blackbird fall.

This same Man, on the cusp of a new world, breathed into humankind the immortal soul.

Immortal soul.

We were not made for dying, for seeing death, for losing the loved ones around us.

Death and loss should hurt, because they are shoes the wrong size for our souls.

We were made to grow, to live, to have and to hold–forever. 

No wonder then that even Jesus was overcome at the grave of Lazarus. While the God within Him waited to break the chains of death, the man within Him felt all the broken wrongness of loss. His friend had gone. 

From this we receive the shortest and, perhaps, most poignant verse in God’s Word: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35

God cried. 

God.

Cried. 

In the face of death and loss, God cried. 

blackbird sketch lying on peony petals

When we lose a dream, a loved-one, a blackbird, we need to take time to say good-bye. We need to cry and ache. We need to turn our eyes towards the endless blue of the sky and reckon with the eternity made to fit our immortal souls.

Here on earth, the ache will never leave: the shoes will never fit. 

There, God will wipe the tears from our eyes, heal the wounds on our souls, and beckon, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Matthew 25:23b

4 Comments on “Of Blackbirds and Souls: How to Cope with Grief

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