Navigating Grief and Solace in the Cycles of Life

Eric Green


The bird and I were probably equally scared when we encountered each other on a recent cold winter’s day.


It happened when I stepped outside on the balcony of my apartment, searching for a small gardening hoe to scoop up all the leaves and piles of dirt lying on the surface.


I was about to stick my hand into one of the flower pots looking for where I had left the hoe when suddenly, without warning, a bird flew out, wings aflutter. Though I can’t pretend to know what a bird thinks or feels, I surmise it was frightened out of its wits as it made its escape from imminent danger.



The incident was scary because I thought the bird might go on a warpath against me. It was a stark reminder of the 1963 Albert Hitchcock horror movie The Birds, where violent birds attack citizens of a peaceful town.


After I regained composure and equilibrium, I was left in further disbelief when I discovered two eggs in that pot. I realized I had rudely interrupted the nesting of this bird. I imagine it regarded my sudden appearance as a grave threat to the livelihood of its still-to-be-hatched chicks and wasn’t about to let me interfere.


This was apparently a mourning dove I had imprudently met by chance--although it could have been another type of species, because when it comes to identifying birds in the animal kingdom, I don’t have much game.



Living in a sterile condo building in an antiseptic car-dominated community and hardly as they say, “one with nature,” I don’t normally spend time getting up close and personal with birds, like this mourning dove. The closest I have come is seeing a TV program about nature, after which I’m inclined to turn the channel.


That’s changed now because of the dove, although I still don’t plan to join the National Audubon Society anytime soon.


Since my encounter with this bird, I’ve been staring in wonderment out my window as she sits on those eggs morning to night, 24-7, rain or shine. Windy, freezing weather is no impediment to her determination to stay the course. Nothing would make her forgo her sacred duty to her developing chicks, no matter what else is happening in her world or mine. Forget birds. It’s rare to find people in your own circle who are as equally dedicated to the cause.



I happily mention running into this bird and her eggs even as it comes paradoxically on a sad note. At almost the exact same time as my bird encounter, my 94-year-old mother-in-law passed away peacefully in her sleep at home surrounded by family, after her health slowly deteriorated and she no longer would eat or take liquids. Yes, I see the irony in talking about a mourning dove and the fact that I’m now in mourning for my mother-in-law.


In my great sadness about this loss, it made me think about the connection of the cycle of life to dealing with the death of a loved one. Simultaneously, as my mother-in-law left this earth, newborns of another stripe were about to come into being. If I can stretch the analogy to its most primordial level.


My accidental meeting with the mourning dove also made me remember how absolutely stunned and bereft I felt when my own mother passed away at the age of 85. At almost the same time of her death, one of my wife’s relatives had given birth to a new beautiful baby girl. One life ended, while another had just begun.



My mother-in-law’s passing put me in a philosophical mood about how to think about death. As badly as I felt about the passing of my mother, and now my mother-in-law, I’ve come to accept that life and death are the ways of the universe. I’m hardly the religious type, but to cite the biblical passage: to everything there is a season. Believing in that idea might serve as consolation for losing my mother-in-law, especially when her first name was Consolacion.


On that point, Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, that the fifth and last stage of grief includes acceptance -- where a person understands that a loved one can never be replaced, but the living can move and grow into a new reality of life.


Dr. Thomas Arnstrong wrote in an article called “Navigating the Twelve Stages of the Human Life Cycle” that the last stage is death and dying. Armstrong, director of the Cloverdale, California-based American Institute for Learning and Human Development, wrote that this stage teaches us “about the value of living” and that we shouldn’t “take our lives for granted.” 


It's not a novel concept to say that whenever someone you know dies, it makes you reevaluate your own life and your place in society.


Meanwhile, if all goes according to schedule, I hope to be on the scene as an amateur bird watcher when those eggs start to hatch. Yes, I’m sad about my mother-in-law and will never forget my own mother’s passing almost 20 years ago. But I’ll take some comfort in celebrating the birth of new life happening right outside my window.


Author Bio:

Eric Green, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a former newspaper reporter, U.S. congressional press aide, English-as-a-second-language teacher, and now a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area. His articles have appeared in various newspapers and websites, including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.


For Highbrow Magazine


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