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YELLOW BIRD
February 12, 2011
 
For months, the sights and sounds of illness have filled the room: the rhythmic whoosh of the oxygen machine, dropper bottles of liquid medication and a tumbler of untasted juice on the bedside table, tubes of cream to soothe his paper-thin skin, the disposable mattress pad, the catheter and its accompanying bag hanging from the bed rails. Now, all that is gone: the bed has been stripped and pretty sheets laid on, an elegant bedspread over all, the pillows plumped and lined up invitingly. The women who cared so tenderly for him, right up to his last breath, have quickly and efficiently prepared the room for her. It will be her room now, this room that used to be theirs.

Surrounded by love,. I thought several times in those last hours, as I watched them care for him, watched her lie next to him, watched her remain there with him, even after his spirit had left his body. Surrounded by love. A good way to leave this life, which can be so hard to leave.

Beautiful as her new/old room is, I know that sleep might be elusive in this room for a while. How could it be otherwise? The central figure is absent from its landscape. What to do now? Whom to be? The perennial widow's reinvention of herself begins in one more life, as it has in billions of lives before. Sooner or later, almost everyone figures it out. But not without surviving a season of bewilderment, one in which the simple of fact of who one is seems absurdly up for grabs.

We grew up together, she says simply, with a sad little smile. Technically, I suppose, this is not so: they met as adults. But they allowed their lives to intertwine in the thousand ways in which lives do intertwine over years. They changed each other, and each allowed the change. Because why hold back? You can't have love in your life if you're not willing to risk losing it.

And, of course, you don't really lose it, not ever. At first, such a statement seems silly, facile -- even cruel. The loss of physical presence is resounding. In a final illness, so much is about the body: keeping the body clean, keeping it nourished, keeping its pain at bay. It takes time to say good-bye to all that. This is the time of good-bye. New ways of loving will be revealed, but the new ways of loving are for another day.

Among the many bottles and jars that used to cover the bedside table, I was surprised to see one that my little grandson also uses -- his skin is delicate, too. Skin is fragile at life's beginning, as it is as life's end. His body, too, is the focus of much attention in that household, as the dying man's body was in this one: its nourishment, its comfort, its sleep. Bedtime there is a communal ritual, much like those performed in this room until yesterday: the bath, the swaddling in a bath towel, a trip to the window to look for the moon, stories in the armchair. And an anointing with the rich cream is part of it: one parent slips his arms into his pajama top while the other strokes cream onto his legs. They sing "Yellow Bird" to him as they work, and he sings along. Why "Yellow Bird?" Well, why not? It's a good song, one about love and loss, like all the really good songs are. About a bird who can fly away from the pain of losing, as the one who sings it never can.

A man leaving this life. A little boy just at the beginning of it. Surrounded by love, both of them. As we all should be, before we fly away.


YELLOW BIRD

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.

Did your lady friend leave the nest again?
That is very sad, makes me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away.
You're more lucky than me.

I also had a pretty girl, she's not with me today.
They're all the same those pretty girls.
Take tenderness, then they fly away.
Yellow Bird, yellow bird.

Did your lady friend leave the nest again?
That is very sad, makes me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away.
You're more lucky than me.

Wish that I were a yellow bird, I'd fly away with you.
But I am not a yellow bird, So here I sit
Nothing I can do.
Yellow bird, yellow bird, yellow bird....
-- Haitian Folk Song
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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