GriefNet Library: Coping with Grief during Holidays

The Snowbird
by Marion Schoeberlein


"Seth, you must grow up," Great Grandfather told the boy when he was ten years old. The boy thought abut this a lot, but it was hard to do. Seth had lived with the old man, whom he had called "Great Grandfather" for as long as he could remember. They lived in a little cottage surrounded by woods. From the old man he had learned to hunt and read poetry and make a good fish fry after fishing all day.

"Here there is no one to see how ugly I am," he thought, "I can hide from the world here." Seth wanted to be smart in school and make friends, but no matter how hard he tried, he failed. Sometimes he told Great Grandfather about his problems.

"You must pray about it," the old man said, "and study harder. Try to make the other boys like you." The old man was very religious and read in his bible every night before he went to bed.

"He should have been a minister," Seth thought, "he knows almost as much as God." He loved it when the old man read to him about Joseph and Abraham and Jesus. They were beautiful people. Why weren't the people he knew like them?

Whenever they were alone in the woods, Seth felt good, but sad. There was a needle in his heart. He loved to hear the wind blow there; it was a bitter sound, but a sweet sound, too. The woods were full of its whistlings and its fairy tales. Here Seth made instant friends with the animals. He and great grandfather hunted rabbits, sometimes. Next to a fish fry, there was nothing better than a supper of rabbit meat and baked potatoes with the skin on them. Afterward, he and the old man sat in front of the fire, not saying a word because each knew what the other was thinking. The stillness between them was a poem.

It was a special day when they found the bird lying on the ground, shivering, almost dead. "It's a snowbird," the old man told him, "we must take it home and nurse it back to health."

"Do you think we can?" Seth asked.

"Of course. God will help us." Great Grandfather picked it up gently and nestled the bird in his coat pocket. All around them the snow sparkled. It was like standing close to a thousand stars. Seth and the old man followed the silken route of snow home to the cottage. That night he watched Great Grandfather make a tiny sling for the snowbird's broken wing. "He'll be all right again soon," the old man smiled. Seth thought that the old man's face looked like a narrow shoe as he talked. He was getting older and older, nearly a hundred!

As the days went by, the wind blew more fiercely in the woods, and sometimes it seemed to the boy that he walked in iron shoes. He lay in the snow while the old man hunted, the snow that touched his face, touched the wings of the birds, and put diamonds on Great Grandfather's boots. "The wind is tickling my ears," Seth laughed.

"It has a thousand things to tell you," Great Grandfather said, "it is always listening for you to come." Seth knew that what he said was true, but it often seemed to him that the wind was running away. Maybe it was because he was so ugly. Still, Great Grandfather had told him everyone and everything was beautiful to God.

One afternoon, when they came back to the cottage, they found the snowbird dead. "But you said you could make it well," Seth, in his disappointment, challenged the old man. Clearly Great Grandfather could not do everything Seth had believed after all.

"It was not the will of God," the old man replied. "If something is not the will of God, we humans can do nothing. We must go out into the woods and bury the snowbird." The great needle of hurt came into Seth's heart again as he watched Great Grandfather make a tiny hole in the earth beneath the snow.

"Let me put him into it," Seth said, his hands trembling as he put the snowbird into its tiny grave. It seemed to him that Great Grandfather and God just stood there then, letting him suffer.

"Soon the winter will be past," the old man told the boy," and the leaves will appear on the trees again." Seth shivered. He could not get the beautiful snowbird out of his mind. "You're growing up, Seth," Great Grandfather said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You know now what it is like to lose something you loved and to be helpless in the face of God."

The sun smiled down on them. It was the end of February, the end of winter. There would be no more snowbirds until next year. They walked slowly, side by side, listening to the wind and to the sound their boots made in the last crackle of snow and ice. It didn't matter now to Seth that he was ugly and not smart. Great Grandfather loved him, and said he was growing up. That made him walk on top of the world with God.

Reprinted by permission from *Bereavement,* a magazine of hope and healing.

Reprint permission granted only if ALL the following is included: Published with permission of Bereavement Publishing, Inc., 8133 Telegraph Dr., Colorado Springs, CO, 80920. For further information contact: Cendra (ken'dra) Lynn, Ph.D. - [email protected]

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