A Sparrow Sent from Heaven

She needed a sign so she could feel at peace with her friend’s death.

Posted in , Dec 21, 2012

Birds as signs from heaven

My dear friend Cathy loved animals, and I loved Cathy. So when I was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral on that gray December day, that’s pretty much what I said.

Cathy loved just about every living thing that I kept on my small Mississippi farm, even my sometimes ornery donkey, Honkey. Cathy would talk to the pigs, cows and cats as if they were her neighbors.

And she was just crazy about birds, all kinds of birds. She would clap her hands to make the turkeys gobble and laugh every time she did it. She’d tiptoe up to a robin perched on a fence post just to get a better look, her face aglow with childlike awe at one of God’s simple wonders.

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I say childlike for a reason. Though Cathy was in her fifties, she had the mental age of an eight-year-old, handicapped since birth. But what she lacked intellectually she made up for spiritually. She loved the world so much because she loved her Maker so fully.

She would lay her head against a spot on the left side of my chest, right over my heart, and rest it there ever so gently, just long enough for me to feel a peacefulness flow into me.

And that’s how I ended my eulogy that cold December day, with my hand on that spot. I kept it there for as long as I could before I had to wipe away the tears.

Cathy had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just that fall. It couldn’t be treated, the doctors told us. By Christmastime Cathy was so weak that she could scarcely get out of bed.

I would go over to her sister’s house where she was staying and play Christmas carols on my guitar with her, her sweet trembling voice singing that beautiful hopeful refrain, “sleep in heavenly peace.”

Two days later she was gone.

After the funeral, winter settled in. It would be longer and colder without Cathy. I trudged through my chores on the farm. Even the animals seemed to miss her. “Lord,” I prayed, “I want to know beyond any shadow of doubt that Cathy is with you.”

Cathy’s in heaven, I told myself. She’s at peace. But was I? Could I accept that Cathy had gone to be with the Lord in a better place?

One bitterly cold January morning I was about to go into town to run some errands with my mother. I was on my way out the door to join her in the truck when I was startled by a small bird, sitting on the floor of our glassed-in front porch. A sparrow.

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How it had gotten there I couldn’t tell you. The porch doors were closed tight to keep out the winter wind.

I bent down and put out my hand. The bird hopped into my palm, a soft little bundle of warmth. Not trembling. Not hurt. Not sick.

“Let me take you outside so that you’ll be free,” I said. I cupped it gently, went outside and opened my hands. The sparrow stayed put.

“What’cha got there?” Mom called from the truck.

“A bird. I just found it on the porch,” I said.

“That’s odd,” she said. “Let me see.”

So I carried it over to her and held it out. Mom gently stroked its head.

“Put your hand out flat,” I whispered. The little bird climbed right into Mom’s palm.

We stood like that for a spell then I took the sparrow back. “Fly away now little bird,” I said.

But it did the strangest thing. It flew into the cab of the truck, resting on the floorboards at Mom’s feet. I picked it up again and lofted it into the air.

The bird fluttered, suspended briefly above my head. I thought it was going to shoot away, but instead it came down and landed on the left side of my chest, next to my heart. The place where Cathy always rested her head and said she loved me. I was in awe.

The sparrow stayed there for just a moment, but it was long enough for me to feel that familiar infusion of peace.

With that, the sparrow took flight, hovering for one final instant before disappearing among the trees.

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