How Doves Helped Her Overcome Her Grief

After losing her son, she found comfort and hope by watching these beautiful birds. 

Posted in , Apr 27, 2020

Illustration by Lucy Rose

Snow clung to the wintery branches of the wisteria climbing the trellises in our backyard. Gazing out the kitchen window with my husband, Roger, I thought, I know exactly how it felt to be frozen in that bitterness. We had just returned from burying our 21-year-old son, Steven. But even with Roger by my side, I felt alone in my grief. Isolated from him, Isolated from God.

Only a few nights ago, Steven had come over for dinner. He lived just five miles away in our small town. Roger and I had hugged and kissed him goodbye, never imagining it was for the last time. The next morning, Steven was on his way to work when his car hit a patch of black ice and slammed into a tree.

As I looked out at the yard, my mind flooded with visions of our son over the years: Steven laughing, throwing snowballs at his big sister. Steven climbing the monkey bars on the swing set, sliding down the slide, chasing our dogs.

A flutter of wings grabbed my attention. A mourning dove landed on a branch of the wisteria. Then another dove, and another, their pale gray feathers beautiful against the snow.

“I’ve never seen a mourning dove in our yard,” I said. “Only in town.”

“Seven of them,” Roger said. “God’s perfect number.”

“Right,” I said, wincing. What was Roger implying?

I was startled when he began to pray. “Oh, Lord, if these doves are a symbol of your grace, sent on the saddest day of our lives, please let us feel your comfort.”

At that moment the sky filled with doves; they descended over the yard, lining every branch of the wisteria. With no place left to land, some floated above the cold ground. Soft coos filled the air. We watched in silence, mesmerized, for several minutes, until they suddenly flew back up into the sky, gray wings ablur.

“That’s it,” Roger said. “God has given us a sign.”

“Of what?” I said. I turned away from the window, feeling numb. How was Roger able to find comfort in the doves when all I saw was a bunch of birds?

Over the next two years a few doves visited our late-winter yard, but nothing like on the day of Steven’s funeral. Roger reminded me often of the flock we’d seen, still sure it was a message of consolation, but I felt nothing. The bitterness in my heart had not melted. How I wished I could find the solace that my husband found in his faith!

I stopped going to church. 
I continued to pray, but now my prayers consisted mostly of questioning God. I asked over and over how he could have taken our son from us. My despair intensified until I was frozen in a debilitating depression. At my family’s urging, I forced myself to see a grief counselor.

My healing began with a gradual understanding that what had happened to Steven was not God’s fault, but just a terrible accident. I realized that ultimately my tears weren’t for Steven, but for myself, for what I’d lost. I returned to church. I no longer felt isolated from Roger in my grief. I no longer felt isolated from God.

One morning in early spring, I looked out at the backyard and saw another flutter of wings. A mourning dove settled on a wisteria branch budding with purple flowers. Its return marked the end of winter—and my own release from the bitterness that had gripped me for so long. God was with me, offering me comfort, and I was finally able to accept it.

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