A sign of Life

Several years ago, I was asked to officiate the funeral of a young man (a Marine) killed in Afghanistan. The day before the ceremony, his family and I waited silently, in a private area of the airport, until a few minutes before the plane carrying his body home was about to land and then a very kind veteran, in charge of these occasions, asked us if we would like to go outside. Helen Keller once said that death is nothing more than passing from one room to another, and while I thought that I believed this, I was experiencing many emotions, and one of them was doubt.

About 5 minutes before his plane landed, I looked up in the sky, and noticed a large bird flying toward us. It looked like an eagle, but I knew that it couldn’t be since we were in the middle of a busy airport and seeing an eagle is a pretty rare occurrence, even in the most rural areas, around here.

As it got closer, I thought, “My God, it is an eagle” …it came closer and closer and landed right in the middle of the runway in front of us. And then it started doing the strangest thing; it began jumping up and down, almost like it was dancing, saying, “Notice me! notice me!”

We did notice. The symbol for the United States Marine Corps is an Eagle standing on top of the world with its wings spread. It felt like a sign from Philip saying, “I’m ok! I’m ok!”…his parents felt this too. I was flooded with goosebumps and the words, “thank you, thank you, thank you” flowed through me. After a couple of minutes, it flew back in the direction that it came from.  We watched it get smaller and smaller in the sky, as the plane bringing Philip’s body home, came in to land…they must have passed each other in the air.

It seems that a lot of people are making their transitions at this time; leaving this very brief life experience, and going on to the next. As much as we would like to hold onto all of those that we love, this isn’t the way of this life. The mystery, and the part that we cannot get our minds around, is that Life does not end with the death of the physical body. In our grief, it can be hard to feel the presence of our loved one…and sometimes the birds of the air, and the animals, come to our aid and remind us that there really is no death.

“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation“. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

37 thoughts on “A sign of Life”

  1. Hi Mary, What an amazing story. Beautiful! Sure does help to accept the loss. I have had many dealths around me lately. Mostly animals & this helps me to accept. We are ALL going to die or at least go into another room. 🙂
    Love Denise

    1. Thanks so much for letting me know that this post was helpful Denise…love to you, Mary

  2. Last fall, as I was leaving the woods at the end of my walk, I said aloud to
    my late daughter, “Hilary, I don’t know where you are, but I hope you’re at
    peace, and I love you and miss you every second of every day.” A few minutes
    later, as I sat down in my backyard, a hummingbird (the only one I saw last
    year), came to my window box and paused, then flew over to me and paused
    no more than two feet from my face. I could hear its wings. After 5 seconds it
    flew away. I was speechless, breathless, you name it. I definitely felt Hilary’s

    1. I love this so much Becky, …words of hope to all, thank you

  3. a friend of mine was taken young. as we waited in the church for the casket to be brought in, a groundhog walked up the steps of the church and walked down the aisle…spent a few seconds looking around…then walked back out again. in the lore, groundhog means rebirth. that’s when i knew that my friend was not really gone….just hanging out in another place.

    1. I have never heard of a groundhog showing up like this…what a sweet and powerful example of Life…thank you Mary!

  4. What a compelling, wonderful story. I have goosebumps too. Mary and Philip’s eagle, Becky’s hummingbird, Mary in Manchester’s groundhog…such loud and clear messages for our heart. I can’t think of a sweeter way to say ‘hello’!

  5. i so believe in the story that you told-there are beautiful miracles all around us, each day that the Universe or God or Whomever wants us to see and feel-yes, that Eagle was most specific in the message that he was bringing to all of you…what a lovely story!

  6. My dad passed away 12 years ago. He was a sailor and his favorite bird was the seagull. He died in winter in a hospice center. While driving home to my house in the city the night he died, I turned onto my street and sitting in the middle of the road at 3 in the morning was a seagull. In the city. In winter. I knew then that my dad was letting me know things would be ok. Thanks, Mary, for giving me a chance to remember that miracle.

    1. beautiful, beautiful story Heidi…thank you for sharing it with us

  7. Dear Mary. We have wind chimes on our back deck which are tuned to “Amazing Grace”. They play a variation of those notes depending upon how the wind moves them. On the night that my beloved horse Romeo died two weeks ago, I heard the chimes play three simple notes. Then again……and again. Only the night was completely still, there was no wind. I heard them again and this time I heard “I Am Here”. For the next several hours, I heard these same three notes and words. It happened again the next night. I know it is Romeo, letting me know he is alive and well in the world of spirit and that the love we so deeply share continues to blossom into many forms. The circle of life truly is endless.

    1. Dear Debra, …It seems that Romeo is a part of me too (and I know that many of us feel the same)…and now I can feel the comfort of those notes too….thank you

  8. I loved your post today Mary. Months before my husband died his son and our grandson came to visit and we spent the weekend driving around to find the pelicans that are here on the Mississippi river by where we live however to no avail…we couldnt find a one! My husband was disappointed as he wanted our grandson to see them.

    However the day of my husbands funeral on the way to the Church in the funeral procession we spotted a huge flock of pelicans soaring high up not far from the Church…they would turn in the sunlight and almost disappear and then all of a sudden there they were again …. everyone commented on this later and I felt like you about the Eagle that he was saying I am okay and up here today soaring with the pelicans……..it was a beautiful and touching sight and we will all forever remember it.

    1. “I am okay and up here soaring with the pelicans” is a thought that brings tears of joy to my eyes Julie! Thank you

  9. Your post, Mary, and all the posts of our flock are some of the most beautiful and emotional stories I have seen here.

    I cannot add a thing except to say how glad I am that we all have met here, and how much all of you contribute to my life. Many blessings to all on this day.

    1. I’m with you, Suzanne. I’m in awe of all of the stories. I love the graduation metaphor, too, since this is the year of graduations in our family, as well as loss. Thanks to all who shared their stories.

  10. What powerful comments today! According to my Secret Language of Birds book, the eagle, one of the great archetypical birds, is an extremely powerful symbol in many religions – how fitting that in the Christian religion it is a symbol of new life, resurrection, generosity, and spiritual endeavor. Mary, what a divine gift you were all given. And the pelican, Julie, is depicted in history and art as feeding its young from its own blood, therefore it has become associated with sacrifice and charity, certainly traits parents come to embody hopefully.

    I read an interview in the Sun magazine featuring the artist/painter Ran Ortner. He had this to say on life:

    “Nobody gets out of this life alive. None of us is a survivor. There are no survivors. For me this is not nihilistic. This leads to Nietzsche’s idea of ‘amor fati’ – to love our fate. Even though we die as individuals, even though the particular individual has crashed like a wave on the beach, there’s still the larger whole. It’s already a given that life’s a failure, by which I mean that we come with an expiration date. We already know we’re going to break down and crash. There’s something liberating about that. This is our moment in the sun. LET’S DANCE. Lifer is an astonishing opera that we’re all living.”

    His paintings are enormous!, huge masterpieces! many of which are about the sea, and the sea only (thus his crashing wave metaphors, I guess!)


    1. Thank you Susan…I love that quote and his artwork is beyond words!

  11. Oh, wow! What powerful messages. On the day my husband died, the yard was full of dragonflies. Even now, 8 years later, a dragonfly will often visit me, sitting still next to me for a few moments, often when I feel the need for his advice or sometimes just to stop by and say hello. Only recently did I learn that a dragonfly symbolizes transformation.

    All these posts remind me of a verse: Mark 8:18 ~ “Having eyes do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?” ~ So many people cannot see and cannot hear what is happening all around them all the time. The power that drives our sight and hearing is faith.

    1. Thank you for sharing that passage of scripture, Laurie! I often hear the words from The Little Prince on this subject. The little prince said, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is important is invisible to the eye”.

    2. Laurie –
      Or in my case, I think the power of my sight and hearing is driving me toward
      faith. I was brought up in a born-again Christian very negative environment
      based on sin, sin, sin. As a young adult, I turned my back on it all and
      embraced a rather agnostic belief system, bordering on atheism. Since
      my daughter’s tragic death, I have had several experiences similar to
      the hummingbird story above. I am actively trying to be more open to
      the spiritual world and the more I see and hear what is going on around me,
      the closer I come to some sort of faith, although I’m not sure exactly what it
      is. It’s an interesting journey for me, all thanks be to my beautiful, very
      spiritual daughter.

      1. Becky, I do believe that the gifts of the senses, – sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste are incredible gifts from God and never to be underestimated. I think of all the senses though, sight can be the most fickle as we tend to make snap judgments without even wanting to, when we first lay our eyes upon something, thus I offered the Little Prince quote. Your quest to be more open to the spiritual world is such a beautiful intention – like opening up a book suddenly in technicolor where once it was all shades of whites and grays. All of a sudden, we can see with our ears! Hear with our eyes! Glory all around us. I lost a little son at four months. At least that is how we say things in our language, but a loss? Oh, no, a lifetime gain, a sweet spirit that I carried longer in my body than his days on earth. But it is all a gift, a very precious gift. A hearty carnation may outlive the fragile rose, but does that make the rose less precious? And so with our children. Bless you Becky.

      2. “the closer I come to some sort of faith, although I’m not sure exactly what it

        Becky, just remember,faith brought about by beautiful experiences, such as the hummingbirds, doesn’t have to have a name. It is enough that it springs from inside and is verified in your own heart. This is the true faith.

        I am so sorry for the tragedy you have had to endure….a mom’s worst nightmare. But I know in my heart that your daughter is providing help along your path. That is a priceless gift. The bond will never break.

  12. Thank you, everyone. I found today’s message and comments to be the most uplifting that I’ve ever read. So many personal and profound experiences with death and beyond.

    1. I keep coming back today too, Maya. Mary, I just marvel at how you are able to come up with an offering each day, and out it goes into cyberspace and within hours it feels like we have gathered and had our own little worship service. Especially today touching on loved ones that have passed on. I used to be a wee bit jealous as a child of my little Catholic friends who had votive candles lit at all times of day in their sanctuaries. (and prayer cards too!) Today it felt like each person’s offering lit yet another candle, – of love, of encouragement, and yes, too, to feel our own little voice chiming in with the greater Voice. Thank you for providing us all such a safe and life affirming place in which to gather. Who’s to say sacred space cannot be found in cyberspace?

      1. thank you Susan, as I sit here and take in the depth (and heart) of each comment, I am humbled and in awe of our connection as well…I truly love this White Feather Farm “family”

  13. Namaste to all you, dear souls. Coming on the heels of Memorial Day, how appropriate these words resonate. I am moved to tears (of joy and peace) with each and every story. More than ever, I’m convinced of the ‘mystery’ and fear little of the ultimate transition.

  14. My parents passed away within 6 weeks of each other in 2007. They met at a dance hall in the 1940’s, my mom was a dancing instructor. My dad especially loved big band music. Dad died first in March, mom the following May, as my family and I sat together over dinner at a restaurant on the evening of moms passing, one of their favorite 40’s songs came over the sound system. We knew mom had joined dad.

    1. just lovely Carol…I almost felt like I could hear that music through your words…thank you

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jon Katz who, in his own blog, steered me to White Feather Farm. Sometimes, when my own church “wears me out” (in spirit), i come here and often find peace and rejuvenation. Thank you all!

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