Monday, March 12, 2018

Voices of Experience: Death of a Friend and the Lesson of Feathers

Feathers appear when angels are near.  ~ Karen Borga

Julie Siri, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years' experience in death, dying and bereavement. She is a seasoned hospice worker, grief therapist, dynamic speaker and educator, having taught several years at Whittier College and as a guest lecturer at the University of Southern California, UCLA and Keck Medical School. Here Julie describes how the death of a dear friend helped her learn one of life's most important lessons ~ that although death ends the life of a loved one, the relationship we have with that person doesn't end; it changes form. And if we pay close attention, reminders are everywhere.

Years ago a very close friend, Ron, visited my mountain home in Big Bear California. I had known Ron for many years. As our lives changed and unfolded we managed to stay close and continue our special friendship. We would spend hours reflecting on life and supporting one another through various twists and turns, ups and downs. Those times of reflection were my favorite. We talked about love, the world, politics, God, and even death. Whenever I had a “great idea” or found myself pondering a life issue, I would call Ron. He would listen. We would talk. Life was grand.

During his visit to Big Bear we took a hike in the mountains. We came upon a huge redwood that had been struck by lightening. Although it was still standing tall its trunk had been hollowed out and charred. Like two little kids, we decided to see if both of us could fit inside the trunk ~ quite a feat since Ron was over six feet tall. While inside the tree, laughing at our silliness, Ron shared with me how special our relationship was and gave me a blue feather he had found during our hike. It was his gift of the moment and with it a promise to always love me and be there for me. We finished our visit that day with a wonderful dinner and of course a profound discussion about life. He gathered his things and drove down the mountain to his home in Los Angeles.

That was our last time together. Weeks passed and I received a call informing me that Ron had taken his life. His body was found in the gardener’s utility room with a suicide note pinned to his shirt. The funeral services were private, “family only.” This was all the information I was ever to receive. Of course I was in shock. My grief process included persistent haunting questions. We had talked about so many things but never ……….suicide or despair or hopelessness.

Why? What happened? What had I overlooked? How did I fail? Why didn’t he come to me for help?

I missed Ron. I missed our talks. I missed the sanctuary he provided me. Life was different now. He promised to always love me and to be there for me. I was angry, hurt, and confused.

On a particularly lonely day I walked to the edge of the lake.

I had stopped thinking and my mind and my heart were still. It felt good to have the questions stop for a while.

I experienced a quiet calmness and closeness in my thoughts about Ron that brought both peace and comfort. At that moment I felt compelled to sit on the shore at the lake and capture the feeling of the calm. As I sat, I leaned back, moving my hand deep into the sand. I felt something soft and intertwined in my fingers was a single blue feather.

In a flash I remembered that one of our wonderful talks included the promise that relationships last forever. Death does not change that promise or commitment.

I felt his presence. I re-experienced our relationship.

The aloneness fell away.

Over the past 23 years I have continued to receive feathers. They fall in my path, slide down my windshield, or become lodged near the middle of my front door awaiting my arrival home.

I have over 100 feathers, in various shapes and colors. I have received feathers while in Europe, New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Indiana during the funeral of my sister and later the funeral of my father. I have received feathers on a golf course in Hawaii, and lying on my computer keyboard in the morning. My most memorable feather was given to me by Barbara, a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s who had long ago lost the ability for meaningful communication. Barbara handed me a beautiful feather stating with perfect articulation, “this is for you,” ~ and of course it was brilliant blue. She smiled and scurried away.

The feathers seem to come during perplexing times when I need support or a listening ear, and also during times of great celebration ~ those very same times I would always share with my friend Ron.

I have shared this story with hundreds of people and many have reported back to me that they too have “feathers.” Sometimes it is the chiming of a broken clock or the reappearance of a lost memento, a dove that will not fly away and yes, sometimes it is a feather.

The lesson of the feathers is that relationships do not end. They change their form. One of the primary tasks in our healing process is to reconnect with the relationship, to become accustomed to the new form. When we can do this the grief and sorrow will begin to lift.

Relationships do not end, they change form. Love continues.

© 2018 by Julie Siri

About the Author: Julie’s career began at the height of the AIDS epidemic where she witnessed and experienced the impact of stigma on the grief process. Over the years she has utilized those experiences to provide support and insight to families and loved ones on their journey through grief. Her work with stigmatized grief has distinguished her as an expert in the field of disenfranchised grief. Julie's philosophy is woven into all the work she does at Journey Through Loss, and she notes that each of us may find an occasional feather reminding us to listen to the whispers, to pay attention to those wonderful life-like dreams and to embrace the knowledge that sometimes comes during quiet, still moments. Contact Julie on Facebook or through the contact form on her website.

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