Faith and Feathers, Act II

I buried my face inside the sweatshirt, breathing in deeply.


Recognition of the familiar scent was sharp and swift. The shirt still smelled like David. None of the shirts remaining in the closet or the t-shirts in a drawer still retain his smell. Believe me, I know this for a fact. I have held each and every one up to my nose and sniffed in quiet desperation for even the slightest scent. The girls and I had slept with one of his t-shirts for several weeks following his death. The two oldest in the house still occasionally wear one to bed.

Recent cold temperatures in Iowa had me scrambling to unearth some of my warmer clothes the other day, and in the process, I stumbled upon two forgotten sweatshirts of David’s packed away in a box. I couldn’t believe that they still smelled like David. I left them carefully folded on the bed, casually mentioning the discovery to my daughters.

That evening as we prepared for bed Emily sheepishly asked if she could smell the shirts and Abby quickly followed suit. We took turns smelling them as we smiled at each other in embarrassed delight.  Abby snatched one up to sleep with and I grabbed the other. Later, when Emily came to wish me a good night, she found me with my face buried deep into the shirt, my shoulders shaking with sobs.  I felt her warm hand touch my shoulder and soon we were hugging each other as we both cried. Abby covered her face with the other shirt so we couldn’t see her own tears.

“Where’s Katie?” I tried to lighten the mood. “She always misses our crying fests.”  Katie was still downstairs. The cathartic bout of tears was short-lived. Soon, I was asleep, hugging David’s thick Eddie Bauer sweatshirt to my chest. Abby fell asleep clutching the Iowa Hawkeye one.

When will this pain end, I have wondered. Surely if I get through the first year, it will abate, and ever impatient, I want that first year to be over and done with.  Do I really have to face the first Thanksgiving and Christmas? Were it not for children in the house, I would be tempted to skip it altogether.

What did you do that first Thanksgiving? The first Christmas? I ask those who have gone down this path before me, as if their answer could be my answer to getting through it.

A booklet about grieving through the holidays arrived last week from the funeral home that handled David’s funeral, along with an invitation to a planned memorial service. I am grateful for these things; tangible ideas in navigating this first holiday season.

I thought my birthday would be one of the more difficult weekends, and then, incongruously, it was the weekend after that was so much harder. On Saturday morning I dropped my daughter off at work, and instead of heading to a writer’s group I’d been looking forward to for the last month, I went to a restaurant to write. It is exactly when I need others that I instead draw inward. I know if I let myself, I could easily spiral downward in despair.  I recognize the subtle symptoms of looming depression; I experienced postpartum depression after the births of each of my last three babies, becoming increasingly anti-social and paranoid as I isolated myself. People are not meant to bear their burdens alone.

Writing at the restaurant, I found myself once again changing present-tense to past-tense in a chapter of my book, “David and I do” becoming “David and I did” repeatedly, twisting the sharp edge of sadness with each word change.

“I think there’s a way you can get your word processing program to do that for you,” a writing friend informed me as I detailed this particular pain in working on an older manuscript, but neither he nor I knew exactly how. 

I worked for a good two hours on my book; adding details, taking notes, and making changes. At one point, my emotions got the better of me and when I reached over for my cup of coffee, I noticed my hand shaking slightly.

And then I noticed something else; a dark, fluffy feather sticking out of the sleeve of my top. How very odd. That wasn’t there earlier. I smiled a little as I added it to the small zipper case I carry with me everywhere.

Some of you will remember the similar feather I found shortly after my grandson’s cancer diagnosis two years ago as I worried and prayed that my mother could somehow watch over him, as she had so recently passed away. That feather had been a fluffy white one, and I’d relished showing it to David, and to anyone else who would look without rolling their eyes in derision. I remembered, too, the conversation he and I once had about how he would need to use the color blue if he wanted me to recognize any signs from him “if he died before me.” (the possibility of which seemed remote and far off into the future) Since his death, I have spotted a beautiful dark butterfly with blue markings twice, just when I needed comfort.

Held just right in the light, it could be said this feather has a slight blue sheen to it.

Or not.

“You see what you want to see,” I can almost hear the words from the more skeptical of my sons echoing in my head.

That feather will remain in the small case I carry, along with this gentle reminder of what I will need to get through this holiday season, a gift I was given yesterday by yet another friend God has blessed me with so I need not face anything alone.

5 thoughts on “Faith and Feathers, Act II

  1. angelicmaria says:

    Mary, this is beautiful. A true deeply felt expression of the pain of grief, due so often to the expanse of your love. I will share this article with others whom I work with who are grieving. This is a masterpiece. Blessings to you!

  2. HappyMomof5 says:

    As I was reading this post, my youngest daughter came up the stairs so show me her handwriting book that she “never wants to throw away” because she found her daddy’s handwriting in it. I was able to share your post with her. We read it together, nodding all the while because we are in the exact same place you are. We grasp at anything that remotely smells like Greg or reminds us of him. There is a connection there, no matter how brief. My daughter, who will turn 11 next Wednesday, asked me to let you know that she is praying for you and for your children. She said, “I know what they are feeling. I am having one of those days where I just feel like I can’t bear it because Daddy is not here and seeing his handwriting hurts but I want it”; it hurts me, too. I am glad it makes her want to pray for others who are hurting.

  3. Judith Robl says:

    You steel yourself for the anniversaries and special occasions to push away the grief and not let it swamp you. Then the smallest reminder in an odd hour or on a nothing day will take your breath away and leave you reeling as if you’d been hit by a truck. There doesn’t seem to be any help but to take a deep breath and remind yourself that God is still in charge.

  4. Charlotte Feckers says:

    After my moms suicide my sister and I packed up her belongings and I made the trip with them back to Iowa. We had packed some of her clothing in those airtight bags that compress to take up less space. As I went through my storage room months later I ran across one of the packages that had her pajamas in it (she worked the night shift so she loved having tons of comfy pjs). When I opened the bag my “moms smell” came wofting out and nearly paralized me. My two teen girls came over seeing I was holding on to my moms Pj’s sobbing and joined in with tears of their own. Each of us picked a pair of Pj’s and wore them that night enjoying the memories and comfort that mom/grandma was not so far away and really had left us a gift. It will be 5 years on Thanksgiving and although the thoughts of her do not dominate my mind as they once did, I think we will get out that bag once more and enjoy the wonderful memories.

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