Just before Christmas, in December 2017, I was sitting with my mother in her veranda and starting to notice the many varieties of African birds that were performing their aeronautics in front of the large glass veranda doors. Previously I had taken them for granted but, for reasons I don’t understand, I started to really look and be curious. Out loud, I expressed my wish to have a bird book just like my stepfather’s so that I could identify some of the birds in the garden.
What’s that Bird? by Kenneth Newman
At the time I happened to be sitting in the armchair that my step-father used to sit in when he was still living at home with my mother. He also used to watch the birds and would point and comment on them.
My step-father, Cedric, in his favorite bird-watching armchair
The disease of Alzheimers had been taking its toll on his brain for a number of years and he was not able to remember any of the bird species even though he might have known them well at one time. In 2015, all he was able to say was: “Look, there is a bird sitting on the wall!” Or “There is a bird flying on to the roof!” He announced these local events with a certain forcefulness and compelled those around him to stop what they were doing and pay attention. My mother and I would look at each other and raise our eyebrows, a little irritated. We did not appreciate how those birds filled his span of attention. They were the only things that existed in that moment for him and, therefore, unquestionably worthy of comment.
Shortly before his 90th birthday, in October 2015, my stepfather moved into long-term residential care so that he could get the medical attention he needed.
Cedric in residential care
My sister kindly bought him a bird book for his 90th birthday. She hoped, as we all did, that we could salvage what was left of his brain by presenting him with images and words that he was interested in. From his favorite armchair in his new room, however, he could not see the birds too well: his room was on the ground floor and there were net curtains at the window for privacy. The bird book stayed on the side table and was only opened when one of his private nurses thought to entertain him by leafing through it with him. But by then, it was all too abstract. He could no longer make the connection between the photographs in the book and the live birds in the sky outside.
A few weeks after his 92nd birthday, just before the end of 2017, he was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. The next day, the sister in charge of his ward, called us to tell us that he was not doing well and that we should come quickly. We raced over to the hospital but we were too late – his spirit had flown out of his body about 30 minutes before we arrived at his bedside.
After we had kissed his still warm form “Goodbye,” my mother and I took his private nurse back to his old room to gather up her belongings. As we sat in his room, trying to recover from the shock and take in the fact that we would never see him again, my mother noticed his bird book on the side table. “Weren’t you just saying last week that you wanted a bird book like Cedric’s so that you could identify the birds in the garden?” she asked as she handed me the book.
“Yes,” I answered. “And I had that very book in mind but I didn’t mean for it to come to me this way!”
“Well, have it.” my mother said. “Cedric won’t be needing it anymore.”
She was right. He had flown the coop of his mental prison and had become as free as a bird. And I had the bird book that I had wanted. It was a great demonstration of the truth: how my desires manifest for me is none of my business but I can have faith that the Law of Attraction works with mathematical precision.
It just occurs to me now, as I write, that when I led Cedric’s memorial service two weeks after his transition, the song I was inspired to play while people were leaving the chapel, was an old recording by Frank Sinatra: “Come Fly With Me.” I picked it because Cedric loved travelling and I wanted the guests to leave on a high note.
The altar at Cedric’s memorial service
Well, obviously, Cedric picked that song – not me!
Wing your way heavenward, Cedric. All blessings on your flight.
Appreciating the miracle of global communication via technology.
“Earth’s Miracles are Heaven’s Laws” Johann Richter