On friendship, flickers, and remembering

Earlier this spring I was chatting with my friend, Sue. She filled me in on the progression of her illness, recent doctors visits, etc, but then got down to what she really wanted to talk about– a bird she’d seen lately hopping about on her grass.

“Oh I’ve been having such fun watching it!, she enthused. “It isn’t a robin though it’s about the same size. It’s got specks on its chest, and it’s always poking around in the grass out my back window. Do you know what it is?”

“Could it be a northern flicker?” I asked. “Does it have a sort of heart-shaped patch of red on its head and a black bib?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “It does!”

She looked it up in her bird book and was delighted to confirm that her mystery bird was indeed a northern flicker. She was also tickled that I’d been able to identify it based on her clues.

I was pretty chuffed too, but did fess up that I’d had several flickers visiting my yard last spring and learned about them then. I also told her that flickers were one of my dad’s favorite birds. In fact, during one of our visits over the past year, he had told me that one reason he’d bought the house I grew up in was because there’d been flickers in the yard when they first visited. For a few weeks after his Celebration of Life service in April, I spotted flickers all over the place and took some comfort in that. Now I always think of my father when I see flickers.

About a week ago, I walked out to my car after visiting Sue, carrying the weight of the knowledge that I would not see her again. In the cool, grey drizzle, something moved and caught my eye. I looked. A bird was hopping about in the back yard. Could it be? I blinked, peering through my tears and the rain. Saw the telltale speckles. The red heart. Sure enough, it was a northern flicker. I couldn’t help but smile, even in the midst of my deepest sorrow. It felt like a sign, a message from Sue or maybe the universe. Either way, I again took some comfort in it.

Yesterday, we celebrated Sue’s life. If I try really hard, I can still feel the warmth of her hand in mine , see the sparkle in her blue eyes, and hear her voice and the echo of her wonderful laugh. I know some of that will fade with time, but I also know that her presence in my life is permanent. She’s left an indelible mark.

In the days to come, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for flickers, and will now remember both my father and Sue when I see them. But truly, I won’t need the flickers to remember.

RIP my friend.