Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day

There was a death in the house this week; not anything of weight. In other words, not a person, dog or horse. A parakeet died, one foisted on me by a friend who one day found it shivering in the corner of her garage.

This bird hated me from the day it entered my house and never came round on that issue.

What I didn’t expect was the attachments it had formed with other members of the household. Phoebe the boxer had known this bird for seven years. After the bird died, Phoebe took to pacing. Tap, tap, tap across the hardwood floors. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

I couldn’t bear to touch the bird, dead in its cage. The bird never had a name, I had tried a couple – Petey and Junior -- but in the end, he just didn’t invite that kind of liberty.

I moved the cage to the driveway and left it there for the night.

The cockatiel, another rescued bird, and one of much sweetness, picked up the mantle of loathing. Murderer, he cried, dive bombing my head. And then he landed where the other cage once stood, pecking at leftover seeds.

Well, this too will pass, I assumed.

The next day, the cage was still in the driveway.

And I started to imagine bugs getting inside, which is even worse than a dead thing just lying there dead. So, I wrapped my hand in a plastic bag, picked the bird up, put it in a paper bag from Trader Joe’s, and threw it in the trash.

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. Oh, for god’s sake.

I retrieved the bag.

I dug a hole and planted the bird underneath some wildflowers that needed a transfer from pot to earth anyway.

And I thought about how my sister and brother and I handled my father’s death, and his ashes, at the turn of this century.

We hiked for miles into some place in the Cascade Mountains and divided the ashes into thirds. Something we hadn’t reckoned on – you can cast stones, you can’t cast ashes. Ashes float, suspended in air, then travel and swirl, some come back to stick in your hair, on your eyelids and mouth.

And so we laughed. Because we hurt so bad, had walked so far, and tried so hard for something perfect and poetic, and instead, we were covered in Dad.

And I, who hate death more than anything in life, wasn’t horrified. This surprised me. To find when you love someone, death isn’t disgusting, it’s just loss. And loss isn’t horrifying or disgusting or any other adjective at all. It’s just big, bigger than anything. Pain, fear, and despair are only poor country cousins.

There was a dusting of Dad all over my face, and I touched my tongue to my lips.


  1. I don't know what to say after reading this, KB. Just that I enjoyed it very much. A tasty chapter of comfort reading cooked up from death.

  2. Both sad and funny...
    If you had seen The Big Lebowski, you would have tried to "cast" his ashes.
    tap tap tap tap...

  3. I've been packing up my mom's apartment, the last place my parents lived together, as she moves to assisted living. We've moved a lot of stuff, given away a lot of stuff. Now all that remains is big furniture to be donated and my dad's books. My sister had boxed them all up, but I wanted to see what was there. I've been going through them, organizing them, seeing which ones I want, thinking where others should go. I don't want to let go of them.

  4. Ciao Karin, your post is the best post I read today! You write in a perfect way, write new words for me (you know, always learning English) and this story is perfect.
    I enjoyed very much

  5. I laughed. I cried. You have a way with that, KB. As for your little parakeet, I'm glad he ended up under the wildflowers. And I hope your family learn to deal with his passing ~ quickly.

  6. This is a perfect piece. You are just so good.

  7. This is perfect in every way. You better belief our animals grieve. I've seen it first hand. (Try a couple drops of Rescue Remedy in their drinking water. You can get it at the health food store. It helps to calm them.)

    I love how you segued into your experience with your Dad's ashes. Poignant and bittersweet. So true, your observances regarding death and loss.


  8. You started me laughing.
    You left me crying.

  9. ooooh, that's good! damn it! you need someone to publish this.

  10. We had a parakeet that died just before we moved so we put it in the freezer to bury it on the new property. We forgot about it and it and two or so years later the kids had the ceremony. Not much emotion there either.

    I think it's much more painful to lose someone you love when they remain alive and well.

  11. My oldest daughter is leaving her parakeets here for the summer, and Thor is studiously ignoring them. They do make quite a racket.

  12. I remember the photo you posted of your dad. Your words about losing him are always beautiful and touching.

    I took a bike trip in the Cascade Mountains. It's a gorgeous place for your dad's remains.

  13. Touching and beautiful words about your Dad's remains.

    I laughed with the saga of the little parakeet.

    Really, you write so well!

  14. Tough to confront, though. But, I suppose we must.

  15. I too thought immediately of The Big Lebowski - same scenario, same resulting humor that at first seems shocking and then very appropriate.

    Mister Earl, I noticed that as my mom declined and we kept moving her into smaller and smaller places, it was her possessions that defined her just as much as her presence.

    I kept many of the little tchotchkes that had been dear to her and provided some small security even as her mind deteriorated. They're not particularly valuable, but like you I was loathe to part with them.

  16. k, add me to the laughing and crying list.

    animals do grieve, heartily. One client has a dog that freaks out whenever a person gets on the floor with them because the last time the dog saw her older sister was when her parents were on the floor trying to save her life. Kacey died 4 years ago, the dog still remembers. Same goes for the lab I had to tell that his Daddy wasn't coming home from a trip afterall. Heartbreaking for me to see the pain in the eyes of the pup as I told him, and kept telling him, because he didn't want to believe it. tap tap tap tap tap tap tap as he paced, looking for Dad.

    Lebowski was funny. A friend tried to scatter her dad's ashes from the sunroof of her car...they blew back in, all over her back seat, that still has grit in it. Tho slightly funny, because her dad used to try to get cute girls to sit on his lap...so in a way, we're still doing that.

    Earl---I have a book of poetry my mother owned. She made a few notes in margins, but otherwise, the book is unremarkable---but I won't let it go because it reminds me of her. Go thru the books, keep what you can.

  17. Thank you for your words and stories. But guess I'd better rent the Big L.

    Must be millions of ash-scattering stories out there -- Trish, yours is great. And Pierre's pet burial is a keeper.

    Mister Earl, I'm sorry. Difficult times. Err on the side of saving more until you have time to decide. After we saved a few things of my dad's, my brother -- the practical one -- boxed all that remained, and it was a great deal, to donate to Goodwill and a few other charities. The day before pick-up, my sister opened all the boxes, hundreds of them, looking for the old cast iron frying pan of our childhood..

  18. Excellent post! My dad is still sitting on the shelf. He wanted to be scattered in his favorite dog park.....mom is afraid he'd be peed upon;)))))

  19. I echo PA--I love reading it, it's too perfect to give away--even to us, your followers

  20. Awfully good again, AH. The progression fom parakeet to dad seems so unlikely yet so natural. That's the way things happen. I especially love "we hurt so bad, had walked so far, and tried so hard for something perfect and poetic, and instead, we were covered in Dad."

    I don't remember much about Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, but that deceased mother caused a lot of problems on the way to burial.

  21. Heart rending AND slyly funny AND totally Lebowski, perfect for Father's Day. I had a huge aged carrot in the garden that I kept forever strictly for the greens for Keating that I named The Dude; he's everywhere it seems.

    On the other paw, Ranger and I were on the Adirondack swing today and I couldn't stop thinking about Miss Digit which is surprising because after she died and until very recently it was as if she never existed. Now I keep seeing her out the corner of my eye and good grief, it hurts.

  22. Once again, you start in a silly place and then take your unsuspecting readers some place profound. Thanks, my friend.

  23. Before Miss Daisy, and even before the second incarnation of TheChief and I, there was Murphy...he was a Shepherd/Collie mix...my dad loved Murphy...both Murphy and my dad passed away within a short time of each other...and both were cremated...(separately of course!)...my ex and I took Murph's ashes and spread them in all his favorite spots...Mt. Baldy, where he ran with coyotes, the bluffs in Long Beach, and yes...a portion of him went in my Dad's urn!!! They are buried on the side of the road at Forest Lawn in Glendale...

    Your story was poignant and funny...a perfect tribute to your dad! After all, you're his progeny!!!

  24. Father's day is still harder for me than Mother's day, though my dad died in 1985 and my mother in 2004. I don't know why this is. Probably because I didn't know him as well as I knew her. I can hold less of him in my hand and in my memory.

  25. Wow, your writing is fabulous.

  26. Tales from the Crypt

  27. You guys are very, very nice.

    Hmmm, I wonder if someone has already published a collection of ash stories...

  28. Hmmm . Nice violas. Do they grow in your backyard?

  29. I was going to say something about the many goldfish, all named Suzy, we've buried, but then you got all deep and beautiful and now I'm at a loss for words.

  30. Ah see, you're a better person than I. Even though, by Suzy 16, you might have branched out a little.

  31. Damn you're so good KB. I don't have the words, of course.