Lessons on letting go from a baby robin

Published 9:49 am Tuesday, October 3, 2017

By Jean Brody

Way back in 1988, I wrote a story that I sold to a national magazine called “Thanatos.”

At the time, I was dealing with family death and found if I wrote in third person, it helped me find my deepest feelings. I changed it some, so now I would like to share it with you.

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“Winter persisted well beyond the patience of a 10-year-old boy like me. The promise of Spring kept my dreams of warm green days, filled with new life. I’d wait and then there it was, a day for shedding jackets and gloves and maybe, if mom didn’t see me, even shoes.

Most of my friends wanted to play ball, but not me. I always spent it with my grandma. That might sound weird, but that’s because you don’t know my grandma. The first warm day of spring the year I was 10, there were no clouds, so off we went, our pockets stuffed with cookies.

She said, ‘Pretend we are sponges Billy, so we can soak up all the wonderful sounds and smells.’ Then she also said, ‘Let your spirit go free.’

It was many years before I knew what she meant. But that day, I got so happy I just started running. She grabbed my hand and ran with me, singing and laughing until we finally dropped under a big oak tree to rest and eat cookies.

The quiet sounded so beautiful. I tried not to chew out loud, but then I heard another sound. There, not 10 feet from us, was a baby Robin, all tangled in twigs and leaves.

‘Oh Billy, look. He must have fallen out of his nest,’ grandma whispered. We crawled closer and he tried to move away but we saw he had a badly broken wing.

‘Oh Billy, he’s in pain and there is nothing to do for him. I wish he would die.’

Astonished, I drew back, ‘That’s mean! We can make him well.’

As I whimpered, she slipped her hand under the little bird’s fragile body, making a cradle. Softy she hummed a song, gently rocking him close to her body. It was as if, by making him soft and safe and warm, she freed him to quit struggling and die.

‘His spirit is free now, Billy. He doesn’t hurt anymore,’ she whispered.

I looked at the little still body and I stopped whimpering. I felt calm. We buried him and continued our walk.

The next year, when I was 11, was especially hard for me. My grandma got sick and ended up staying in bed all of the time. After school I’d read to her and talk to her about spring: ‘You just wait. You’re just in bed until spring. Then you’ll get up and we’ll go to the woods.’

She’d smile and pat my arm. When the first warm day came, she didn’t get up.

In fact, she went to the hospital. So I went to the woods to walk alone but it was no fun.

When I returned, my mom took me to see her. I told my grandma it was not the same without her. There she was in a high, white bed. She looked so skinny and her eyes looked right at me. They were hard and burny and she talked very softly. Her eyes pulled me right up to the bed. Here is what she said to me” ‘Billy, promise me you will let my spirit go free.’

Numb, I nodded, ‘I promise grandma, I’ll let your spirit go free,’ as tears were running down my face.

That night in bed I thought about my promise and what it meant and then I remembered the baby bird last year.

‘He’s in pain Billy, see?’ Then I understood.

I knew my wonderful grandma was in pain too, so two days later, when the family went to her room, I knew just what to do.

Her eyes were open and fixed and her brow was scrunched with pain. As we stood there she suddenly shuddered all over and closed her eyes. The nurse told us she was gone.

My parents started to cry but I, as quickly as I could move, ran to the window and flung it wide open.

In an instant, a soft flutter of movement passed by me and right out the open window. I fulfilled my promise. I had let her spirit go free, free to run and feel the warm days forever.”

You know, it helped me to write this for Thanatos. It promised my own heart my body will give out one day, but my spirit will live on in joy forever.

The view from the mountains is wondrous

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.