Free As A Bird

by Ingrid Dean

by Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

by Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

My mother, whom I loved dearly, passed away at the age of sixty-two. She was a lifelong smoker, which severely impaired her health during the last ten years of her life. She suffered through several strokes, open-heart surgery, and other major health problems. Eventually she was homebound; connected to a thirty-foot air line and nasal cannula.

My father had passed away, so Mom lived alone. Basically all she could do for entertainment was read or watch television. To give her something to do, I bought a bird feeder and birdhouse and hung them in the tree that stood in front of her kitchen window. Her favorite pastime soon became sitting on a stool in the kitchen to watch the birds—some days for hours at a time.

She enjoyed watching the many different birds that came to the feeder. Her favorite were the chickadees. They were always so busy and happy—and they traveled in groups. Whenever I came over for coffee, Mom would tell me how she loved the chickadees best. During one of our last conversations before her death, she told me that she wanted to be one of them—she was tired of being tied down and wanted to be as free as a bird. This was early November.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Mom became very ill. She did not want to go to the hospital because she felt she would not come home this time. I basically forced her to go to emergency; where she was admitted into the hospital.

My nephew, Jason, had come down from Marquette to go deer hunting with me. Jason was only fifteen and never had a father. He had a difficult life, so as his uncle, I acted as his father figure and had gotten him addicted to deer hunting. When Jason arrived I told him that his grandmother was very ill and that we probably would not go hunting. Jason was disappointed but said he understood.

We went to the hospital and visited Mom. Before I went in the room, I spoke with a nurse who was also a personal friend. She told me that my mother was failing and that she would probably pass away in three to seven days. Jason and I then visited with Mom separately, for about an hour apiece. When I spoke with Mom, she said worriedly, “Ken, this time it is different. What is happening to me?”

Although I tried to make her feel better, she told me she thought she was dying. She then asked if I was going to take Jason hunting that day. I told her no. It was windy, dark, and miserable outside. We would just stay in town and then come back later in the afternoon to visit her again. Mom insisted I take Jason hunting, stating it was her wish that I do so and that I was not going to disappoint him or her. She told me point blank to leave, go hunting, and that when we came back later we had better have a deer hunting story for her.

I hugged and kissed Mom good-bye and left, promising to do as she asked.

I told Jason that we had been ordered by Grandma to go hunting. Jason was happy about this; even though I told him her situation was dire. Jason loved his grandmother—and he would be sad when she died—but her death had been expected several times during the past few years. We agreed to follow Mom’s orders.

When we reached the woods I sent Jason down the trail by himself, to a deer blind I had prepared for him earlier that fall. To make him feel better, I told Jason I was also going to hunt, but that I wanted to stay near the car. After he was out of sight, I sat on the hood of the car, thinking about Mom and our life together. I did not get my gun out as hunting was the last thing on my mind.

I had parked the car in the middle of a small field. After about an hour, the weather abruptly changed from dark and dismal to bright and sunny with a light breeze. I spotted a lone bird flying across the field toward my car. As it came closer, I was amazed. It was a chickadee, about the size of a robin, which is huge for this type of bird.

The chickadee flew right to the car and landed next to me on the hood. It then flitted around the car, perching on the hood next to me several times. It would not leave. Eventually I found myself talking to the bird. The situation was extremely odd; the size of the bird, the fact that it was alone, and that it was so friendly and unafraid.

After a time, I heard a motor and saw a truck coming down the road. I recognized it as belonging to my best friend, Charlie Willour. I instantly knew why Charlie was there. Mom must have died.

As Charlie drove up, the chickadee flew in front of my face and then left. Charlie got out of this truck and gave me the news I expected hear: Mom had died about one hour earlier.

I knew my mother had visited me for the last time. She had come to say good-bye and to assure me that she was happy and at last as free as a bird. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that freedom for some does come in death.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at

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