I woke to sunlight streaming in through my open window, making wavy patterns on my covers. The unmistakable smell of autumn swirled into my room like a crimson leaf, and the morning air still held the warmth of summer as if reluctant to let it go. I basked in my cozy bed, wishing I could stay home and enjoy this glorious day, but instead, I would be spending the day indoors attending an all-day wound care conference, discussing the prevention of bedsores and the treatment of non-healing wounds, eons away from crimson leaves and sunshine.
The lecture hall was dark, photographs of putrid wounds spreading ominously on the screen, the speaker droning on. Suddenly, I saw someone standing beside me. It was my son, J.P. My heart sank and my throat tightened as he quickly ushered me out of the lecture hall and outside of the building.
“Mom, Uncle Tom died.”
Why was J.P. telling me this? It couldn’t be true. Tom was my younger brother. He was only 46 years old. We were supposed to vacation together when we retired, and go to Florida in the winter just like the other old folks—Tom, and Mary, his wife, Nirmal, my husband, and I, all of us, together. My brother was one of the good guys. He deserved to live long enough to be an old man, a grandfather. He was my little brother, he couldn’t leave before me, before I was ready to say goodbye.
The loss of my brother was the biggest blow life handed me. Comprehending this loss was unbearable. For two years, I saw him everywhere—driving a car, standing in line to buy ice cream, at the flea market, in the grocery store, at the post office. For two years, the smallest things would make tears flow—a Hop-a-Long Cassidy gun in an antique shop, a hawk soaring high above; sauerkraut, a fishing pole, a silly joke.
For years, Tom loved to fish. One day, as he sat quietly in his boat, trailing a line, he realized that what he loved most about fishing was being alone and quiet, enjoying nature, so he traded in his fishing pole for binoculars and became an enthusiastic birder. It was a delight to see this six-foot-one-inch man overjoyed at the sight of a tiny chickadee eating from his hand. When he came to California, he was thrilled to see the hummingbirds that are so plentiful in our backyard.
About two years after Tom died, we had friends over for dinner. I was standing at the kitchen sink and looked into the backyard. The sun was just starting to set. It was that special time of day when the sun is reluctant to leave and expends its last burst of brilliance before retiring for the night, infusing the grass and trees with the deep green of an emerald. My ordinarily dull backyard looked beautiful; the grass and the cedar hedge bordering it were a lush and vivid green.
At the end of the cedar hedge was a golden eunonymous shrub, planted years earlier by Tom during one of his visits. “It will break up the green and add some color,” he told me. Now, this bush captured the last rays of sun and was glowing brightly. I thought of Tom, and enjoyed a moment of reverie, a feeling of golden lightness, mesmerized by my never-before-so-beautiful backyard.
Suddenly, a huge, snowy white egret, over three feet tall, swooped into my yard and landed in front of Tom’s golden eunonymous. I shall never forget the sight of this majestic white bird, standing still as sculpted marble, on the brilliant green lawn in front of a backdrop of gold. Feelings of both tranquility and vibrancy flooded over me as I stared at this magnificent creature.
It seemed as if I gazed through my window for a long time, yet it all happened in not much more time than the flash of a wing. The sadness I harbored for the past two years slowly and perceptibly seeped away, and I felt becalmed, at peace, for the first time since Tom died.
I felt like I was dreaming and wanted someone else to witness this beauty of nature, this sign from my brother. I was able to call our friend, Murlin, to the window just before the egret flew away, before everything became normal again.
Never before, and never again, have I seen an egret in my backyard. I know with certainty that this beautiful bird carried my brother’s spirit and was his way of saying, “Don’t be sad. I’m okay.”
Pauline Chand lives in San Jose with her husband, Nirmal, and enjoys writing.