Cardinal, goldfinch, bluebird. The three stained glass birds were attached with suction cups to the window of Mom’s room at the nursing home. My brother had made them for our nature-loving mother years ago, and we’d hung them for her in the assisted living home where she stayed before her late-stage dementia required the care of a nursing home. The glass birds had come with her here, but I was never sure at this point if they brought her any comfort at all.
That first move out of Mom’s home was hard enough, but at least she had her bird visitors at the assisted living facility. Sparrows, finches and nuthatches filled the bird feeders there. Almost as many as the birds that were never far from her feeders in her own backyard. She’d raised finches for a while, with cages throughout the house, but her greatest joy was watching the birds that flew free out-doors like nature’s own jewels.
Mom sat quietly in her wheelchair, her eyes closed to the world. I looked out the window of her room, beyond the glass ornaments, at the bird feeders I’d hung for Mom. They swayed in the morning breeze. I hadn’t seen a single bird land at the feeders since she’d moved in eight months before. It made me sad to think the birds hadn’t followed Mom here. Perhaps they knew she might not recognize them if they came.
“Let’s go for a walk, Mom,” I said, maneuvering her wheelchair toward the door. Crossing the threshold, I nearly ran into Mom’s neighbor from across the hall.
“How’s Janie today?” Betty asked, leaning forward in her scooter to touch Mom’s arm.
Mom mumbled without opening her eyes. “It’s one of her sleepy days,” I said.
“I’ve been admiring her birds,” Betty said, nodding toward the ornaments. “I can see them from my room when she has the door open. I like the bluebird the best.”
“Mom does too, don’t you, Mom?” I asked, rubbing her back. “Bluebirds are special. You don’t see those around very often.”
Mom didn’t respond. I pushed her down the hall to the nursing station and the aviary displayed there. “Look at the finches, Mom,” I said, pointing to the zebra finches darting in and out of their baskets, carrying bedding for nests. “They’re just like the ones you used to raise, remember?”
We lingered by the aviary for a while, and I made small talk with other residents as we continued down the hall. Mom dozed in her chair.
Up ahead, a bright red picture hung from one of the residents’ doors. “Look, Mom, a cardinal!” I said. It was perched on a branch full of cherry blossoms, its beak open, as if in song. “That bird sure looks happy, doesn’t it?”
Mom lifted her chin and murmured softly, but I couldn’t understand what she said. “Maybe there will be birds at the feeder when we get back to your room,” I said, massaging one of her hands in mine. I had no idea why I said that, but I supposed it didn’t matter. Mom closed her eyes again while we finished our walk.
When we got back to Mom’s room, I turned her chair toward the window, where at least there were trees to look at. I took a minute to pull on a sweater and glanced at Mom while I zipped it up. Something had awakened her spirit. Her eyes were open. She looked more alert than she had all morning. In the light coming in from the window, Mom was almost radiant.
“Bird,” she said clearly, before closing her eyes again.
I saw a shadow of movement at the window. Mom’s glass birds sparkled in the sun: the cardinal, the goldfinch and her favorite bluebird. But behind them, at the feeder, a real bird had arrived. The most beautiful bluebird I had ever seen! It fluffed its feathers, puffing out the orange and white plumage on its chest, and pecked at the sunflower seeds in the feeder. I think it carried a seed with it as it flew away. “You saw the bluebird, Mom?”
Mom’s eyes were closed again, but her smile meant everything to me. In the brief visit from a bluebird, Mom’s comfort was my comfort. Even if she and I couldn’t always see them, her beloved birds found her, like the angels who were ever near.
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