Easter Sunday had a powerful new meaning for me ever since my adult son Jason died in a car accident. I knew Jay was alive and happy in heaven, and that I would see him again one day. But as I looked at Jason’s picture carved into the headstone that Sunday, I wished for more.
For nearly 30 years I’d been his mother. I’d talked to him, listened to him, helped him, taken care of him. All the things mothers do. Now he was gone.
I laid roses in front of the headstone. The plot was already covered in tributes: a heart wreath from Valentine’s Day, wind chimes I brought in the spring. I took good care of the grave, but it was a poor substitute. Show me how to be a mother now that my son is with you, Lord.
My son Eric helped me to my feet. “I’m going to plant some flowers here,” I said.
“I didn’t know you gardened, Mom.”
“I don’t. But I’m going to learn.” I had to care for something. That’s what mothers do.
Eric pointed down the row of headstones. “Look.” A pair of Canadian geese walked over the grass. It wasn’t unusual to see geese in this cemetery, but I’d never seen them come so close. “They were only a few feet away,” Eric said as we got back in the car. “They kept looking at us. I wonder what got them so interested.”
By the following weekend I’d forgotten all about the geese. My mind was on my gardening project. I planned to find a professional and ask for advice. First I stopped at the cemetery to take another good look at the grave site, maybe get some measurements so that I could describe it to the people at the nursery.
I hoped to have something planted by Jay’s thirtieth birthday, which this year fell the day before Mother’s Day. How will I ever get through it? I thought as I approached Jay’s grave.
Someone had beaten me to the spot! A Canadian goose stood in front of the tombstone gazing at Jay’s picture. What on earth is she doing? I stepped closer, careful not to scare her. That’s when I noticed the decorations from the grave all piled together in a heap. The goose was standing on top of them!
Had she moved them herself? What would a goose want with wind chimes and silk flowers? Why had she made such a mess?
The valentine’s wreath lay face up on the ground. Everything else—ribbons, trinkets, notes—was inside it, mixed in with grass and downy feathers. Even the wind chimes were tucked among the silk flowers. The wreath was buttressed on either side by the two angel statues I’d placed in front of the headstone.
At the top of the pile was the cross from Palm Sunday. The goose was standing on it, still as a statue. She didn’t move, even when I came even closer. She did, however, let out an eerie hiss.
The hiss was answered by a furious honking. The second goose—her mate—stalked across the grass, flapping his wings. The meaning was clear: Get away from her! He chased me back a safe distance.
That’s when I realized what I was seeing. The goose on Jay’s grave was making a nest. She was going to be a mother. A wave of emotion washed over me at the thought: wonder, excitement, sadness, envy.
I remembered preparing a room for my own children when I was pregnant. Jay’s crib might have had a musical mobile and stuffed animals instead of goose down and old petals, but the idea was the same. She was making a place to care for her children. And out of all the graves in the cemetery, she’d chosen my son’s.
Obviously there would be no planting today. I drove home and looked up all I could about Canadian geese. It looked like I wouldn’t get anywhere near Jay’s grave for weeks until the goslings hatched and they marched into the lake for their first swim.
To my surprise, I didn’t mind. I couldn’t wait to see Mother Goose and her nest again.
I returned to the cemetery the very next day. I found a spot far enough away that Father Goose didn’t attack, but close enough that I could see Mother Goose on her nest.
I know how you feel, I thought as I settled down in the grass. You’re nervous but excited too. Most of all, you want to keep your babies safe and happy. You want the best for them. That’s what mothers do.
Beyond the gravestone, Father Goose watched me. He clearly wasn’t so sure about having me so close. But I wasn’t going to let a goose keep me away from Jay’s grave. “You’re not the only one protective of your children,” I told Mother Goose. “I can be pretty fierce too when it comes to my babies.”
The goose gazed back at me in silence, but I felt she understood.
Over the coming weeks I spent more and more time at the cemetery, always keeping a safe distance from the expectant mother sitting on her clutch of eggs. I told her about my sons: Jay’s first day of kindergarten, Eric’s high school graduation.
Maybe Mother Goose didn’t understand the words I said, but I believe she knew something of the feelings underneath. Surely God understood. When I spent time with Mother Goose, I could feel him close. Him and Jay.
I e-mailed pictures of the goose family to my friends. Many came to see for themselves.
When the days I’d been dreading—that weekend in May that held Jay’s birthday and Mother’s Day—arrived, they brought all my old grief with them. How can I celebrate Mother’s Day without both my children? I thought when I opened my eyes that Sunday morning.
Then I thought of Mother Goose. She didn’t know about Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t open gifts with her children or send cards. She would sit in her nest and love her babies. What could be a better celebration?
“It’s her day too,” I said to Eric, when the two of us met at the cemetery. “I think God sent this goose family to bring me comfort. I will always love Jay. I will always be his mother. He will always be my son. Just because I can’t see him or talk with him like we used to doesn’t mean our love isn’t as alive as ever.”
Two weeks later I snapped pictures of four newborn goslings marching behind their father toward the lake. One day they would spread their wings and fly away, out of their mother’s sight, but never out of God’s. Wherever they went, she would go on loving them forever. That’s what mothers do.
Join the goose parade!
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