When You Lose Your Blackbird: A Story of Grief



Blackbird singing in the dead of night

I remember sitting on my parents white couch one Saturday while my older brother was teaching himself “Blackbird” by the Beatles on the guitar. His voice register was lower than Paul’s, and he had to extend into falsetto to hit the “of night” lyric.

I hummed along when I could, happy he was here with me instead of the girl he was learning the song for.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

After his divorce, we never spoke much about his broken heart. We mostly discussed his future. Sell his stuff. Move to the beach. Surf. Write music. The band. New ideas and always fresh beginnings. Forward, forward.

Into the light of the cold dark night.

Many years earlier at age 7, I ran into the kitchen to see him convulsing on the ground for the first time with an epileptic seizure. My parents hovering over him, frantic. I stared at the beige kitchen phone with the long nest of cords, laying on the tile where it had landed after my mom had called 911. I wondered if I hung it up, would they still come and rescue him. Rescue all of us?

All your life

When I was in college, he had me go with him to Wal-mart because he wanted the new Kelly Clarkson CD, but didn’t want to be seen buying it.   On the Christmas Eve that I wrecked my truck while pulling my horse in a horse trailer, he called with more worry in his voice than I had ever heard.   He teased me mercilessly. He bought me my first snowboard.   He wrote me a song.   He laughed a bunch and sweetly danced with me at my wedding.

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He was tall, perfectly handsome with thick hard working hands. Pleasant and joyful.   He laughed quickly and was naturally funny. He idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger and I idolized him (I know most of the lines to “Pumping Iron” simply because I wanted him to think I was cool. Surprisingly, I was not.) He sang Donovan and Van Halen on the beach, made mistakes, moved on, worked hard, drank coffee. I write this seven years after I last heard my brothers voice on the phone, not knowing he would suddenly die the following morning. The final words I said to him were, “You are my hero, bye!”

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Grief (at least for me, I can’t speak for you) is weird. It is horrible and helpful and continuous and at least after the initial pangs of overwhelming loss, grief has helped me question myself.   Do I honor him enough? Do I talk about him too much? Is it okay to still be sad after all these years?  Is it okay to be blissfully happy too?  Would he be proud of me?  Am I still learning from him, his life? His death? Am I more empathetic? Am I giving better? Am I having more fun and less fear? Am I living or am I dying?

I see so much pain around me now.  I can honor people’s loss so much easier now.  I see people trying to walk forward through incredible grief of loss.  Loss of love, loss of family, loss of dreams.  I see them having many of the questions I have and I have to think that there must be some space, some way we can walk together.  Where we can tell each other that it is okay to still be sad to your core and also be blissfully happy.  And it is okay to be weird about sentimental objects (like the broken coffee machine my brother gave me that I refuse to throw out or repair).  And there should be a place where we can say weird words, like “I’m now older than my older brother and I’m not okay with that.”  And where we can laugh and tell stories and mostly just be who we are, in our grief because we are all, always grieving something.

So beloved, if you have lost your blackbird, whatever or whomever that might be, know that you might never be okay.  But there are people around you, whose blackbird has also flown away.   So the least we can do is walk together, looking up into the Light of the dark black night.  Because I believe that is where my blackbird has flown.

Look up my friend.  I’ll be looking up with you.

Blackbird fly

Blackbird fly

Into the light of a dark black night.