I love watching birds. We can just see the hills of the Staffordshire Moorlands from our upstairs windows, and there’s a big country park across the road, plus we are literally on the edge of the town and the countryside then leads into the Peak District National Park. So there should be lots of birds around, and I’m glad to report that there are. Sometimes we spot flocks of geese flying overhead, and in the summer there are swallows and swifts. There are quite a few seagulls around too, even though we are far from the sea.
But what goes on in our own garden is my main focus. We live in a new-build house surrounded by other new houses, and when we first moved in , it was difficult to get birds to realise they were welcome in our small walled garden in this new and bare development area. But trees were planted and lots of flowers and shrubs, and my daughter Catherine bought us a nice wooden bird feeder as a moving-in present, and now, eight years later, we have plenty of birds most of the year. Sparrows and starlings, blue tits and finches, robins and dunnocks, pigeons, magpies and a blackbird family. Occasionally we’ve also had a sparrowhawk, but that was not a welcome visitor as it lived up to its name and got some of the sparrows.
It’s enjoyable to sit at the living room window, or in my little summerhouse, and watch the antics of the different birds. The male blackbird is very territorial; he’s quite happy to share his space with the robin, but will chase off any other male blackbirds. The female doesn’t appear too often and I hope that means they’re nesting and we might one day get baby blackbirds.
The starlings arrive in a group. They act like a bunch of rowdy teenagers, loud and a bit pushy; the sparrows will go to one side while the starlings peck away at the fatballs and bread on the feeders.
The blue tits usually arrive in a pair, and they are rarely still for more than a few seconds. They flit around from food station to branches to food station to branches, and off they fly.
The pigeons waddle. They are wood pigeons – much fatter than the ones you’ll see in cities – and their tiny heads on their fat bodies bob back and forth as they slowly make their way across the grass. Sometimes they’ll perch near one of the feeders, trying to figure out how to get to the food. They sit for ages, turning their heads this way and that, slowly trying to decide out how to reach it.
The dunnock makes us laugh and I’ve nicknamed him the dancing dunnock. Dunnocks are brown birds a bit bigger than sparrows but behave very differently, as they are ground-eaters and seem to be quite solitary. The garden doesn’t get hardly any sun in the winter except at the far end, so I have a few old mirrors in odd places to reflect light. The dunnock spends ages – perhaps even half an hour – in front of the mirror. He dances and prances and jumps. Is it a mating dance – does he think it’s a female? Is he trying to scare away a male rival? Is he trying to get through the glass? I don’t know, but it is very amusing!
I’m not a proper birdwatcher, but when we were in Cyprus in January, we trekked off to a salt lake to see flamingos, and I’ve sat and watched birds at some of reservoirs in the Peak District. But mostly, my bird watching is at home.
For me, birds are the closest thing to angels in this world. Their morning songs bring hope to a day. They’re not earthbound but can fly. Where do they go? I don’t know; I am just glad to keep on providing them with a safe space, with food and water, so they’ll come back again and again.
Watching the birds, taking photos of them, trying to paint and even making felt bird pictures are all activities that I enjoy. They are part of my “be kind to myself” time.
And now finally we get to the link between bird-watching and grief. It doesn’t just apply to grief. It applies to life. To care for ourselves, to allow ourselves to enjoy something simple or profound, to take the time to “be” should be part of all of our lives.
Sometimes when we are living with loss, however, we struggle to do it. We feel guilty, like we are being disloyal to our loved ones who passed away. “They’re not here to enjoy it, so how can I?” we might think to ourselves.
It can be so hard to get past this type of guilt. So difficult to allow ourselves to find enjoyment in the things that we enjoy. It can be a real accomplishment when we manage to start enjoying our lives and accepting the better moments when they come.
I’m not going to end this post with a cliché about “that’s what he or she would want for us.” I don’t know your loved ones and I’m not going to put words into their mouth.
But I am going to say, if we have lost someone/someones very dear to us – this is not what we wanted or chose, but these circumstances have chosen us. And living with our loss means recognising the sadness and heartbreak, the grief and depression, and all of the difficult emotions that can be so terribly overwhelming. But living with loss also means accepting the peaceful moments and even happier feelings – yes, actual happiness, that we might not have thought was possible to ever feel again.
Snatch those moments when you can. Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. Take a deep breath. Keep living, just because you are.