The hawk, my dad and me
July 28 would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. He has been gone for five years. He was my mentor and friend and of course I miss him like crazy.
Grief is a weird emotion. I don’t think it ever completely goes away, but we do learn to accommodate it and create a different version of life without that person in our world anymore. Grief isn’t something we finish and just move past and be done with. I believe it creates a new element in who we are. The loss of someone we love changes us forever.
Eventually, the intense pain of fresh grief — the kind that causes inertia, forgetfulness, exhaustion and that deep ache in your chest — subsides and settles way below the surface, and we resume living, laughing, striving forward the way life is meant to be. Our human resiliancy leads us to a new level where we can carry on without the deep, debilitating sorrow every day, or every week or even every month. But, when we are not expecting it, that pain can rise up from inside just by hearing a song, or smelling a scent or driving past a hospital.
There are still times when I say out loud, “Dad, I wish you were here.” How much easier it would be just to pick up the phone and hear his voice saying something like, “You did a great job, proud of you,” or “So-and-so is just trying to get under your skin, you are way above that…ignore them.” Instead I have to try and imagine what words of wisdom he would say to me during troubled times, and it’s then that I realize he is, in fact, still with me, in my heart and in the lessons he taught me.
A visit by a hawk or two
The day we buried my father in the Ketchum Idaho Cemetery it was a bright October morning, 2011. During his graveside service, one by one, the people in attendance began to notice of a lone Red-tailed hawk circling, circling, circling above us. I remember looking up at the huge wingspan of this soaring bird and immediately feeling something surreal and profound.
Following the service, we all moved over to the historic Trail Creek Cabin by the river, an area where my dad used to walk his dogs every day for nearly 20 years. We gathered on the outside deck overlooking the forests and mountains, and anyone who wanted to speak could honor my father by telling their stories and memories about him. The stories came, one after another; funny, emotional, surprising. We laughed out loud and felt the complete love of my dad’s friends who surrounded us. My sister and I stood up together and read the many, many kind emails and memories that people from around the world sent to tell us how my dad had touched their life, as a journalist, as a mentor, as a boss, as a friend.
It wasn’t very long until all of us noticed, again, a Red-tailed hawk circling above us. The stately bird soon settled on a branch in a nearby tree and watched the goings-on for a long, long while. In fact, I don’t remember that he ever left his perch as long as we were there.
Two hawks watching over us as we bid farewell to my father. For me, there was something spiritual going on.
The hawk’s symbolic meaning to me
I am aware of the significance of hawks as a strong symbol of visionaries and spiritual messengers. Because the hawk is able to soar high above the earth — into the heavens if you will — it has a perspective of the “bigger picture,” which we cannot experience from our earthly anchor. Some of the symbolism associated with the hawk are courage, wisdom, seeing the “bigger picture.” The bird brings a message to free yourself of thoughts and beliefs that are limiting your ability to soar and gain greater perspective that will allow you to survive and flourish.
Sounds just like what my father taught me when he was alive.
From that day foreward, I have been blessed to see a Red-tail almost every day, and gradually this beautiful bird became the symbol to me that my father is still with me, in spirit, in memory, in the lessons he taught me. When I see hawks hovering and circling above me as I walk my dogs, I stop and watch, and think of what message my father would say to me on that day. What struggles am I having, or what advice do I need that brings a hawk to me today?
The visits by hawks remind me to be bold, have faith, try to see things from a higher and wider perspective and remember that my father’s love and wisdom are always with me. Because that is what dad would wish for me.
A couple months ago, after nearly five years of thinking about it, I had a Red-tailed hawk tattooed onto my forearm. His wings are spread, not so much as if he is in full flight but more like an enveloping, protective posture. He flies towards my heart, rather than flying away. His face is bold and focused. His tail feathers are spread and red, symbolizing the heart and a connection to loved ones. Underneath the hawk is my father’s actual signature, “Dad,” lifted from a card he sent to me many years ago. This tattoo serves as a visual reminder every day that my father’s love and spirit lives on and that, indeed, he is just a thought away.