Cruising along my friend Ann’s quarter-mile entrance to her horse farm, I admire the carefully spaced trees lining the drive like guardian pillars. The property is picturesque with white fences, horses, landscaped gardens and a charming gazebo next to a pond by the house.
Ann and I grew up in a country town in Ohio and became friends as adults. She made me laugh as she rolled her eyes describing how the Canada geese arrive in large numbers to enjoy a bobbing swim in the pond and munch on her luxurious carpet of grass. Even I have seen them milling around depositing little green droppings. She grinned as she told how there was nowhere she could walk without stepping in goose scat. She got wise to them though. When they settled in like squatters, Ann shot her rifle into the air to abbreviate their visit. It worked too, my sister Vickie and I were witnesses.
Vickie’s home sits in a residential area near the edge of town. A patch of woods separates her home from Ann’s farm just beyond. We often stood next to my car to complete our visit before I went home to the city 35 miles away. There in the driveway we watched a flight of geese overhead coming from Ann’s direction and chuckled, knowing she had fired her rifle. They honked loudly as though engaged in a huge goose party.
Shortly, our mirth became muted. It was the summer of 2008 and Vickie had been diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was near her 65th birthday, and she made the decision to take the chemo route. I stifled sobs at the news, intuitively sensing the impending loss.
Since I offered Yoga classes near Vickie’s home, I could weave visits to her into my schedule. At least I tried. The chemo took its toll and frequently when I called to arrange a visit her husband informed me she was sleeping. I did not really think anything of it at first, I would just try another time. Then a month went by, then two, then three. Living a busy entrepreneurial life, I felt a slight sense of relief sometimes when I could simply continue working unencumbered.
By November, the day came when Vickie’s husband called to say she was in the hospital, and in her final days. Life seeped from her body ravaged by cancer and chemo. Family was permitted to visit her and my only other sibling, my twin brother, and I went together. When we arrived at her room, she wailed and burst into tears. We were shocked at the changes in her since we saw her last. She had peach fuzz where there used to be curls and her eyes were sunken in dark circles. Guilt set in as I wished I had been more insistent on visiting her at home before the treatments had leached so much of her life. Her reaction was an indication she had missed us too. Now the doctors had done all they could so they sent her home to make her transition. Hospice came to give additional care for what would be her last three weeks of life. Now we were allowed to sit with her. I went as often as I could, braiding visits into my schedule. She was unable to speak and most of the time she dozed, but my brother-in-law said it was good to talk to her out loud because she could hear us.
During one visit, I was sitting next to Vickie’s bed while she slept. I needed to leave for a class and said, “Vickie, I need to go out for a little while but I will be back soon. I love you.” It turned out her last and most precious words to me were a weak “I love you too.” She passed Friday night the week before Christmas.
Unable to endure such agonizing loss, I went outside and walked in snow and dark cold. It was my turn to wail. I sobbed in disbelief, wracked with gut-wrenching grief—a stark contrast to the colorful sparkles of Christmas lights twinkling at some of the homes along the street.
Two days after the funeral, I went to the cemetery and stood by Vickie’s grave. She was the first to pass from our immediate family. The sorrow I felt was palpable. I gazed at the accumulation of flowers draped over her mounded grave, bearing maroon ribbons with gold letters: “Mother,” “Grandmother,” Daughter,” “Sister,” “Wife,” all stations in her life. Vickie generously gave love and protection, maintaining a watchful eye over me. She was the glue that held our family together, keeping us connected, especially at Holidays. Now she was gone. Christmas coming within days would be darkly subdued. I stood frozen in grief and thought about the finality of death. There is no practice to prepare for it, no way to reverse it.
Suddenly I heard a raucous cacophony overhead. The geese had arrived! They honked in unison, just like they did when we stood in my sister’s driveway and laughed when they had been shot-shooed away from Ann’s pond. One last party, a celebration—but how could this be at such a grievous time? Their arrival caused me to look up. My heart melted as they flew low surely in salute to my sister. Then I saw her! My sister’s smiling face appeared filling the expanse of open sky, and I could feel her presence was everywhere. She silently conveyed to me that she is alive and well, happy and healthy, and not to worry. I was stunned, warmed by the love that crackled in the winter air. Even beyond the veil, she continued to watch over me, now from above like a guardian angel.
Goose encounters, usually in pairs signifying sisterhood, continue to remind me to look up, heavenward, and feel the all-pervasive love of the Divine and infinite spirit of loved ones.