The Feather Jar

“Mama, I found a feather for you today at Forest School!”, Max shouted as ran inside and proceeded to kick off his muddy boots.

“We can add them to our Spirit B feather jar!” 

“Wow, Max, this one is gorgeous” I said as I added the orange and black feather to our very full jar. 

Every time we find a feather, see a hawk or eagle soar overhead, gaze at a rainbow in the sky or find a small nature treasure on our adventures, Max brings up Spirit B. Sometimes it’s a “hello Spirit” and other times it’s “Wow, how beautiful, look Mama, it’s Spirit!” 

These treasures and relics are littered throughout our house and some even adorn my body. They bring me so much peace and joy – and at times, some welcomed sadness and reflection.

Six years ago, on January 16th I found out that I had lost one of our twins.  On Jan 18th, after over 48 hours of labor the other twin was born via an emergency C-section. Max was a very healthy, pink and crying boy.  I held him next to a purple, beautiful and deafeningly quiet Spirit B. My emotional body remembers it like it was yesterday. Throughout these past few days leading up to their birthday, I have been getting anxious and I can feel the trauma response in my body. I am grateful that I know what it is and that I am able to wrap myself up in it like an old favorite blanket. I never in a million years did I think I would be in this place of gratitude around losing one of my babies.  Now I realize that I didn’t lose him at all.

All I wanted to do six years ago was to turn back time, to go back just a few more days to when they were both alive and well in my belly. I wanted nothing to do with the future and everything to do with the past. To think about a time when I would actually be ok with my grief and sadness was unimaginable. I feared many things. I worried that I would always be sad on Max’s birthday, that I would forever be triggered by the sight of twins and that I would fear death in general for the rest of my life. Thinking about a time when I could walk the line of trauma and grief along side the joy and sweetness of Max was something I didn’t think I was capable of doing. 

As I lay with a sleeping Max on one side of me Spirit B on the other, I couldn’t fathom how I was going to get through motherhood, let alone the next day. My grief and guilt (I blamed myself for the death of Spirit for a very long time read more on this here) felt suffocating and debilitating. But, it also led me to tune into and open my eyes to a whole new world. The spirit world. After the loss of Spirit B, I began seeing and hearing signs from him.  Twenty four hours after their birth, I went on my first walk outside. Almost immediately I noticed that my senses were heightened. I heard and saw things in nature that I hadn’t noticed before. At first I thought that I was going a little crazy – and I certainly was in some respects. But then, the day we got home from the hospital, I went out on a walk with Max in my shirt and I noticed a hawk on a low branch not even twenty feet from me. It looked a lot like the hawk I held to my belly a week before the twins’ birth. I stopped and we stared at each other for a long while, eventually I heard a small voice come through- “It’s ok Mama, I am here and I will always be here with you.”

It was a powerful and healing moment.  I felt him so strongly and I knew that he had chosen to leave in order to watch over our family. “Mama, now you have one to look after and one that will look after you. Look for me in the hawks, in the blue jays, in the rainbows, in the ravens and in the wind.” And then he flew off. 

It was not at all what I had visions of for the 9 months they were both in my belly. But over time, his story started to take shape and it began healing us all little by little. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful stories that brought it all together for us was that of the dying hawk that I held close to my belly three days before the boys were born. When I held it, I was told he was probably not going to make it. As I held the sickly hawk, I asked the twins to give it some strength.  A few hours after the boys were born, we got a text from the woman who was working to save and rehabilitate the hawk – it was a video of the hawk jumping around in its cage, full of energy!  This news sent shivers up and down our spines. And while I was devastated, depressed and traumatized, I knew that deep down, this was the beginning of our story and someday it would be beautiful.  (read more on it here)

Two months after Max and Spirit’s birth, I was able to release the hawk into the wild. It was a very powerful experience. I had Max in my shirt and Jason by my side, together we said goodbye to the hawk and asked him to keep looking out for us. He flew off, but stopped 30 feet from us and looked back. “It’s ok Spirit B, you can go. We love you, we love you, we love you” a minute later, he flew off. To this day I see Spirit in the circling hawks above my house, in the perched eagles outside our cabin, in the rainbows on our adventures, in the rocks and feathers we pick up and in my meditations. His death changed me and my family forever. It changed our perspective on living and dying,  it taught us to create our own story, and it changed how I relate to the spirit world. 

He taught me that death is beautiful, that believing and looking for him in nature is healing and that grief, while life changing, can be transformational in an empowering and enlightening way. 

Our house is now full of bowls and jars of special Spirit B rocks and feathers, a feather from the hawk we released hangs in front of our window. We have a collection of rainbows and pictures of rainbows around the house.  A local artist named Bronwen had crafted a beautiful feather necklace that I’d fallen in love with during my pregnancy and wore every day.  But afterwards, it took on an even deeper meaning to me – a tangible token reminding me of the indefatigable power of grief, acceptance and hope. 

It is a lapis feather necklace on a simple yet beautiful string. I reach up and feel for it at least 100 times a day. It has been on countless races with me and was on me for both of my pregnancies with both the twins and Revel Wilder. I can count on one hand the times that I have taken it off in the last 7 years. This “With Spirit” necklace and a few other objects in my life bring love and joy to our family. I see them as little treasures that hold powerful and beautiful messages from Spirit B. 

The other thing that has helped me in my journey is simply sharing with honesty. Writing on my blog, making a documentary, recording my story for DirtBag diaries and continuing to take time every year to walk this line of both celebration and grief is all very healing.

Poems have also helped me, below is one of my favorite poems of all. It helped both Jason and I keep sane in the first few weeks after the birth of Max and Spirit B. Tragic loss and vibrant love are different ends of the same stick. Picking up the stick brings opportunities for both to affect us. I was able to hold, feel, and listen to the stark contrast of both for 24 hours. I soaked it all in and I will cherish those hours and lessons that are still giving for the rest of my life. 

Paradox by Danna Faulds:

Fear and love seldom

stand, shoulder to shoulder;

It’s rare to laugh and lie in the same breath.

But strength and weakness, failure and success,

faith and desolation – they are different ends of a

single stick.

To pick one up is to receive both poles – stark contrasts

contribute to a knowledge of the whole.

What is life but growing wide and deep, so

open from weeping that opposites, ambiguity, and a thousand

shades of gray can co-exist with out despair.

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