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Scott Rochat: A Last Flight

January 27, 2019
Scott Rochat Rochat, Can You See?

Sharpie’s initial startled burst of activity had worn off. Now our yellow-and-green parakeet sat gently in Heather’s grasp, occasionally flexing her wings or tightening her talons against my wife’s shirt.

“Shhh,” Heather breathed as she ran her finger gently over the feathers of Sharpie’s head, over and over again.

Sharpie’s eyes slowly eased shut. They opened, closed, opened again, confusion and fear giving way to trust.

“Shhh.”

The eyes closed one more time.

Heather waited, then looked up at me, holding her while she held the bird.

“I think she’s gone,” Heather whispered. “I can’t feel her heartbeat anymore.”

After 11 years of company, Sharpie had flown.

Losing any animal that you love and care for is never easy. With Sharpie, it was like the end of an era. Of our many Colorado birds, she was the only one that we picked out ourselves, the only one that was not a gift from a friend. Just two months after we returned to the state in 2007, we had gone in search of a parakeet; Heather, one of life’s “bird ladies,” had pointed at a small one that had caught her eye out of the small flock in the store.

As the attendant reached in, another bird jumped in the way and was picked up instead. She was the same color — and kinda gutsy — so Heather took the volunteer. We named her Sharpie, since her yellow was the color of a highlighter, and took her home.

Starting with a hand, ending with a hand.

Sharpie was there as I changed jobs, as we changed homes, as we saw others come and go. The dean of the flock, not as loud as some, but adding her voice to the mix when others piped up (including the occasional playful whistling human). She was a theme, a constant.

Nothing in life stays constant, though.

We knew she was getting old. She had been looking ruffled as birds do, though the last few days had been something of a rally. And then, on Thursday morning, I came down to feed the birds and saw her struggling on the bottom of the cage, unable to fly, trying to climb to her perch.

I got Heather out of bed. She got Sharpie out of her cage. And together, as Sharpie quietly left the world, we said goodbye.

Goodbye. It’s a powerful word. We don’t always get the moment. But sometimes it feels like the word echoes from every corner.

It was at this time last year that our 21-year-old cousin Melanie died in bed while staying with us. A lover of animals who wanted to be a vet tech, I think she would have appreciated sharing her time with a veteran pet.

It’s the same week that held the anniversary of Mel’s dad. The passing of Heather’s great aunt. The same month that held so many more.

We all get a lot of lessons in saying goodbye. And perhaps the biggest is that “goodbye” is not the same as “letting go” or “moving on.”

You can’t. Not really. If someone has meant enough to you, they’ve replaced pieces of your heart with their own, woven themselves into your life with a brilliant thread. When they’re pulled away, it leaves a gap. And while the sharp edges eventually become duller and the angles become a little more rounded, the hole never truly heals.

In a painful way, that’s a treasure. A sign of how much they were valued.

We do have to say goodbye. For ourselves as much as for the one leaving, maybe more. We have to be able to shape life around the new reality, acknowledge it, take the steps into whatever comes next.

But it doesn’t mean that their presence won’t still be felt. That memories won’t invade at curious times, like a visitor at the door. That something real isn’t still there.

Whether a small bird or a full-grown human, they touched you. Shaped you. Left their fingerprints in your life, mind, and memory.

What is remembered, lives.

Today, as I think about it, that’s especially fitting.

After all, every Sharpie must leave a mark.

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