How to Bury a Dead Bird With Honor in Winter

Janna Lopez
6 min readJan 5, 2024

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i. reality

take a walk in fresh fluffy snow. admire the slated gray sky pushing against the foamy white snow. feel a slice of chill coat cheeks with imagined frost. adjust purple woolen hat to hover above eyebrows.

think about him, your absent love. last night’s echo of being called an idiot. recall his laugh. miss him.

shuffle boots through wind-drift mounds of sifted flour.

to the left, beyond buried rocks, is a dark spot nestled in the snow, beneath a pinion tree. It’s balled and the size of a child’s fist. logic can not register its definition. a lightly-charcoal feather spear makes itself known.

then, what becomes known can’t be un-known. your mind registers: it’s a bird. although logic knows what it knows, your broken heart grasps hope; hope watches for movement. in those long seconds between embracing a vulnerable balance between hope and resignation, lies of possibilities linger like a soggy cloud in an already cold head. maybe the bird’s tired. maybe it’s resting. maybe it’s sick, yet, still alive.

the bird remains. motionless. in repose.

logic triumphs as your defeated heart recedes.

the dead bird rests in the snow and your heart breaks. again.

you want to look at death and you’re afraid. you want to get closer, to honor the bird, or maybe honor your Self, your immortality and sadness for all the death you can not name. there’s peace and elegance to the dead bird. the silence of winter and slate-gray sky enshrouds the shared solemn moment between you and the dead peaceful bird. the bird you feel you somehow know or, now, cosmically connected to.

boots flee hope and nestle closer to the edge of reason. a blanket of untouched snow remains smooth around the bird’s gently-feathered body. there’s little to no evidence of violence, struggle, or fight. tiny eyes closed as if napping. brown neck feathers file into her gray ones.

grief that’s holy and threaded to everyone who ever lost anything sinks into innocence for the small funeral before you.

you look and don’t want to look and you want to look; you wish your heart was thicker. yet, you know that to look is to honor. you don’t want fear to avert an honorable heart.

something about the starkness of the dead bird feels like the lost versions of him and you. frozen. unable to fly. a whispered passing.

reality of death presents itself — an unwanted cousin who arrives to the party you painfully negotiated to keep quiet.

ii. absorption

as you traipse away from the pinion tree, towards your front door, there’s a flash of the bird’s face nestled in snow, its beak gently-tucked. of neatly-creased wings lightly-pressed against the empty life-force of its own body — perhaps to help her in eternal rest.

you go inside, internally fraught. logic and grief take turns mounting reason. you believe that death must be honored — the bird, a symbol for him and you and for all of life’s mysteries of the heart. what is dignified? can you preserve the innocence of what your hope wants to sear as a life honorably-lived insofar as a bird can live an honorable life? you wish you had courage to make the dead bird a small crown of flowers to place on its head.

was this little bird’s last dreams — before it swiftly fell from the pinion tree, down onto a soft bed of awakened snow — of turquoise sunshine, and delicious bird seed, and freedom of floating in a verdant breeze?

your body is frigid with sadness.

you’re not sure what to do. you sit at the computer with your purple hat still on, google “burying a bird with honor” as if these bewildering occurrences happen everyday. there has to be more than a plastic bag and green garbage can. they talk about digging a two-foot hole. only they don’t know its snowing outside and your bird can’t reach earth in winter.

you then feel compelled to write him by email, carrying sadness from the bird’s elegant death, attach a picture of the dead bird, {you photographed in honor — to recognize} and tell him the dead bird reminds you of him with you — a whispered passing — frozen, reposed. and there will always be love. even in death.

iii. burial with honor

at 3:33 p.m. you grab your jacket, stuff your feet into previously-cold boots, grab a plastic bag from your cupboard, a pair of gardening gloves, and as luck shares, a perfectly-sized box received from a gift yesterday. you still don’t know how you’ll honor the bird. you’re as lost as you were the hour before.

you take a few more pictures. the fallen white snow flakes on a resting gray of the bird’s stolen body is beautiful. sad. and beautiful again, snow and death. then and now. peace and grief. he and you.

you don’t really want to feel its little body, now wrapped in plastic, within your garden glove, as you ensure a swift scooping measure of gathering an overabundance of snow around the dead bird’s body so there’s an imagined buffer between reality and denial. something about feeling the bird’s death seems wrong or strange or too much.

snow mixed with pine needles, the plastic bag, filled by the bird, and weight of regret and loss and grief, get gently lowered into the perfectly-sized bird coffin box. you slowly close the lid of the box and imagine the hum of regal bagpipes softly honoring the moment, the passing dream of what you and he might have been, and the evaporated life of a once-beautiful bird.

a foot of snow beguiles a proper burial, so you place the bird, and its makeshift coffin-box where they can begin eternity, and redemption, if needed, near love. there’s a snow-covered statue of St. Frances in your yard, he’s holding a birdbath, and resides beneath a brazen old pinion tree. this feels holy.

at first you place the coffin-box next to the tree. you think this will might make the spirit of the dead bird happy. but then you realize the spirit of the dead bird might need St. Frances, after all, he was the patron saint of animals. so you offer the small box to the feet of St. Frances. you know when the snow thaws sometime in the future, you may try and give the bird an honorable burial and you can’t right now because of time and snow and sadness and regret and you ask for forgiveness for doing the best you can to honor and bury the once-beautiful bird in the only way you know how.

you ask St. Frances to care for the spirit of a bird you wholly loved yet never knew and which you hoped lived an honorable lovely and loved life.

you walk away from St. Frances and the bird and wonder if its spirit will be able to dream of spring…

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Janna Lopez

Janna Lopez is an intuitive book coach and leads writing retreats for individuals and small groups in Santa Fe. www.janna-lopez.com