Barbara has waited like this before. It is her work. It is what she chose and trained for. She found the death journey of a childhood friend to be unexpectedly moving when she was just out of her parents’ house. It seemed that she was the only one who was able to remain present enough to actually help Annie. It felt like a privilege to share in the intimate experience of dying. After Annie crossed over, she felt a lack, a more than missing of her friend. She felt a longing for a purpose. That was the beginning of this road. Since Annie’s death, twenty-six years and forty-seven souls have passed. Now it is Sarah whom she is helping to cross over, with as much dignity and as little pain as possible.
Barbara monitors vital signs and narcotics, and the moods of the people keeping watch. They all watch Sarah’s chest rise and fall, ever so slightly. Her breathing has become so shallow that it is difficult to witness. Sometimes it seems that she is not breathing at all, and then there will be a stronger breath, as if her body is fighting to stay alive a bit longer. Barbara finds herself immersed, as they all are, in the waiting.
“Oh, there he is again,” Barbara said out loud to herself. For days she had been seeing a crow in the low branch of the old Maple by Sarah’s bedroom window. At first she thought she had imagined him trying to look in through the window at Sarah. Now she was sure of it! That crow was part of this vigil too. He sometimes hopped briefly onto the outside windowsill to get a closer look. It was the darnedest thing! When the family was in the room, he would fly off for a while or sit in a high branch, but when it was just Barbara with Sarah, he would come in close. Sometimes he would make a clicking sound, a sound that Barbara felt deep in her gut, a sound that she didn’t know crows could make.
The sun made colored rainbows on the walls. Sarah had known where to hang crystals so they would catch the angle of the light through the bedroom windows. Barbara opened a window, before she went to put water up for tea, so that Sarah could feel the cool autumn breeze that she had always invited into her home. Concerned relatives had taken to keeping the place shut down, as if an open window was an invitation for Sarah’s soul to flee. Barbara thought, from what she was learning about Sarah, that she would like her leaving to be on an autumn breeze.
Barbara always made herself a cup of Constant Comment at three o’clock. Today, when she came back into the room, with her steaming mug and a few of the oatmeal cookies that Aunt Jess brought, she stopped breathing for a second... The crow was perched at the foot of the bed. It cocked its head in Barbara’s direction, and they both knew she would let him stay. Barbara put a quick prayer out to the universe that the phone wouldn’t ring, and that a relative or well intended friend didn’t pick this time to show up to join the vigil.
She knew she was witnessing something rare, something most folks wouldn’t believe was possible. The crow, whom Barbara had started to think of as Max, had come to say goodbye, and to accompany Sarah on her way. Barbara knew that Sarah’s last breath was approaching. Some people might have seen that crow as a sinister presence. They might have preferred to call him Poe, but Barbara knew him to be a wise one, a friend, and a guide.
(We crows, as we are called, have always been with her. She recognized us as kindred when she was early on her path. She would call to us. She would ask us to fly up high to show her the wanderings and the intersectings of her journey. We could not show her, but we could remind her to lift her eyes, and sometimes we would point the way. Mostly we showed up to share the way and to signal a significant shifting. She recognizes us. Most of her kind can’t tell us apart, but she could, just not with her eyes.)