Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

A few days into the New Year of 2012, we awoke to find our cat, Princess, in distress.   Strike that.   Princess was, and always will be, Jimmy’s cat.  Theirs was a love affair.  From the moment she crossed the threshold at 453 Lirio in 1991, she was Jimmy’s cat.  I tolerated her—and she me—but I was never greeted after a long day with a smile or an alluring dance for the coveted, loving backstroke.  That was Jimmy’s domain.  

And no one was sadder when Jimmy left for college in 2002, or happier to see him when he returned home for visits.  Princess’s grief for Jimmy’s loss was no less than ours.  She knew. She changed.    I suspect it may have even been harder for her, because she couldn’t talk about it with us.  

Princess had not been well for over a week.  She had stopped eating, and she could no longer climb stairs or jump up on a couch.   On the other hand, she was 21 years old!

A week earlier, my 90-year-old mother had her first fall- broken arm, pneumonia-and she was ensconced in a skilled nursing facility that she absolutely detested.    She too would leave us five months later.  My mother was another fierce feline.  

That morning, I took Princess to the vet and he tenderly put her to sleep.   I cried like a baby.   

That same morning is when the birds began to show up for us in a most remarkable and pervasive way.   For a period of four months, Song Sparrows flew back and forth to our windows.   They would land on a sill, peck, and fly back to the ivy hedge nearby.  Every day.   All day.   It was as though they were demanding our attention.   Check this out.

When we spotted the faces in the ivy, I decided to write a story about it.   

Of course, we are not the only ones who have experienced strange, beautiful, synchronistic encounters with our feathered friends after the loss of someone we deeply love.   And I am humbled and excited to share some of these wonderful stories with you. 

There’s definitely something about birds—I don’t know what it is exactly—but, Ms. Dickinson pretty much nailed it.  “Hope.”    Birds bring us hope and comfort.  

And I can think of no better example of this than the incredible, FULL OF WONDER, experience of our dear friends, the Canepas.    

WELCOME HOME SEAN, by Bill and Cathie Canepa

Our eighteen-year-old son, Sean, died on March 30, 2008. We had become acquainted with Hilary and Casey Gauntt after the passing of their son, Jimmy, in August of that year. Even though we lived within two blocks of each other, we may never have met except for our shared tragedies. The two boys went to the same high school, but Jimmy was five years older. 

Sean Alexander Canepa

Sharing that unfortunate bond, the two mothers, Cathie and Hilary, soon became friends and soulmates.

They were able to laugh and cry together as only they could understand what each was going through. 

A few months after they had met, Hilary was excited to tell Cathie about Tarra, a psychic-medium from Sedona her family had met just before Christmas. Bill has always been a skeptical person by nature; but when you lose a child the finality of that loss is overwhelming. You want to believe that, somehow, they are not completely gone.

Sean had died of an accidental overdose, and we knew that his spirit would be haunted if his death was responsible for the disintegration of our family. With some uncertain hope, we agreed to do a reading with Tarra. Kevin and Kyle, Sean’s older brothers, also showed up.  We would do this together.

During the reading, Tarra described our backyard with uncanny accurate detail and said that a bird would fly up to our windows and spread its wings as a sign from Sean. At the time we took note of her prediction, but thought we have lots of birds in our yard.  How will we ever know that one of them is a messenger from our son?

Several months later, the 1st anniversary weekend of Sean’s passing arrived. We dreaded that milestone for weeks in advance. Both of our boys came home that weekend. At about 9am, while Bill was brushing his teeth, Cathie called out that a big white bird had flown up to our back door and landed on the arm of a nearby redwood chair. 

When Bill rushed to the door, he also saw what he thought was a dove perched on that chair. He went outside and crept closer and closer. Cathie said don’t frighten it, but Bill kept approaching it until he sat down in an adjacent chair a few feet away.

It was then that Bill saw a homing pigeon tag attached to its wrist.  The bird stayed in that same position until 4:30 that afternoon.

Almost 8 hours.

Our son, Kevin, took a picture of the bird from a few feet away.

We were scheduled to see a comedy that afternoon with Will Ferrell and questioned how we could leave with the bird still there. On cue, the bird spread its wings and flew off. 

The bird had fulfilled its purpose. It provided our family with comfort and reassurance in our time of grief.

We have never forgotten that day. Cathie immediately developed a love and passion for bird watching and photography.

We believe that Sean, or an angel or God in the heavens sent that bird, on that particular day and time, as a message to us that Sean is okay and at peace. The peace it provided to our family that day and for many days and years to come has been immeasurable. 

Cathie, Bill, Sean, Kyle and Kevin
Cathie and Bill at Jimmy’ Bench

For more of Cathie’s amazing photographs please click here.

“I started serious bird photography about six years ago. My painting and bird photography bring me so much joy.”   Love Cathie

And to us as well.   Thank you, Cathie and Bill, for sharing your art and your son, Sean, with us. 

Love   Casey and Hilary

This story is dedicated in loving memory of Sean and Jimmy. And to those smiles!

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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