My husband, Nick, and I are in Thailand! Yes, we’ve got two different conferences to attend for work, but in between, we’re also taking a break to enjoy Thai food, tropical breezes, and sunrises over the ocean. My mom was recently hospitalized with yet another stroke, but she’s recovering well, and my sisters are with her. Trust me, that’s a great comfort when you’re on the other side of the world!
Then we receive the news: Mom was on her way home from the hospital when she had yet another stroke. And this time, the damage is much more profound. The doctors predict she probably won’t make it through the night.
What do we do? It would take me days to get home, so there’s no way I can make it before she has passed. So instead, I stay put and speak to her on the phone during the times of day when my family members on the other side of the world are awake. I join my sisters, who are gathered around her bed as we sing hymns, pray for Mom, and release her to Jesus. True to form, my tough mother, who had been an athlete in her youth, defies the doctors and lasts three more days. Early in the morning on the third day, I receive the call.
The loss of my mother touches a deep place in me. My dad passed away 17 years ago, so now I am parentless. As the heat of the new day rises, Nick and I are walking down the road mourning. And we’re also desperately trying to solve the puzzle of how and when we can return to the US.
Suddenly, our discussion is interrupted. We’re startled to see a pair of hoopoes along the side of the road. Have you ever seen one? They’re so striking! . . . rather large, with black and white stripes on the wings and tail, a long black bill, and a black-tipped orange crest. That crest is my favorite part. It either stands up like a banner swaying in the breeze or lies down and protrudes at the back of the hoopoe’s head like some slicked-back hairstyle out of the ’50s.
My parents engendered in me a lifelong appreciation for birds, so it is especially meaningful to encounter these two spectacular creatures at this exact moment in time. Just seeing them would be a joy in and of itself—it has only happened to me a couple of other times, and never a pair of them together! But today, on the day of my mother’s passing, it is especially meaningful because I grew up watching birds with her. Her love of birds is part of her legacy to me.
Then I realize: this is a sweet gift from my heavenly Father. He’s using these hoopoes to remind me that He knows me intimately and sees my sorrow. He understands me, hears my voice of mourning, and knows what speaks to my heart. This encounter leaves no doubt in my mind that He will continue to be with me as I grieve this loss and deal with all of the decisions and details I’ll continue to face in the wake of my mother’s passing. With Hagar, I can say, “You are a God of seeing . . . Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13 ESV).
~ Kathryn Kircher