2024 - March - Gazette - Dad, Death, Daffodils, Ducks, Cardinals, and Comfort

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dad, Death, Daffodils, Ducks, Cardinals, and Comfort ...

My 93-year-old dad died on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. When I left you in my February column, he was working hard to get his strength back after a fall. Unfortunately, his will and determination were there, but his body wasn’t cooperating. He was flown to a trauma center by helicopter one more time and it was there that a very compassionate geriatric specialist doctor told him she recommended comfort care with no heroic measures.

On March 5, we transported Dad back to the Atrium at The Village at Penn State with hospice on board. My family is grateful for the compassionate and kind care my dad received. The expression that it takes a village to raise a child is also true for companioning a dying loved one.

Dad’s transition to death had some beautiful moments and some brutal ones – life and death are messy – and I learned many things. Even with all the work I’ve done around dying, death, and grief, I was surprised by how there wasn’t a clear delineation between my dad’s living and dying. We really do live until we die.

After Dad’s death, as in some cultures, we opened the window in his room to symbolize the release of his spirit. At that moment, a single jet flew across the beautiful clear blue sky leaving a contrail. (Dad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force.)

Later that day, my mom, one of my two sisters, my husband and I met with F. Glenn Fleming at Koch Funeral Home to make arrangements. When we were deciding on flowers, we chose daffodils. My dad’s memorial service was going to be on the first day of spring and daffodils seemed appropriate. Plus, Dad was a longtime American Cancer Society volunteer on the local, state, and national levels, and their Daffodil Days campaign was a major fundraiser he was involved with every year.

Glenn said that was the first time he could remember when a family chose daffodils. That brought us comfort as Dad was definitely one of a kind. My daughter later told me she learned daffodils represented new life, which also brought us comfort as Dad was beginning a new life and so were we.

That same evening my husband told me that for the first time in the 12 years we have lived in our house a duck was nesting in our yard. Over the next few days, we saw a female duck emerge several times from a bush in the front of our house, while once a male duck sat guard to the side. Without getting too close, we could just see that the female was sitting on a nest in the bush. The nest – and the eggs we expect are there – brought us comfort as well, again representing new life.

I searched the internet for the meaning of ducks and found in Celtic folklore, Dad’s heritage, they represented a bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds. Before he died, I told Dad that if he had any way of communicating with me after death, I’d be open to it. Could these ducks be a “sign” from Dad? None of us knows for certain if there are two worlds, or if there is communication between the two, but the idea of these ducks being messengers from Dad brought me comfort

Over the next few days, we made all of the preparations for Dad’s visitation, memorial, and graveside services. One night after planning, I felt some of my grief when I left my mom’s apartment. As I walked through the parking lot, a bird call caught my attention. It felt very loud and persistent and pulled me out of my head into the present. I stopped and looked up. High atop one of the trees was a cardinal looking at and singing to me. (Dad was a singer throughout his life.) Many people believe that cardinals are messengers between this world and the next. This brought me comfort.

The next morning, both our children drove home for their grandfather’s services. The first to arrive was our son. As I greeted him in our driveway, he pointed to the tree on the corner of our lot. A cardinal was in that tree as well. Could these cardinal sightings be from Dad? I don’t know for sure, but I do know they brought me comfort.

The death of a loved one changes everything. Some people, like me, find comfort in many different ways – daffodils, ducks, and cardinals to name a few. I also find comfort in tears, hugs, conversations, memorial services, time in nature, and education and support groups. Is there a right or wrong way to find comfort? Just your way as long as you don’t get stuck in reliving the past or only thinking about your loved one and not engaging with life – mental health counseling is helpful, especially then.

You are invited to continue this conversation and be a part of more grief and death education and support groups by attending the following programs.

More information can be found on the Bereavement Gatherings and Events page of the Koch Funeral Home website. To reserve your spot and receive the invitation links, email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-237-2712, or visit the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page @kochFH.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant, and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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