Over the years I’ve attended many funerals. All four grandparents, many aunts and uncles, several cousins, close family friends and of course my mother’s. Too many funerals to count.

Each time I’ve been faced with the death of a loved one, I find myself sitting in silence thinking about the person who has just passed. And watching the birds. For as long as I can remember, I have found some sort of peace in watching birds while thinking about death. I don’t go searching for birds … they’re everywhere, but they come in focus in my life when I am faced with death. They are a reminder that life goes on. And that with death comes life. The sun continues to shine, days continue to turn in to nights, birds continue to fly and life does go on.

Yesterday, seemingly out of nowhere I found myself watching a bird and thinking about an old family friend, Ernie. Ernie lives across the street from my aunt and uncle – about 3 hours from where I live – and I have known him for about 30 years. Every time I visit with my aunt and uncle, which is often, Ernie and his wife, Anna, come to see me and say hello. A man in his 80’s, Ernie has always been full of life with a smile that lights up a room. He’s passionate, he’s funny, he’s always got a fascinating story to tell. I liked him right from the moment I met him because back then he worked for a living selling cookies. What child wouldn’t fall madly in love with a cookie salesman?

Over the last several months Ernie has battled cancer. Regular reports from my aunt have indicated that it’s a battle he won’t win this time around. During a visit with my aunt and uncle about three weeks ago, Ernie was feeling strong enough to come over and join us for a glass of wine. My aunt warned me that I may not recognize him. He had lost all of his hair and a significant amount of weight. I was expecting the worse, but didn’t see any of that when he walked in to the back yard. I saw a man with an enormous smile, a fashionable hat, and plenty of life yet to live. We had a most enjoyable visit.

It was that visit that I was thinking about yesterday as I was sitting in my car at a stop light, watching a blue bird in a tree. I knew at that moment that Ernie was gone. Hours later, it was confirmed. He passed away in peace, and once again I found myself thinking about the cycle of life. With death comes new life. And yesterday, that new life was one I found out about when I saw the following: