The Stone
The deadness within me could not escape through any amount of tears,
anguish and melancholia. I turned toward the myth and ceremony of ages.
Byrd's grave marker. March 2010. Full view of Byrd's grave. April 2011.
Byrd had to be buried, but I could not let him go. I had to see him,
touch him, talk to him, pretend that he was still alive. If I didn't pretend, I felt
like I would lose my mind. Hour after hour, if I wasn't already crying, I was on
the very border of it, waiting for a thought that would drive me to my knees.
I fought back tears during work days, not wanting anyone to question what
they could not understand. Upon my daily return to the apartment, I rushed
to Byrd's open cage to find his body exactly as I had left it: leaning against
the side of the cage, next to his food bowl, as if in a deep sleep. I petted him
as if he actually was in a deep sleep, and repeated “I love you, Byrd. I love
you so much.” Somehow, his body comforted me a bit. I didn't know what to
make of that feeling. Was it morbid? Sick? Insane?
In tears, I telephoned a friend with experience in this matter. She
buried her beloved feline years ago. She mentioned that since I wasn't
ready to move Byrd, that I should let him remain. His presence provided a
cushion to the shock of death, a substitute wake. Ceremonies for human
death have been practiced for tens of thousands of years as an aid to the
grieving process. Cavemen committed their loved ones to the Happy Hunting
Ground; Romans to the Elysian Fields; Christians to Heaven. Since Byrd
was so human to me and my heart so badly broken, the ceremonies had to
be respected. Sage advice.
Byrd's nobility allowed him to cross the line of species. He became
a part of me, a human force. Or, perhaps, I had crossed into his species. In
the end, it doesn't matter. Nobility is not a gift to only one species. All have a
being of spirit and flesh, and an origin in fire and stardust.
I began the thought of a grave marker. I couldn't let Byrd disappear
into oblivion. Even though the memories were with me, I needed something
that I could touch. I needed something with permanence. I had to create a
grave site to honor his spirit and to funnel my sorrow. I'd build the Taj Mahal
if I could. The myth of ages was again needed to help me to endure his
death. I reviewed memorial stones on Internet sites. Although these stones
were very nice and relatively inexpensive, my gut wasn't leading me to a
purchase. The investment had to be greater. The stone had to be created
with my own hands. Byrd earned that right. My feelings, my memories and
my love were woven into the tapestry of his life. I couldn't stand the thought
of any future memory of cheapness. Anything less than the work of my own
hands ultimately showed a lack of respect for myself, too.
I reviewed garden books for instruction upon how to make a memorial
stone. After buying the cement and an orange coloring agent, I asked for
guidance from my brother. The simple cement stones that he had created
for his garden had inspired my idea. He couldn't help me for a couple of
weeks; however, he gave me a metal screening material to add strength to
the marker.
I decided to make the memorial stone by myself. I rummaged through
my kitchen cabinets for a plastic container not only with depth, but of a size
appropriate for lettering. Oddly enough, the plastic container that suited the
purpose originally contained a rotisserie chicken. After greasing the interior
of the plastic mold thoroughly with Vaseline, I went to my garage to mix the
cement. After pouring the contents of a commercial bucket of fine cement into
a plastic pan, I added water intermittently, trowelling until the combination of
cement, water and coloring agent resembled the consistency of a very thick
cake mix. I scooped the cement into the mold, pressed the screen an inch or
two into the cement, and then brought the mold into my front room to dry.
I made the mistake of mixing the cement in the afternoon. My estimate
of the setting time was far too short. I was able to press some of Byrd's toys
into the face of the marker, but by midnight, I still could not letter the marker
face because the cement was too wet. I went to sleep, anticipating that by
morning the cement would be hard enough to letter. When I awoke five hours
later, the stone was almost solid. My mind was in a craze. This was Byrd's
marker and I couldn't err. I grabbed an awl and began to scrape lettering
into the face. My tears spotted the surface as the cement stubbornly gave
way. All of the while I worked on the stone, Byrd's body was beside me. I
gently positioned him as if he were sleeping at the leg of the stool at which I
practiced guitar. Hours expired, but I accomplished the task in clear, angular
The stone is as I intended it to be. The top line shows his name in
large letters. Since his birth date is unknown, the second line is the month
that he found me. The third line shows the date of his death. The fourth line
is the one word that summarizes his life and its meaning to me: LOVED. A
glass bird in flight is pressed into the stone face, as if it is launching from rock
into air. A penny and a paperclip, favorite toys of his youth, are pressed into
the lower portion of the stone.
After days of letting the cement marker harden, I turned my attention
toward preparing his body for burial. I held him and stroked his soft, handsome
feathers and kissed the crown of his head. Even though his toenails were
already of a proper length, I trimmed them closely. I noticed a single shred
of scale on one of his legs and peeled it off. Six months ago, I removed the
plate-like scales from his legs so prominently shown in his photo of Chapter
13. In his youth, he shed one set of leg scales—I found what appeared to
be a hollow stick at the bottom of his cage. But in his old age, the scales
just grew larger. Stroud advised rubbing olive oil on them in order to soften
them for removal. Byrd tolerated this kingly rubbing of oil on his toes and feet
without fussing.