A little boy dies leaving his cousin with a memory that would last a lifetime.
Nearly a hundred years ago when my mother was a young woman, there were few doctors in Out port Newfoundland. This was especially true of those who lived on islands and other places of isolation. Most people were born, lived and died without any medical attention. The average lifespan was about forty -five years and often children died in their first year. With only a midwife availably, many women also died in childbirth.
My mother’s aunt Patience, like most women of the day had a large family and among them at the time was her youngest a two and a half year old boy named Willie. It’s unlikely that anyone knew what Willie suffered from but everyone knew he was ill, and that he was still living was a miracle in itself. Mom would sometimes visit her aunt and her little cousin Willie, was always happy to see her. My mother loved the little boy as if he was her own and he wanted to be with no one else when she was around.
Years later, mom would often speak of the last time she saw him. She had gone to visit her aunt as usual, only to discover that Willie was at death’s door and running up the stairs she was soon standing by his bedside. The boy must have heard her voice or knew her step, because when she entered the bedroom he opened his eyes and for a second there was the trace of a smile on his face. She took his hand and thought she felt the tiniest squeeze. Willie was tired however, and soon fell back into a fitful sleep. Crying softly, mom went back downstairs to where her aunt had a cup of tea waiting.
Mom could think only of Willie as she sipped her tea and both her, and aunt Patience tearfully wondered if the boy would live through the night. Getting ready to leave she looked toward the window and stopped in mid-sentence. There on the window ledge was the most beautiful little white bird she had ever seen! Afraid she might scare it away, she whispered to aunt Patience and pointed at the small bird. Her aunt however, could see nothing! Mom was stunned and walking toward the window kept pointing and saying “look, the bird, the beautiful white bird”. Try as she might, aunt Patience could not see anything.
Mom could not understand it and taking her hand she led her aunt outside. The bird was just a few feet away now yet showed no sign of fear. As mom watched the bird spread its wings and rose into the sky. Higher and higher it soared until it was lost from sight. She alone however had witnessed the sight – even outside her aunt had seen nothing.
Willie died the next morning, his soul at last set free from the body which had denied him the life of a child.
The day of the funeral was sunny and warm and as family and friends returned from the cemetery, aunt Patience called her niece aside. Perhaps it was the chirping of the birds in the nearby trees that reminded her but aunt Patience, speaking through her tears reminded mom of the white bird. “I guess I should have told you earlier” she said, “but I couldn’t do it that day. I knew when I couldn’t see it that the bird was sent only for you. It meant that Willie would be leaving us soon and because you were special to him, it was his last wish that you have something to remember him by. That’s why only you could see it - it‘s called a “token”, and was meant for your eyes only”.