My sister’s son Timothy killed himself, violently, at age forty-five, three years ago. The bereavement counselor at hospice where I’m a volunteer here in Maine, agreed with the California coroner and the police, that it was not advisable for the family to see the body. Ordinarily it is affirming and healing to view the loved one, as a step towards closure. But not Tim.
Now, three years later, seemingly unrelated to Tim, my sister and I, through e-mail, reached an agreement about a tapestry she wanted me to create for her, including price, size, and free-flowing abstract design. Brilliant colors of lilac, magenta, burnt orange, amethyst, red, gold, in loosely spun bulky wools.
Minutes after our e-mail, I headed to the grocery store. On a branch of a leafy green maple, above my car I spotted a hawk. Just to be sure it wasn’t just a branch looking like a hawk, I edged to the side of it. The hawk’s brown eye followed me. Auspicious, I decided. A good beginning for my sister’s weaving.
When I returned from the store, hawk gone from tree, I lay on my carpet to relax. I thought how I’d seen Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, Eagles, but never, in the seven years I’d lived on Mount Desert Island, had I seen a hawk. Crows started raising a ruckus outside. Suspecting the hawk, I jumped up to have a look.
Just below my balcony, on the lawn, there it stood. Crows, about ten of them, were settled and silent now, in sentinel positions on various trees, one on top of a dead pine. Hawk looked up at me with its brown eye. Then it took a few limping-style steps. Crows scattered, cawing. Hawk stood still. Crows returned to their posts. Then, hawk flew low to the ground and into the forest, with crows scolding, in zigzag flight, racing after.
I wrote my sister the story, asked if I could put a hawk in her weaving, asked if the hawk meant anything to her. She wrote that her son Tim had had a fascination for birds of prey, and most particularly hawks. “Yes,” she said, “put the hawk in. The weaving needs a subject. It’ll be Tim’s gift to me.” It was a Red-shouldered Hawk, about the size of a crow, not the larger Red-tailed, as I’d thought. And so Timothy’s Hawk was begun.
One or two days into the weaving, I began to have nightmares, every night, waking up with a start, sucking in air, someone or something chasing me. I rarely have nightmares. After sharing with a friend, I connected the dreams to Tim. At that point I realized, that while I wove, I was to visualize Tim’s release from pain and suffering, and from the the ways he might be stuck on the other side.
According to the Tibetans, the images encountered in the after-death Bardos, can be infinitely more terrifying than those encountered in life.
Later my sister told me Tim had been plagued with chase dreams, from childhood into adult, sometimes waking him, screaming in the night. Meanwhile, during the weaving of Tim’s hawk, my sister was having her own experiences and recollections, including a dream of deep grief.
For days I wove and watched Tim’s hawk, under my fingers, rising out of a fire and soaring into color and light. During this time I had a numinous dream:
I am standing on a cliff above a Caribbean-blue ocean. I want to swim but someone tells me it’s dangerous. I see why. Not far out from the cliff is a huge, being-like mass of tangled seaweed that floats several feet above the water, rising and falling as if flexing muscles. Soon I find myself at the bottom of the cliff, diving into the ocean and swimming along the narrow passage between the cliff and the seaweed being, towards a white sandy beach. I feel awe but no danger as I swim with abandon, in the center of the turquoise waterway.
I awoke feeling elevated.
My sister and I are reading Timothy through The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Great Liberation Through Hearing.
Another source: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche