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  • Michael Ong

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

I was out gardening and my friendly neighbour came to me and said, “Oh, the birds are gone! I am so sad.” Hương went on to describe how they were just chicks a few days ago. She described how she tenderly watched over them, making sure not to disturb them when the parent birds were back to feed their babies. Hương even thought of making a protective net just in case the chicks fell off the net. Every morning, she would check on the nest to make sure that no predators came during the night to harm the helpless chicks. Just like that, a special bond was formed between Hương and the 3 eggs that hatched on a nest on the third floor of her balcony. Today, she woke up to find them all gone. The nest is empty.


Empty nest. Yes, that’s the phrase to describe parents whose child or children have grown up and moved out of the home. Children, by a certain age, should leave the nest and fly away too. Some children fail to leave because the parents did not prepare for them to fly. Others don’t leave because parents don’t want them to leave. For children to become healthy adults, they need to develop strong wings too.


“Oh, I am so sad. The birds are gone.” While Hương celebrates that the chicks have grown feathers very quickly, she grieved over the fact that they are not in the nest anymore. I cannot help but thought to myself. “My daughter, Grace is not here too. She is all grown up and has developed wings.” She was to return to Hanoi in a week's time but with the Covid situation still unstable, I may not see her at all this summer. Sad.


We grieve when something we cherished is missing. Hương grieved that the chicks are gone. My wife and I grieved over the fact that we may not see Grace this summer. The last time she was home was May 2019.


What is your grief? Maybe your mom who passed away recently? Or your dad who passed away when you were still a kid? A brother who died too young? A sister lost due to cancer? A new born baby lost? We grieve over tangible and intangible things. Maybe you grieve over the loss of independence and freedom due to a disability? A relationship that you never had? A shattered dream? A broken marriage? A barren womb? A son with mental illness? A daughter with autism? We grieve when something we cherish is gone.


We each grieve over different things. Many of us grieve when we lose our pets. Some of us grieve because we miss our soft toys or our favorite pair of shorts. Or a special spot in town? Or when your neighbor moved to a different part of town? When you changed school and missed your friends? I grief because my cactus plant died. Nothing is too small or trivial for us to grieve. We grieve when something we cherish is gone.


The problem is, we often don’t spend enough time to grieve. We think that it is trivial and childish to grieve, as though we have a timeline to grief for different things. My friend’s husband passed away awhile ago and she hates it when concerned friends ask “Are you still grieving for your husband?” This question assumes that one should “finish” with griefing. No, there is no specific duration to grieve. My brother Steven, passed away almost 20 years ago. He died too young. Today, I continue to grieve. We need to give ourselves the freedom to grieve. I grieve because I cherish my brother.


The next time you find yourself missing someone or something, give yourself the freedom to grieve.


"The idea here is that emotions of grief come and go. When we grieve, we are always back and forth between feeling fine in one moment and then being hit hard and not being okay in the next moment."

Grief , Back Again. Grace Ong

Photo credit:

My friendly and compassionate neighbor, Ms. Hương.


Video credit:

My beloved daughter, Grace, whom I miss dearly.


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