White Feathers

When I was back in the UK last year for Sarah’s funeral, I spent some lovely moments with two of Sarah’s closest friends, Lynda and Nikki.  They shared stories with me about poignant moments they had had in the few days since Sarah had died when they had been at home, thinking about Sarah and they had found a small white feather which they had taken as a sign of Sarah’s continued presence.  Whilst I enjoyed hearing the stories and was glad for the comfort they offered Nikki and Lynda I am an eminently pragmatic person and am always looking for “logical” explanations for such things. My predominantly practical mind explained them easily away as the kind of small white feathers you find all the time in the house from duvets, pillows, cushions and down-filled jackets.

I am not a religious person and not particularly spiritual either, I believe in the innate goodness of people, the kindness of strangers and have a general belief that we do not understand the universe and there could well be powers at play of which we have no knowledge, but on the whole I am quite logical and rational.

Travelling back from the UK a few days later, having just attended Sarah’s funeral, I arrived at the departure gate in Abu Dhabi to be greeted by an announcement that my flight was delayed by at least two hours.  I could have cried.  I was completely spent already, both emotionally and physically, and was only 14 hours in to a 32 hour journey, that has just been extended by two hours.

I sat on the floor (no seats!) and started to think about Sarah, the funeral and what all of us had lost.  I teared up at thought and turned to get a tissue from my backpack – and there stuck in the mesh of my bag was a tiny white feather.  I would swear that it had not been there previously and there was no obvious place where it could have transferred from. I was in the middle of an airport that was all chrome and leather, no soft furnishings in sight, plus the airport was in the desert and it was a forty degree day, nobody was wearing any down-filled jackets.

I literally went all goose-bumpy but then started to laugh and feel warm and comforted by the sight of the unexplained yet somehow not inexplicable little white feather.   Every time I tell the story and even as I write it now I still get goose bumps.

Sarah clearly didn’t accompany me all the way home because when I arrived at baggage claim in Sydney airport I discovered the airline had lost my luggage! This was not until after I had spoken to Richard and the children so Sarah may well have thought her work was done getting me as far as the arrivals lounge and she was back keeping a vigil over Mark and her children.

I keep the feather, tiny as it is, as a reminder that just because we can’t see people we have lost, it doesn’t mean they are not with us.

An article appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald arguing that funerals were no place for children.  It of course got me thinking about Sarah’s funeral and how she had carefully planned it so that all the children she loved could not only be present but actively take part.  I felt the urge to write a counter-argument, showing that there most definitely can be a place for children at funerals, allowing them to grieve in their own way whilst witnessing an outpouring of grief from the adults they look to for strength and guidance.

The article took me a long time to craft and I didn’t do it with an easy conscience. I wanted to make sure it was the best writing I could manage in an attempt to do justice to Sarah’s outstanding courage and whilst my loss is great and I feel it daily, it is nothing compared to the loss felt by Mark, Sophie, Charlie and Lucie and I wanted to be sure that anything I wrote was sensitive to their needs and feelings.  I was attempting to write something that might cause some fresh tears, but hopefully happy, healing tears, and that in time they could read and feel so very proud of their outstandingly brave and beautiful wife and mum.

As a result, the day I spent crafting the article was a very turbulent and emotional day for me and by the time I got home from the library (my new office) I was completely drained and still left wondering if I had any place to tell this story.  I decided I needed a shower to try to clear my head before I went to collect the crazy gang from school. I took off my t-shirt and inside was a tiny white feather.

Here is the article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald last Monday.









  1. Collette says:

    I have to say, I got all goose bumpy to, when I read this. It is a comforting thought, to think that those we have lost are close by. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The second white feather is quite spooky (as was the first) – I think you were definitely right to write the article, especially if there was already an article in the SMH. Of course it is sad when a loved one dies – particularly when that person has had their life unfairly cut short. However, I feel a funeral should be a time to celebrate the person, and the time that was spent with them, and children have just as much right to be a part of that as anyone else. They need to be able to grieve, and that means being included.

    Good to know Sarah is keeping one eye on you all down under :)

  3. Fiona Clarke says:

    Beautifully written…..a quick sob before the early morning dog walk, breakfast, school run, work etc etc. Had similar experience when my Mum died and we were in Jakarta……and I am a fan of Christopher Hitchens!
    However, must say, am starting to feel slightly nervous about a story emerging of bad mother who let her children have mayo with roast dinners……..xx

    • Richard says:

      The mayo with roast beef story is fermenting nicely at the back of my mind but fear not, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!xxx

  4. caroline britton says:

    Really good article Al, I remember seeing white feathers on several occasions at the start of my pregnancy when things looked a bit grim and it always made me feel that everything was going to be ok and sure enough it was. I believe people grieve in their own way and feel it is important for children to understand life & death and what better way than to celebrate the life of someone that touched their life.

Speak Your Mind