Two pigeons

balls 014I remember going to see Les Deux Pigeons many years ago, a ballet re-choreographed by the great Frederick Ashton. As with all Ashton’s work, the choreography is beautiful and delicate, and the young dancers captured the movement of the birds perfectly. The tale draws on La Fontaine’s fable and tells a story of young lovers. The fable itself was inspired perhaps by Horace in his Epistles, and the fact that pigeons and doves mate for life:

And we nod in agreement like old familiar doves.
You guard the nest: I praise the streams and woods
And the mossy rocks of a beautiful countryside.

Driving home from my son’s today I saw the saddest of sights. High on the top of a street lamp were two pigeons… ring doves… playing out a tragedy equal to any written.

One was, quite obviously, dead; the lifeless form unmoving on the top of the lamp. Beside it perched its mate. In the brief seconds as I drove, I watched the little bird cuddle close, nudging her mate with her head.

Call me a wimp, if you like. I wept all the way home.

There was such pathos in her movements, such a need for her mate to wake up.

It was only a pigeon… but it was also a fellow creature to whom my heart went out.

I’ve lived with pigeons… their characters are distinct and whether or not we can measure and quantify their emotions scientifically, you only have to watch them long enough to be convinced they share many feelings we can recognise.

This little bird had lost her mate. You could see loss and grief in every line of the small, feathered form.

And there is not a thing that I, or anyone, can do.

There never is.

You cannot heal grief for another, no matter how hard you try. You cannot bear it for them. You can only witness it, even when your heart aches for them, even when empathy opens your own memory of loss. You can only hold their hand, offer the comfort of presence, perhaps the gift of laughter… but grief is a path that can only be walked alone, and it is a long road.

When my partner died fifteen years ago, the first year was raw. Every anniversary, everything I did or saw, every cup of coffee that was for one, not two, tore at the heart. But there were people there… friends who cared, and that mattered. People asked, or spoke of him. People remembered.

The second year the numbness blanketed the raw emotions. I moved through the days, as you do. The anniversaries were silent. I still made two cups of coffee every so often, and wept when I realised; I still saw something I wanted to share and realised I could not. But by then the grief was personal. Others had forgotten. Not the man, nor the loss… there was nothing negative in it…but time had passed, their lives had moved beyond the sadness and because you look fairly normal, they do not see what lies hidden in the heart. The second year was the hardest.

We do not grieve always as much for those who are much older than we are… those of whom we can say, ‘they had a good innings’. Unless we are close. Unless they are parent, sibling, close friend or life-mate. Then age has no meaning.

Nor does it matter in the slightest what beliefs we hold dear, or if we can rationalise attachment, or even what faith we keep close to our hearts. We can philosophise all we like. The heart simply hurts, mourning the loss.

That loss goes deep; it is more than a loved one who is no longer with us, it is a life cut from under out feet and for a time, we too are lost. Like the pigeon.

Time heals; whether we want it to or not. The grief of loss becomes the tenderness of memory and the joy of having loved. Even if it aches sometimes. The memory, the story of that love we have shared, is written on our lives; the giving of love shapes us… and there are worse things to be shaped by.

Pigeons have excellent memories.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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10 Responses to Two pigeons

  1. Noah Weiss says:

    This was an excellently-written piece, full of empathy and a keen understanding of the way grief might work. I have lost my grandparents on my dad’s side, and although the loss still affects me, I live a “normal” life. It might be much harder on me if it were my parents or siblings. (I don’t even want to think about that right now, as a 26-year-old…)


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thank you, Noah. My father died when I was 25, and you don’t get to my age without knowing the touch of grief, I think. The thing is, I don’t think we ever do truly lose what our loved ones are ‘to us’. What they are, and have been to us, becomes part of who we are and who we can become, and the essence of that love stays with us.


  2. ioniamartin says:

    This was very touching and I would have cried all the way home too. Loss is devastating, but love is better had than never had at all.


  3. starrystez says:

    I would have cried too at the sight of the pigeons. They are beautiful, intelligent birds. I’m sorry for the loss of your father. I think that being open to grief makes us open to loss in all forms. I found myself sobbing over the loss of a character from a Tv show. It takes a lot of courage to face that vulnerability, I believe. Lovely post, as always. Blessings.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thank you. We all go through it at some stage in our lives, if we love. And then the daftest things can set us off again. But the little bird was just a picture of loss today…


  4. ksbeth says:

    wonderful words, sue )


  5. words4jp says:

    I still miss someone greatly – it has been a little over 2 years and I cannot seem to not feel sad inside. I do not have the nightmares anymore, but I still think about him all the time and I feel like there is this piece of me that will never heal.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It heals… we might not want it to when we have loved so much… but it does. That doesn’t mean it goes away, that you forget or that you stop missing them. It just isn’t as vicious.


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