The Lonely Dove

Today is the 4 month anniversary of my brother Jon’s death.

He was bigger than life, a blustering mountain man, a person who filled up a room.


He died in a hospital in Seattle and what followed was a host of horrendous behavior by his (our) other siblings. They were viciously cruel to Jon’s wife Judy, to my grieving disabled sister Amanda, and to me. Their behavior was, in short, unforgivable. Worst of all was the way they treated Amanda as if her feelings didn’t matter. They refused to allow her the dignity to grieve in the way she needed to, smothering her every move and ripping her away from time with Judy and me.

It’s hard to describe how so many members of one family can be that bad. It is especially hard to appease the worry I have about Amanda. I fret over how she is handling this great loss when she is forced to live with people who dismiss her emotions, who strip her of her dignity, who do not give her credit for intellect, or even care about her need to grieve.

I came away from the event not only mourning for a brother gone too soon, but livid about the heartless way our siblings treated the three of us, following his death.

Peace is an elusive state. But shortly after I returned from the Pacific Northwest, Peace winged its way into my life.

mccoo 8

It showed up in the form of a ringneck dove, an elderly bird housed in a small wire cage, perched on a thin dowel, staring through the bars thoughtfully. His name, my friends said, was Mr. McCoo. He had belonged to their mother, living in her bedroom for over two decades until she died. Then, they moved him into the main part of their house so he could watch their comings and goings.

mccoo 9.jpg

Whenever I visited them, I would take him out and hold him and pet his soft feathers, talking to him. He was typically unruffled. Nothing seemed to bother him.

When he arrived I worried that the change might be too much for him. He was, after all, ancient as doves go. I read that they typically live to be about fifteen. McCoo is about twenty-five. I also read that doves like a flat surface, as they prefer to walk around on the ground and forage for food. I learned that they are sloppy nest builders and they like a flat shelf to rest. I learned that newspaper is not good for doves’ feet and that paper towel is better.

mccoo 5.jpg

I got him a bigger cage with bigger perches that would allow his feet to stretch. I took out the bottom grate so he could walk around on the floor. I made him a flat nest and even included some fake foliage so he would feel more at home.

mccoo 3

I started encouraging him to fly back to his cage by holding him high up so he could fall toward it, just a foot or so at a time.

I read that doves should not eat a diet of only seeds. I started gradually introducing him to other foods, and grit with charcoal and oyster shells, for calcium and to help him digest everything.

mccoo 6

He learned to sit on one specific perch to ask me to open the door.  Any time he sat there, I would open the door and take him out.

It didn’t take him long to catch on that freedom was within his grasp. Now when he wants out, he flaps noisily to the perch and starts dodging back and forth, up and down, making sure I see him. When I open the door he hops through it and sits on the edge, looking around.  He flies across the room to perch on my seat or on my knee. He can sit on the knick-knack shelf and have a snack. When he is ready, he can fly himself back to his cage.

mccoo 11.jpg

I am learning what his favorite foods are. He likes chia seeds better than anything. But I’ve recently convinced him to eat fresh spinach, and he likes packaged greens too. He is starting to eat pellets.

He sits wherever I put him. If I want him to pose with the cat, he does. He is the picture of trust and calm.

mccoo kitteh.jpg

Of course he is closely supervised!

He loves it when I hold him close and rub his head and neck. He talks to me in soft beeps, and when I pet his feathers I can feel his peaceful nature seeping into my anxious self.

Several times a day, he asks to come out, and he will just sit near me, perched contentedly with his feathers fluffed, just watching whatever I am doing. I can feel the muscles developing in his shoulders and neck, as his daily flights go farther and grow more confident. He jumps onto his snack bowl with a jaunty little hop. He shakes his head happily and cuddles against me when I scratch his neck.

He is so brimming over with personality I cannot imagine how sad he was after his owner died, living in a small cage, all those days by himself.

mccoo 2

I realized today, on the anniversary of my brother’s death, that I have the actual Lonesome Dove. Jon and I loved Lonesome Dove and we used to quote lines from the movie to each other. Some people who know Jon might say he had a hand in this.

The dove, most people know, is a powerful totem of peace and love.

Dove meaning could also be letting you know that you need to stop and take a few deep breaths. Therefore you must let go of the turmoil that is currently surrounding you and take the time to find peace within you. Hence, what you see right now is your reality shifting in ways you never thought possible and that what you are indeed looking for is just around the corner. The most chaos happens just before your dreams come true.


The symbolism of the dove also suggests the olive branch: If you are ready to make peace with someone, dove signifies the time to do that.

Though this little sprite’s presence has given me plenty of food for thought, I am not offering any more olive branches to my siblings. Such efforts never go unpunished, and Amanda suffers the most. But I am still here if they — any one of them — should want to try to have a meeting of the minds. I would do it for Amanda’s sake.

In the meantime, I am not alone. I will keep Jon in my heart. And I have the living bird to help me find my peace.

Uva uvam vivendo varia fit” — “We are changed by the lives around us”.

About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
This entry was posted in amanda, empathy, family and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Lonely Dove

  1. Barb Canonico says:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s