A Lesson from the Crows about Death

by Mark Miles

In the middle of December, a neighbor of mine–who I’ll call John out of respect for his privacy–nearly committed suicide. He’s a friendly and well-adjusted guy who I never would’ve expected to do such a thing, but he did. At very nearly the same time this took place, a group of crows began to make recurrent appearances around the neighborhood. I noticed when the crows began to show up and thought it was odd, but I tried not to read too much into it. It was only a week after the crows made their first appearance that I found out about John’s attempt to take his own life.

Though John has a good life and is well-adjusted, he had his reasons for wanting to end his life. His older brother committed suicide last year, leaving a wife and children without a husband and father. John felt guilty for not being able to stop his brother’s death and, in the absence of a reasonable coping strategy, became progressively overwhelmed by alcohol abuse and depression. John also felt a desire to be reunited with his brother, which he thought could be accomplished by his own act of suicide. All of this misguided reasoning conveniently sidestepped the fact that John would’ve left behind his own family to suffer needlessly if he had succeeded in his attempt.

Understandably his wife was distraught and had him put in a local clinic to help in his recovery. There was a great deal of pain and anger on her part, since she felt that John had made an implicit statement about how he valued his own family by his willingness to abandon them in order to rejoin his brother. Of course this had nothing to do with John’s rationale, but it’s easy to see how anyone could draw that conclusion under such circumstances.

A week ago, John returned to his family and seems to have recovered from the incident. He’s now taking steps to address his alcoholism and has outlets for his grief which he can access more readily than before. He’s been forgiven by his wife, and he has a renewed opportunity to honor the memory of his brother without ushering himself prematurely to the same fate.

Meanwhile the crows have departed. I haven’t seen them in two weeks, and as much as I love crows, a part of me is glad they’ve gone. Maybe their presence was merely a coincidence; maybe it was more than coincidence. I’m not inclined to think of them as omens of death, but the thought has certainly crossed my mind.

Another thought has also crossed my mind. Maybe the real lesson of the crows is not so much about death as it is about life and how best to live it. When they came, they were together in one group, cackling and cawing to one another with the relish of children on the playground. They were constantly communicating, interacting and enjoying each other’s company. They were a community, and from that shared bond they derived a strength that none of them would have possessed alone, a strength that gave their lives meaning in the face of death, a strength that we too can share if we will only make room for true community in our own lives.

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31 thoughts on “A Lesson from the Crows about Death

  1. Denzil January 7, 2017 / 8:24 am

    Insightful article Mark. Who knows what the animal world really senses? I am sure that birds and animals can sense things and even possible future events more clearly than us at times. While not wanting to appear morbid, did you know that the name for a group of crows is “a murder of crows”?

  2. tropical toes January 7, 2017 / 8:55 am

    This is a beautiful, moving post. I’ve lost a friend and a family member to suicide, and it’s the hardest form of grief. Do you ever repost on Medium? Everyone could work through the pain by reading this.

    Thank you.
    Lisa

    • Mark Miles January 9, 2017 / 6:03 am

      Thank you so much. I’ve lost a friend to suicide, but I can only imagine the pain of losing a family member to it. I’m not familiar with Medium, but please share if you feel moved to. Thank you again.

  3. nanny15 January 7, 2017 / 10:16 am

    In New Zealand there are similar birds, Magpies, and always seem to turn up on my property whenever something big is happening in the family. At first I thought like you, just coincidence, but after three came and sat outside my bedroom window, cawing recently, I really think they are messengers, fore warning me, to expect news. Ravens in the bible did the same.
    Cheers Coral.

    • Mark Miles January 9, 2017 / 6:06 am

      I feel the same. I only wonder when I see these signs how exactly the end-result will take shape and whether it will be apparent to me. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. HayleyC January 7, 2017 / 10:24 am

    I’d go with your second explanation. Hubby has major health issues, and we had crows appear about 2 years ago. Along with the other birds, watching them gives us both great pleasure. Suicide and attempted suicide are such hard things to deal with. Sending your neighbour lots of virtual hugs.

    • Mark Miles January 9, 2017 / 6:08 am

      Thank you. I love watching crows and wild animals in general, and their personalities are endlessly fascinating, regardless of any greater significance.

  5. Firewaves21 January 8, 2017 / 5:07 pm

    I have always thought we can learn a lot from animals, and nature too, if we just pay attention. 🙂

  6. usathroughoureyes January 8, 2017 / 5:15 pm

    Great article Mark. Good observation. We are realizing more and more to not overlook what goes on around us and that when we take the time to observe there is something to learn. We believe God speaks to us in so many ways but we often don’t listen. Keep observing and sharing.

    • Mark Miles January 9, 2017 / 6:11 am

      Thank you, my friend. I do my best to listen to the world around me with all my senses. Hope the new year is treating you well.

  7. wildernesslifeblog January 9, 2017 / 2:46 pm

    Wauw. Powerful post.
    I find communities hard. Something always happens. Someone always gets disappointed.

  8. ashiftinconsciousness January 10, 2017 / 1:43 pm

    Great post. I make friends with crows wherever I live. They’re intelligent beings.

    • Mark Miles January 16, 2017 / 6:13 am

      Absolutely. I’ve tried to befriend them, but they tend to fly away before I can get close. Still I admire them from a distance.

      • ashiftinconsciousness January 17, 2017 / 2:29 am

        Cool. Most of time that I interact with crows they fly away. Occasionally one will hang around and I feel he/she might be an intelligent one expressing curiosity.

        Thanks for the intriguing posts, I enjoy them.

  9. trashonthemonocacy January 14, 2017 / 8:47 pm

    Long ago, I decided that crows were harbingers of good, and I’ve been able to see their appearances as such ever since. So, maybe I would interpret their appearance as good news that your neighbor would live and get the help he needs. It’s curious. I know that they’re seen as bad omens in many cultures.

    • Mark Miles January 16, 2017 / 6:16 am

      Yeah, I try not attach hard and fast associations to other species, especially when those associations are negative. But there are certainly cultural prejudices that push people to look down on other species.

  10. thistleamy5 January 15, 2017 / 2:52 pm

    Mark – lovely post and my virtual hugs for your friend John. Crows are very interesting and incredibly smart. Someone told me the other day that when a crow from the same flock (or murder) dies – they recognize this passing as a community. Interesting. I will have to do more research.

  11. savithri senanayake January 23, 2017 / 10:18 am

    What a sad story my dear.

    • Mark Miles January 30, 2017 / 6:08 am

      Yeah, it was difficult for him, but he’s doing better now.

  12. Rasma R January 24, 2017 / 6:15 pm

    Most fascinating post. I remember way back in 1996 my mom was in the hospital. The day she died early in the morning I heard crows cawing and flying by. I had forgotten until I read this and it gave me the shivers. I do think that there is some kind of connection with people, death and crows. Just have to think about it.

  13. Diane Hart January 28, 2017 / 4:37 am

    This was a very moving blog posting. I am relieved to read John did not succeed , and that he is back with his family.

    • Mark Miles January 30, 2017 / 6:11 am

      Thank you. He’s doing better, though he’s still not out of the woods yet.

  14. dtills January 28, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    HI Mark, thank you for sharing this story. It really does make one think. There are so many instances where animals have shown a sixth sense about mortality, and I am glad your friend is getting the help he needs.
    Thank you for stopping by my blog and checking it out!

  15. daretodream2016blog February 5, 2017 / 4:07 am

    What a powerful story! Is this our wake-up call to pay attention to the world around us and our own backyard?

  16. tanarulkova February 8, 2017 / 7:57 am

    Wow, what a great a article! Thank you for sharing.

  17. helbergfarmstories February 20, 2017 / 1:02 am

    There is a wives tale connected with crows and death. The reason I know this is from my Irish Mother’s side of the family. It is believed that when you see a crow, someone you know died or will die and their spirit guides the crow. My little sister still watches for crows and swears by them and their connection to death.

    • Mark Miles February 20, 2017 / 6:22 am

      It is really interesting how they seem to have a sense for the nearness of death. Of course they’re also beautiful and incredibly intelligent animals, which is a plus.

  18. Pazlo February 21, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    Not to detract from the important topic of suicide, but did you know crows hold funerals?
    It’s a scientific fact that crows will gather in absolute silence in large numbers over a dead crow. They are very social animals, most groups you see are siblings & cousins together.
    They use about 250 words, and have a word for “human”.
    They are capable of recognizing human faces, and will identify someone that is threatening or someone who is kind, and will remember the face as much as two years later.
    After the funeral, the crows will disperse without a sound.
    Truly amazing animals.

    Most importantly, a wish for John that he may find peace for his tormented heart.

    Take care,

    Paz

  19. Mahi March 1, 2017 / 8:33 pm

    A great read. I’ve also written a blogpost about crows and their communication skills. { After Gourd Picking (II) }They are much more intelligent creatures than they appear to be.

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