Terry Francis is pianist at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland. (Courtesy St. Joseph the Worker Parish)
Terry Francis is pianist at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland. (Courtesy St. Joseph the Worker Parish)
Everyone encounters suffering and death. That is the human condition. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians know there is more. They also realize that if one is open to it, it’s possible to catch moments of hope and glimpses into the reality that exist beyond earthly life.

Terry Francis, piano accompanist for the choir at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland, lived through eight years of suffering with her husband and fellow choir member, Scott. He died of multiple myeloma 2009 after enduring treatment after treatment, most of it gruelingly painful. Like many, Terry became a caregiver, witnessing her husband suffer and fade.

Through the strife, Scott and Terry remained steadfast in their faith, keeping Christ and the cross as their compass. This faith provided them with a spiritual bond that connected them in life, and even beyond the grave.

One day, not long before he died, Scott pulled into the driveway of their Happy Valley home. As he exited the car, a hummingbird flew from nowhere, hovering right in front of his face. It didn’t flit away, or show fear. Both beings stilled and watched the other, yielding to the encounter. This incident filled Scott with wonder. He told Terry about it, recalling the stunning moment again and again. After this experience, Terry became even more enchanted by the hummingbird feeder outside their back window. She would spot a hummer at the feeder and steal slowly to the window to get a better view, but the birds, shy and defensive, sensing her presence, would dart away.

As Scott’s health weakened, he seemed to draw closer to God. One day, exhausted from chemo but not under the influence of painkillers, he rested in the easy chair. Suddenly he gazed around the room, amazed. “Look at all the people here, Terry,” he remarked. “Can you see them?” He was in the presence of the world he soon would join, invisible to Terry but present and vibrant for him.

About a week later Scott died. Parishioners turned out for his funeral in droves; one of their own, who was always so genial, so generous with his time, was here no more. In deep sadness, the choir shut down that following weekend, giving themselves time to breathe and grieve.

The evening after the funeral, Terry and a friend, Michael, who had sung at Scott’s memorial, were in the living room of her home, where several large windows overlooked the deck and yard. As they spoke, Michael suddenly remarked, “Well, look at that.”

Turning, Terry beheld a hummingbird fly directly up to the window and hover there, watching them intensely. For several beats, the three beings shared a moment of connection and Terry knew in her heart that this was a message from Scott. “I knew in those miraculous few moments that Scott was safe, free from pain, and in the loving arms of God.” The hummingbird eventually flew away, never stopping at the feeder.

It has been more than 12 years since Scott’s death, and Terry has found solace in the things that bring joy: quilting, reading, caring for her canine friend, Tallula, and playing the piano at St. Joseph the Worker on Sundays.

“I give thanks every day that God is the God of small things,” remarks Terry. “Not just the big things. And sometimes those small acts of kindness from God can heal the biggest hurts.”

During the Easter season, Terry especially reflects on Jesus’ mother as she knelt at the cross, her son crucified. On some level, anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one can identify with the indescribable loss Mary must have experienced. “But,” Terry says, “only three days later, she encountered the miraculous Resurrection. Through Easter, we can understand the exclusive physicality of death. That only the body is destructible, not the spirit that makes each of us unique and special in the eyes of God.”

Signs of resurrection are there, in the Gospel stories, in prayers, encounters and conversations, or even in an unexpected hummingbird moment.