A mounted pheasant and the entanglements of grief

It hangs on the wall of a garage belonging to dear friends Ann and John. The beautiful cock pheasant is forever poised in flight as if it were banking toward the woods, a testament to a fun day and the fulfillment of one of my husband’s wishes.

My husband Jim, who died from pancreatic cancer in December 2010, never got to see the beautiful bird that was shot over his Brittany bird dog Bullet during a Central Maine Brittany Club pheasant shoot in the fall of 2010.

He didn’t get to shoot it. He didn’t get to see 2-year-old Bullet perform his job so beautifully, holding steadfastly as the bird took wing and was shot. He didn’t get to see the finished mount, which he had always wanted to own. He had a place picked out for one to go in our house.

I cannot even remember if he knew his friend John was having the mounting rushed so that Jim could have it before he got sicker. John received the call around noon that it was ready to be picked up, just about three hours before Jim died.

Jim did have one memento from his dog’s pheasant shoot. I had saved some of the beautiful feathers from Bullet’s other pheasant, which I had arranged in glass ball ornaments. I took one to Jim while he was in the hospital, and he clutched it for a long time.

He was so proud of Bullet.

That ornament came home with me from the hospital with Jim’s few possessions after he died, and now hangs on our Christmas tree each season. It always brings up mixed emotions.

Anger that Jim didn’t get to participate in the pheasant shoot because he was too sick, and that we will never get to hunt together again. Pride in Bullet and fond memories of how much Jim loved his dog and the fun we had in the woods together. A touch of melancholy.

But every year, the ornament hangs in a prominent place because it also makes me feel close to Jim. I watch the Christmas tree’s lights catch glints of color from the feathers, and remember Jim clutching the ornament to his chest.

The mounted pheasant, however, had become a bit of an enigma for me. I could not seem to sort out how I felt about it, so it remained unfinished business — and on my friends’ garage wall.

Part of me had wanted to bring it home and give it a special place in our house as final fulfillment of Jim’s wish, but I was afraid it would just remind me of the negative aspects of that shoot — that Jim couldn’t participate and he never got to see the mounted pheasant he wanted so much.

One thing is for sure: Jim won’t be there to enjoy it.

Part of me wanted John to keep it as a connection with his friend, but perhaps he has mixed feelings about it too.

Part of me wanted to forget about it entirely.

The pheasant became one element of that whirlwind last few weeks of Jim’s life. It’s a huge regret for my friends and for me that Jim never saw it. I didn’t want it to become a memorial thing in my house. I have too many of those things I’m sorting through already.

I thought I might be able to accept it as a trophy of Bullet’s successful pheasant hunt, if I could learn to see it in that light. I’m proud of Bullet too, and now John and I co-own him but he’s my primary hunting dog.

I wanted to feel something definitive about that beautiful mounted bird. Anything. I thought I should so I could decide its fate.

But maybe it’s like the camper and the boat and the house and so many other things — it needed to happen in its own time.

I’m lucky my friends love me and have been so patient with me over this issue. Every once in awhile they would remind me it’s still on the garage wall, just so that I wouldn’t forget. I would ask if it was in the way. They would say no. And I would turn my back on the decision again.

Perhaps if they had said yes at some point, I would have womaned up sooner and had an honest look in my heart about it.

I recently told my friends that they may keep the mounted bird if they wish, that I don’t think I can bring it home. I’m not sure they believe my decision has actually been made. And perhaps I have just unfairly foisted the decision of what to do with the bird onto their shoulders.

I may never really resolve my feelings about the mounted bird. And my friends may not either. It was such a bittersweet thing for all of us.

In the meantime, the magnificent bird forever banks toward the woods in its feathery splendor mounted on the wall of my friends’ garage, its destination and future unsure.

I clearly can relate to that part of its existence.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.