when we see the deer

Written by Sandra Heska King

PRAY EDITOR "Once a nurse, always a nurse," they say. But now I spend my days with laptop and camera in tow as I look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I'm a Michigan gal, mom to two, grandmom to two, and wife to one. My husband and I live on 50 acres in the same 150-plus-year-old farmhouse he grew up in. I love this quote by Mary Oliver, "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." That's how I want to live. And I'm still learning how to be. Still.

August 21, 2012

The deer, they tell us, come right up to the windows.

My parents did, after all, build and operate the Deerland Motel. Deer have always been a part of our lives in some form.

So we move Mom into the room with the view.

I see a doe the next day, hidden way back in the tangled trees, but Mom can’t see it. In reality, sightings over the next few weeks are few.

The deer, they tell us later, “usually mean something.” We see one the day John goes home—presumably to die there.

My dad doesn’t know the legend. He becomes frustrated, determined that Mom will see. So he buys a bushel of apples and tosses a few around outside every day, hoping to entice. Then he carries the tired pumpkins out. One day he comes back from a walk. He sits on the bench, breaks a branch apart, pokes “antlers” in his stocking cap, and walks around outside the window.

He doesn’t know that he scared a pumpkin-munching deer away as he approached.

But Mom is not awake to see. I don’t think she ever did see a deer during those days.

On the day she rallies, she feeds herself some breakfast, and we wheel her recliner outside to watch birds and breathe in the crisp fall air. The aide takes her and her rubber duckies down the hall for a last over-bubbled jet bath.

As they transfer back to bed, Mom seizes. It’s her only seizure. Sissy and I stand opposite each other, hold her hands, stroke her arms, and murmur, “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay.”

My dad is reading a book. He’s oblivious to what’s happening in the room. He’s oblivious to what’s looking in the window.

“Deer!” I hiss to Sissy.

“Gun!” Sissy hisses to the nurse.

“What’s next?” we ask when it’s over, and Mom’s sleeping.

The nurse shrugs. “We wait. And watch for the deer.”

So we wait. And leave nose prints on the windows, hoping to see—and not see.

We see them outside the morning before the last morning, before the mourning.

All this runs through my mind when I see them on the side of the road after we leave the beach.

Do I look away? Pretend I don’t see? Like we do sometimes when we sense the sacred?

Do I recoil, like we do sometimes when we come near the heat of the holy?

Or do I do what I do? “Stop!” I plead as I fumble for my camera.

And he brakes right there in the middle of the road.

I see through the glass dimly, and as I put my hand on the door handle, he warns, “They’ll run.”

But they don’t. There are five of them, including spotted babes, and I cluck and smooch the air and sweet talk. They just lift their heads, perk their ears, and gaze at me with soft brown eyes while I zoom and snap.

And I wonder…why are they here? Why now? What do they mean or portend?

I shake off the legend and decide it’s just a coincidence, a sign of His love and of His creativity, an opportunity to shift the focus from myself. I remember Susan‘s comment on this post. She’d “heard it said that deer represent God-seekers in scripture.

I’m seeking to see God deeper.

I could stay until they leave and longer, but we have to move on. The car that’s stopped behind us, their occupants are impatient.

They see—but they don’t see

The next day, I get a call with news that makes me shiver a bit. And, silly or not, I make a note to remember to record these sightings.


  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Ah, Sandy, this is so beautiful, the remembering.

    And your dad poking “antlers” into his hat. That is hilarious and tender/sweet/sad all at once, somehow.

    Thank you, thank you, for digging into that corner of your heart where this memory lives.

    • Sandra Heska King

      And yesterday, I see, you celebrated your own mom’s memory after four (?) years. That was a sweet photo you posted on FB. It seems like I remember your writing about those things that triggered your memories. What are they again?

      It’s six more days for us to the “anniversary” of her fall that started that downhill slide–nine months since she died. If I keep writing the memories, maybe I’ll remember. 🙂

      • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

        Breathing, mostly. I think of my mother when I breathe. (I don’t recognize what you’re referring to about things that trigger my memory. Sorry.)

        • Sandra Heska King

          Hmm. I thought that was you. Now I’ll have to go hunting.

          Breathing–yes, I get that. Our moms breathed for us before they birthed us.

          • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

            It could have been me. I have a great memory–except for stuff I write. I think once I get it out of my brain, I forget it.

  2. Sandra Heska King

    I forgot to mention, there are a couple more deer photos on this post’s tease over at my blog today.

  3. Diane W BAiley

    Sandra, What a beautiful story, daddy antlers scaring the real deer, and the seekers – precious. Thank you for sharing such a tender time with us. What a beautiful memory of letting go as your mother enters home. Blessings, ~Di

  4. soulstops

    Oh, Sandra, what a tender and sacred story of seeing, not seeing, and saying good-bye you weave with your words…thank you…praying God’s comfort for you and your family as the anniversary date approaches….sending you love and hugs.

    • Sandra Heska King

      Thanks so much, Dolly. Sending love and hugs right back.

  5. Diana Trautwein

    Oh, this is so poignant, Sandy. And tender. And funny, sweetly so. And I’m so sorry for the phone call and whatever it may portend. Love you.

    • Sandra Heska King

      It’s all good, Diana. Got a call that my dad was back in the ER with a TIA (ministroke.) They didn’t treat him because of his bleeding issues. But neurologist said yesterday all looked good. He can fix bleeding, but stroke not so much. He’s recommending he go ahead with baby aspirin. 🙂

      • Diana Trautwein

        Even on Coumadin, my husband and I still take baby Aspirin The wonder drug. I’m relieved with you that this one was treatable – but I wonder how many of these phone calls you can take? It builds, doesn’t it?

        (here’s a PS to Dan or anyone else with the answer – I cannot find anywhere to subscribe to comment threads on the new Disqus. Is it hiding? It comes up automatically on the old format, but not now. So I find myself leaving windows open, refreshing pages – or just plain giving up. And if I had given up, I would not have seen your response. Which bugs me. I’m picky like that.)

        • Sandra Heska King

          I try to keep my laundry up and be mini-packed at all times. My sister has created a hospital bag with a change of clothes and toiletries ready. All she has to do is throw in her contact lens stuff and her glasses, grab her computer, and she’s good to go. He won’t be getting routine CT scans now, so we have to rely on symptoms. I’ve decided not to teach this fall–one less complication. 🙂

          Up above, next to where it shows comments and reactions, there’s a star–it probably says 0 stars. Click on the drop-down arrow, and there’s an option to subscribe to the thread by email.

  6. Shelly Miller

    Your husband must be good with the brakes, it’s not the first time I’ve heard you tell your husband to stop the car so you can take a picture out the window. My husband is getting good at stopping too. I do think that God gives us signs of His presence, His specific leading. Sometimes its deer, sometimes its a stamp (that’s another story). Love this Sandy, it speaks of His divine presence with us always.

    • Sandra Heska King

      Ha! Yep, Shelly. He’s braked, backed up, turned around many times. And never complains. (Do I know the stamp story? Or is that yet to come?)

  7. Lynn Mosher

    Oh, Sandra, so sweet and so sad. Touching. Yet, I had to laugh at your Dad with the branches stuck in his cap. Such a fun image! It is had a hard time in one’s life when parents must suffer the ravages of sickness, pain, and age. Praying for you, dear one.

    • Sandra Heska King

      At first when I saw him on the bench, I thought he was crying. But when he stood up–well, very funny and sad all rolled into one. It was so hard for him to accept that she was leaving…

  8. Elizabeth

    Sandra, how tender and beautiful. You have touched me with your beauty, again. Sickness and aging are hard to watch when it creeps in on the ones who birthed us. Praying for you and your gentle heart.

    • Sandra Heska King

      Thank you so much, Elizabeth. That creeping is hard–and a reminder that it’s creeping on us, too. Life is so fragile.

  9. S.Etole

    There was an entire family of deer in the yard tonight and I thought of you and this story.


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when we see the deer

by Sandra Heska King time to read: 3 min