I was fortunate to be by my grandfather’s side when he passed away nearly 17 years ago. When I left the hospital that day a cardinal followed me to my car – almost a little too close to be normal. I wasn't alarmed, more so I felt like this only happened to Disney princesses.
I know that may sound a strange to some people; it was a little strange to me at first too. I couldn't explain why the connection with a cardinal was so strong for me. I even commented that my grandfather, a life-long Chicago Cubs fan, would never choose to be a cardinal. But the connection remained, and almost apologetically I let the comfort of seeing the beautiful bird envelop me with the memories of my grandfather.
Ever since that day, I have recognized cardinals as my grandfather stopping by to check on me, and the apologies and skepticism about it stopped this winter.
Two days after my beloved grandmother passed away, I was drinking coffee on my deck. I noticed that the cardinal who lived in the tree next door hadn't been around for a few days. This wasn't a show-stopping revelation, just a quick “hmm” before I moved on with a busy weekend filled with family.
Three days later, my husband and I sat on the deck thankful for the beautiful weather, but exhausted from the funeral the day before. I glanced over to the cardinal’s tree and noticed he had returned. As I was about to tell my husband that he had been gone for a few days, I noticed another cardinal. Then another. And another. And another. And another.
“Honey! There are five cardinals,” I nearly yelled. “One, two, three,” I began to point out. And then one by one, each flew towards us and then up over our house. The flyby happened so quickly, and the exhilaration of it was like a roller coaster ride. My husband just smiled and walked inside. I sat back down and began to sob.
I had just then realized why my cardinal hadn't been in his tree the days before. He was a little busy welcoming his beautiful wife, and they had a lot of catching up to do.
I've come to understand that it really doesn't matter if my cardinal is truly my grandfather checking in on me or if it’s just something I've attached to him and his death. What matters is that I have something that brings me comfort and conjures memories of Grandpa and the many life lessons he taught. And that is better than anything I can think of.
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