Cardinals Appear When Angels are Near

Cardinals appear when angels are near. Have you heard this saying? Or that a cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed away? I’ve heard people say these things, but never gave it much merit. Not until about a year ago.

Before I tell my cardinal story, let me give a little background as to why I was so dismissive of the notion of cardinals being spiritual messengers. It’s no secret that my Mom was very much into the spiritual world. She read tarot cards for forty years or so, participated in a seance or two (that I can recall), and on one occasion I watched her become a physical medium for a spirit. I was twelve, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. It is my fear that keeps me from giving the spiritual world much thought. If I don’t believe in it, if I don’t dwell on it, then nothing scary will happen, right?

As far as the cardinal thing, my thought was that there are more cardinals in certain regions and thus more sightings. Seeing a cardinal in North Carolina is common. No big deal. It’s our state bird for crying out loud. But what I hadn’t keyed in on is the difference between a sighting and a visit. It’s not merely a sighting that constitutes a visit from a loved one, it’s how the bird behaves.

The first anniversary of my Mom’s passing is just two weeks away. It was this time last year that Mom took a turn for the worse, and also when I started getting visits.

When Dad passed away nearly twenty years ago, I was heartbroken. Dad and I were close, and I still think of him every day. Mom said when I was growing up that if she needed to find me, she knew to look wherever Dad was. In the years after Dad died, the bond between Mom and I became strong. Sometimes we were like oil and water but also like best friends. That lady sure put me through the paces in her last years, but we had a relationship that I’ll hold in my heart forever. I don’t know if it’s more difficult losing your second parent–it’s tough to gauge grief–it’s hard and not something you can prepare for. So when Mom became ill and I felt it was the beginning of the end, I was heartsick. There was a sadness in my soul that ran deep, and there was nothing to be done about it.

When I got the phone call at work that Mom wasn’t doing well, I left the office for the privacy and comfort of home. I’m an introvert and draw strength from within, and I was too rattled to be any use at work anyway. I remember that day clearly–I stepped onto my front porch and sat on the top stair, knees to chest, arms hugging my legs. I felt a sadness envelop me, and my heart ached. As I sat there, I noticed a rotund cardinal perched in the crepe myrtle tree that was just feet from my deck.

This guy started perching in my crepe myrtle about two weeks before Mom passed away.

Like I said, it’s common to see cardinals here, so at first I didn’t think much of it. But he was behaving differently than any other cardinal I had seen. He wasn’t leaving. Typically, they light on a branch for a moment or three and flit away just as quickly. This guy stayed. I watched him for a couple of minutes before going into the house to get my camera, thinking he would certainly be gone by the time I got back outside. Nope. He was still there. I took my seat on the top stair and snapped a few photos. I changed lenses so that I could zoom in–still there. It still hadn’t hit me what this might be.

I talked to my sister that afternoon, about Mom and what to do, and what we would do without her, and I mentioned the cardinal. My sister said “Oh, that’s an angel, Kelly. It’s probably Dad.” I said no, there are cardinals everywhere here. Nothing out of the ordinary. But I kept seeing the cardinal, or at least a cardinal, every day. Sometimes perched on my fence, other times in that tree, and I started to think maybe there was something to this.

As I said, Mom passed away just about two weeks after the cardinal started visiting. I live more than a thousand miles from my family, so the morning after Mom died, I conference called my siblings to discuss arrangements. I sat at my desk in front of a bank of windows that look out toward the crepe myrtle tree, and as I was going over the list of things Mom wanted at her funeral (she had been planning this event with me for decades), the puffy cardinal perched on a branch that reached nearest to the window. He sat so precariously toward the end of the branch that it bobbed slightly from his weight. He looked straight at me and held his gaze nearly the whole time I was on the phone. I kept saying to my brother and sisters how I couldn’t believe this cardinal was still staring at me.

Well, color me a believer.

When Dad was alive, we looked out for each other–he sometimes stayed at my house when he had early dialysis before he and Mom moved closer to the hospital. We would have breakfast together on Friday mornings. Any time he was admitted to the VA hospital in Iron Mountain, Michigan I would visit on my way to or from work. We never talked much, but we liked each other’s company. I truly believe that cardinal was Dad trying to ease my pain, making sure I was not alone.

After Mom’s funeral and when I was back in North Carolina, the cardinal sightings continued, but not as intensely as in the two weeks before Mom’s death. Shortly after I returned home, toward the end of a walk with my dog and as I rounded the corner to my house, there were four cardinals in a bush. I have never seen a group of cardinals before, but I’ve read that cardinals will flock during winter months. This was late April in North Carolina when the temp was rising. There was one bright red (male) and three tan with light red tails (females).

I stopped and caught my breath, because not only are my parents deceased, but two of my sisters are as well. A male and three female cardinals. They didn’t stay long. It was as though they wanted me to see them, and they flew off. I felt this time that it wasn’t Dad making sure I was okay, rather a message that they were okay–they were together.

About five months after Mom’s passing, I came home from work to a light red feather lying on my welcome mat. I smiled and thought, thanks for stopping by, Mom. I miss you too. I’m still not open to the spiritual world by any stretch, but I now take comfort in my cardinal angels.


Farewell Beautiful Lady – A Eulogy for Mom

The past several weeks have been stressful, emotional, and fast. My mother experienced much pain unnecessarily, was hospitalized, recovered, was again hospitalized, discharged to hospice care, and within a few short days of that, she passed away.

Before I could finish making my case with her medical provider regarding her care, before I could follow-up on my demand for an actual doctor, Mom died. I have plenty on my mind, but little that I’d like to share. Not yet, and possibly not ever.

Except her eulogy. I wrote that, I spoke it at her funeral, and I’d like to share it with you. Let’s start there, and in the weeks and months to come, I may or may not post more. Death is like that. It creates uncertainty, leaves questions that might never be answered, and turns your heart to confetti. Sad, walked upon, the-party-is-over, shredded.

Despite my grief, I wanted Mom’s eulogy to convey who she was; not the immense pain I was feeling. It needed to have humor, and it needed to be candid. Just like Mom. Here is Mom’s eulogy, daughter to mother.

“On behalf of my family, thank you all for coming today to say farewell to our mother. It’s heartbreaking to lose a parent, and I’ll miss my Mom until the end of time, just as I have missed my Dad since he passed 18 years ago. But, seeing so many people here who care, there is comfort in that. And we thank you.

Mom could light up a room, get a laugh from even the most stoic, and was always the life of the party. She was usually throwing the party. And she never walked away from a good poker game.

Mom believed in giving people a chance, a second chance, and sometimes a third. She was truly a champion for the underdog. I know this because I watched her hire people who asked for a job, lend a little cash if it was needed, or simply sit and listen. Or she’d tell you to shut up. She was honest.

Mom had only an 8th grade education, but with that, she landed a factory job when she was just a teenager – when other kids her age were in school.

Sewing pajamas at Munsingwear was her first gig, and it was after a shift at the factory when she and Dad first met. Then, just as she was doing a few short weeks ago, Mom lit up the room, and for them, the rest was history. I often wonder if Dad knew the wild ride he had signed up for.

Mom and Dad raised a mess of kids, which is quite an accomplishment because most of us were not easy children. They both worked, and kept a small summer home in Minnesota. When they bought the Amberg Pub, Mom took on the diner – she created a menu, ordered food and supplies, hired help, and handled the bookkeeping. With an 8th grade education.

If you knew Mom, you also knew she was a pistol. Strong willed, I believe is the polite term. But her chutzpa, her confidence, is what I admire most about my mother. The words ‘I can’t’ were not in her vocabulary. She had dreams, and she made them come true. She set goals, and she achieved them.

Even though Mom and Dad were married for over 50 years, she was fiercely independent. She was a force, and she never stopped. Again, God bless my Dad.

I am incredibly proud to be Donna Gropp’s daughter; she taught me so much. And although there will forever be an empty space in my heart with her name on it, it makes my heart smile knowing that Mom and Dad are together again. This funeral is for us, because all is not right in our world, but now it is in theirs.”

Cheers Mom,

Remembering My Sister Lost to Dementia

This is a difficult post, a sad post. My sister, Vickie, has passed away. She fought a long and hard battle (this is such an understatement it shames me to write it) with dementia and left us on Saturday at just 61 years old. This post could go in many directions, from information and awareness about Lewy body dementia to the why of it all, but for the purpose of honoring my sister and for my own healing, I’d like to share with you just a few of my memories.

I remember Vickie rubbing my back and comforting me when my feelings were hurt from my first spanking.
I remember her bringing me a new doll when I was sick.
I remember my sister’s smile that was as big as the world.
I remember a woman who fought and overcame so many challenges in her life – she truly was the queen of perseverence and starting over.
I remember her loving her son almost to the point of ridiculousness (I know it’s not possible to love a child too much, but she tried).  At 13 he still was not allowed hard candy.  Honest to goodness; I could not make this up.
I remember Vickie adoring her granddaughters.  They were her world.
I remember a sister, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother who valued relationships with the ones she loved and who took joy in building them.
I remember Vickie being fierce in the face of adversity.
I remember her giggle.
I remember being proud of my sister.
I remember the final days of her war with the disease, the one she did not win, the one she at last embraced and that took her from this world.

Vickie, you are so much more than I can ever convey. What you will never be is forgotten.

All the love in the world to you Sis,

Vickie Gropp-Kerley
1950 – 2012