A True Story of Redbirds



My mother's death is a deep personal heartache. Mom left a folder labeled, "To be opened by my daughters after my funeral." In it, she had prepared two sympathy cards with personal messages for my sister and me. Yes, my mother gave sympathy cards to her daughters for her own death. She wanted her last message to us to be one of comfort and love.

Mom liked songbirds and especially cardinals. She called them redbirds. She often wore a cardinal pin on her coat collar and gave my sister and me beautiful cardinal figurines surrounded with carnations, the State of Ohio bird and flower.

On the night after the funeral, my sister wanted me to take a flower arrangement home, but they were all loaded in her van. It was dark in the van, so I asked Mom to choose one for me and pulled out a small arrangement without getting a good look at it.

When I got it home I was disappointed that it was not pink because pink was Mom's favorite color. Instead it was a planter of red carnations with a little teddy bear wearing a red hat. I placed the planter next to the cardinal figurine that Mom had given me and marveled at how well they complemented each other. Pink would not have looked as striking with the cardinal.

I have back yard bird feeders that I enjoy watching from the kitchen. The next morning, after feeding the birds, I had the courage to open Mom's final card to me. I was overwhelmed that she would prepare a sympathy card for me to mourn her own death and I sank to the floor in tears.

As I pulled myself up by the kitchen counter, I looked out the back door window and saw a flock of cardinals surrounding my feeders. Cardinals are independent birds and do not fly in large groups. You will not see more than two or four together, but there were 50 to 100 "redbirds" in my back yard. I have never seen so many cardinals in one place. They were beautiful, like red jewels sparkling through a gray winter day, and I know they were a gift from Mom.

Post Script: I continue to have cardinals in my daily life since I wrote the redbird story in 2006, although nothing matches the splendor of the original display. Now, whenever I see a cardinal, I smile and think of her. If all this is in my imagination, well, God gave us imaginations, too. All I know is that seeing a redbird eases my pain and I am grateful for a beautiful reminder of my mother's love.

From a poem by Oliver Hereford:

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December~
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

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