Tuesday, August 28, 2012


While taking a walk a few weeks after my grandmother's death back in 2003 my aunt noticed a beautiful, red cardinal perched on a tree. A few days later she saw another. And  another just a few days later.  

While cardinals are not unheard of in southern Minnesota, it's rare enough that seeing one feels pretty special and seeing several is quite momentous.  So when  my aunt continued to see what appeared to be that same cardinal again and again, she confided in my mom that she couldn't help but feel like that bird was my grandma watching over her.

I, in turn, thought this was crazy and became immediately concerned with how my aunt was dealing with her grief. Lutherans don't believe in reincarnation.  Besides, if grandma did come back, why in the world would she choose a cardinal, of all things?  

A few years later, however, I changed my tune.

Leaving Omaha for Charlottesville was quite difficult for me. My weight sky-rocketed as I numbed my dipping, swirling emotions with food.  By the time we reached our new home I was weighing in at nearly 200 pounds, a place I'd never imagined I'd be.

Walking Scout around the lake in our neighborhood one morning I started to cry.  I couldn't believe I'd let things get so out of control and was struggling to see how I'd pull it together.  As I contemplated the depths of my misery I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye.  I looked up to find a beautiful red cardinal staring straight at me.

I continued to walk Scout along this path for the next few weeks, often seeing my cardinal friend perched in the trees around me.  While I didn't believe in the possibility of my grandma's soul being locked inside this little bird, I also couldn't explain the strange sense of peacefulness I received every time I saw it. It was like the woman I had admired and adored my whole life was there, watching over me.

It wasn't long before I found out that seeing a cardinal in Virginia isn't quite the celebratory affair that it is in Minnesota (it's the State Bird, after all!) and that the bright red cardinals are actually the males and therefore, definitely not Grandma.  By then, however, I was receiving such a strong (and admittedly odd) sense of comfort from our encounters that I wasn't willing to let go of it.

Over time I began to pull out of my depression. My little walks around the lake turned into much longer walks (and eventually runs) that took me on trails and paths all around town. Somehow Grandma always seemed to find me. Sometimes she even brought Grandpa, which was really special to me because he passed away before I was born.  

At times I would hear Grandma telling me how proud she was of me. Other times her words of encouragement were designed to keep me going while struggling up a hill or through the end of a sprint.  And, on occasion, she was kind enough to remind me to stop feeling sorry for myself and get my ass moving (though I'm fairly sure the human Grandma never would've said 'ass').

It's been five years since we moved to Charlottesville and I'm happy to report that Grandma is still watching over me. To this day I always make a point of acknowledging her when I see her.  It's usually nothing more than a "Hey Gram!" or "What's up, Grampa?" but for some reason I feel like I have to do it.  Wouldn't want her to feel like I don't appreciate her support, ya know?

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