“Did you see that?” She asked as I walked through the store, trying to focus.
I stopped to look at what she wanted me to notice. It was a display of cardinals. Glassware, plates, and mugs were adorned with the red-winged symbol. I picked up a miniature one and saw that it had a small card associated with it.
My eyes were so swollen from crying I could hardly read.
“It says that when someone wants to send you a message from heaven to tell you they are ok, a cardinal will appear.”
I was having a lot of other signs happening, but not this one. When my mom moved on in 2019, my life dramatically changed as I could easily go between the two realms.
I had seen a few videos where people described their encounters with birds, but I hadn’t had the experience. I picked up a small charm to purchase and went back to looking around.
It was the day after my dog had passed on to heaven in my lap. I had gotten out of the house to distract myself and was trying to feel normal.
I felt guilty for being so lost without him. How could I feel this way about a dog? People had died that I knew, and I wasn’t this upset. I felt like I had watched my child go away, and I kept trying to tell myself I had to pull it together.
I had been trained not to feel anything as I grew up, so I was used to being able to pretend the pain wasn’t there. But, this time, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept coming in waves, and I knew that he wouldn’t be there when I got back home as he had been for 12 years.
Over the noise in my mind, I heard it playing on a speaker above my head.
“Do you hear that?” I asked my daughter.
It was Ave Maria. That was always a strong indication that my mom was trying to tell me she was around.
I have found that music is an easy way for those in heaven to communicate with us. My playlist on my phone will suddenly go to a song with lyrics that tells me how to look at a situation in a helpful way. Or there will be words that will comfort me when I don’t understand circumstances that seem so out of control. It will happen while I am driving or shopping.
At first, I used to ignore it or explain it away. That’s one way we keep ourselves safe and try to understand what we don’t understand. It’s just a coincidence, and it means nothing, right?
But when you start to listen closely and pay attention, it becomes so pronounced that you can’t brush it off anymore.
While my mom was days away from her transition into eternal life, I could not go anywhere without hearing Rod Stewart sing Forever Young. After the third time, I started to notice this, and I would suddenly catch the lyrics while in a store, restaurant, or even on hold. It really hit me when I was in the freezer section of a small grocery store I rarely went to.
The realization of it was astounding. All knowledge is given where she is, so songs, books, anything is available to send subtle messages.
I had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the other side. I had been taught not to mess with the dead because that was demonic. Evil can come as light, so don’t go near it, like when you are taught as a kid not to touch a hot stove. So I had tried for years to push away what was trying to break through into my existence.
As I stood there not twenty-four hours after his departure, I listened to this significant tune being played just for me. I knew I was being told I wasn’t alone.
Grief can do that in the most unrelenting way. It comes in and covers you in darkness. No unseen forces are working against you; this is you against you.
While I knew I had to feel what I did, I didn’t want to stay stuck in it, which is easy to do. So I was trying to remain mindful of how much I was getting swept up in the sadness. I had wanted to leave with him, and I couldn’t. I was trying not to think about the long dark tunnel that was ahead for me without him.
And then the guilt.
When I told my daughter about that, she said,
“People are always going to do things that make us upset, and they are going to hurt and disappoint us, but he never did that to you. He gave you unconditional love, and sometimes you had to correct him, but he never hurt you.”
So as Ave Maria played, I turned and saw a shelf of battery-operated lanterns. When the switch on the bottom was moved, it lit up, and a fan started to move glittery snowflakes like a snow globe but with no effort to shake it.
One of them had a male and female cardinal in it. My dad didn’t want a Christmas tree put up the year before, so I thought maybe he would like this instead. It had a significant meaning attached to it as he went through his second year as a widower. Having her favorite song play nonstop was guiding me on how to help him and me.
When I gave it to him and told him I had one, he said,
“Maybe we will be looking at them at the same time.”
“Should we communicate by telepathy through the birds?”
At first, he thought I was serious, and he always gets this look on his face that makes me laugh. The same one that put her into hysterics.
“Is that possible?” He asked.
“I’m just kidding,” I said. Who knows at this point. Maybe.
“Oh. You had me a little worried there for a minute.”
After all I had told him about my supernatural life, this was a worry?
“I do have strange things that I can’t explain happen to me all the time.”
“Accept it, Chris. God has chosen you to give this gift to. Just accept it.”
We didn’t access supernatural powers through our Christmas lanterns, but mine would turn itself on at random times. Even if the off switch were on, it would startup, and I just accepted it.
I had been searching for something to put on my tree in memory of my dog. I couldn’t find anything in the store that day, so I went online. I was briefly disappointed to see that a particular one had sold out. It was a cardinal looking into a window. He had always sat with one eye toward the living room windows to be sure we were protected.
“I want this,” I said, showing my daughter. “But it’s gone.”
I tried to find something else, but I kept coming back to that one.
One day as I was walking past my tree, which I had put up early as another distraction from my grief, I said,
“I expect to get that ornament, and I am going to put it right on this branch!”
I was somewhat moving into the anger portion of my loss. Not severe, but enough to not put up with the lack of supply for something I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the world, just something small. And if God owned everything, then I could have it.
Every day, sometimes more than once, I would go up to that spot on my tree and say out loud,
“That ornament is going right there, and it’s going to hang on that branch.”
I never looked at it online again, but my daughter did.
A handful of days into this, she was woken up at 2 am and told to search a particular website. To her amazement, there was one available, and she purchased it before falling back to sleep.
Every day she had to listen to my speech about how great my tree looked with the ornament on it. She waited as time went by, and there was no delivery. She messaged the seller and was told that it had been delayed, but it was coming.
Meanwhile, I kept repeating the same mantra every single time I walked by the space. It was mine, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
On December 19, many weeks after all this began, I got home late and I was trying to tell her something. She kept shifting her eyes away while I was speaking. Finally, I said,
“What is wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that with your eyes?”
She didn’t answer me but looked away again. I squinted, trying to get a reading on what was up. Had the stress of her career gotten to her? What problem was I now going to have to help her solve? Was she overworked? I came up with nothing. Usually, I just knew.
“What is going on?”
More of a head nod this time made me look toward whatever had her attention. The entire house was dark except for the lights on the tree, and I stepped closer to the spot that had been empty.
I could not believe it! The sold-out ornament was on the tree!
“What? How did this happen?” I said.
She told me about her late night purchase with my mom’s voice telling her where to get it.
I thought that was the end of it, but we had two cardinals repeatedly show up in the yard over the summer. They were replicas of the ones in my lantern, and I had never had this happen before. One of them started to fly so close to me at times, I had to shut the door quickly so that it wouldn’t get in the house.
During all of this, my grief still raged on at times so harshly that it would stop me in mid-sentence or come out of nowhere when I thought I was fine.
I was sitting in my friend’s salon chair in mid-July as she mixed up hair color. She had her dog go to heaven days after mine did, very unexpectedly, so she knew first hand the sorrow I was feeling.
She stopped what she was doing and stepped in front of me. This was unusual for her as she is a very driven person who doesn’t stop once involved in a task.
She took off her glasses and said,
“God just said me that He is going to show you the love that your dog had for you in a different way. Stinky was an example of what is coming next into your life.”
Then she went back to work on my hair. But that became an anchor for me as I have drifted in and out of rough places, being tossed around, wondering if life would be okay without him.
We are being taken care of in so many ways, and we don’t even know it. To see, though, it requires expansion. I still miss my dog, but the sting of it has gotten easier. I still want him to materialize next to me on the couch and scratch my hand to get me to pet him, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I have to move on because there is more to do here. He isn’t coming back no matter how much I want him to.
But, what I can do is keep myself as close as possible to the One who created him just for me.
In Psalm 34:18 it says,
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (NLT)
This I have found to be true. As I have drawn near to God, I have overcome some of the hurt to get through the darker days. As I have allowed healing to come without resistance, my capacity to help others has grown. I can’t go anywhere now without someone telling me they have had to say goodbye to an important person.
Last weekend, I was in a hardware store getting zip ties, and the cashier randomly said his best friend had died at the end of October. I could see a tall man standing next to him, around fifty years old.
“Do you feel his presence? Was he tall?” I was testing the waters.
“Yes, I can feel him by me every day. He was much taller than me and died at 55. But it’s like he never left.”
And I thought I was going to get zip ties.
My faith has increased through all of it, my spiritual ears have become more receptive, and my eyes opened to more incredible things with less tears.