After someone dies, I think it’s normal for those left behind to look for signs from their loved one. Some people call this ghosts, other’s call it divine intervention. I’m not really sure what it is or what it should be called, but I want to believe it’s real. In the months since Peyton left me, I’ve looked for signs of him everywhere – just little things that might mean he’s saying “hello.”
The most common thing I’ve seen are cardinals. Now, there are a lot of superstitions and myths about cardinals on the internet. It seems everyone has an opinion one way or another. The common thread that I found though is that when a grieving person sees a cardinal, it is a message of love from the one that passed. This is the version I choose to believe anyway. The first cardinal I saw was on Christmas day. My family had taken a trip to Branson, MO for the holiday, mostly because I just couldn’t “do” Christmas last year. I just couldn’t bear it. So, 10 of us drove up to Branson for a few days and stayed in a cute little cabin. On Christmas morning, I woke up long before anyone else, so I made some hot chocolate and was sitting on the screened in porch. I was missing Peyton horribly and had big, sloppy, silent tears rolling down my face. Peyton loved Christmas and not just for the presents. He loved being around family and hanging out with his cousins. He loved all the traditions that we follow from reindeer food on Christmas Eve to my mom’s broccoli-rice casserole in a specific green bowl. So, as I was siting there thinking of how I was going to get through this day, I saw a fleck of red out of the corner of my eye. There, not 10 feet from where I sat, was a beautiful red cardinal on a green bush. At first, I was surprised and taken in by how pretty it was, especially the contrast of red on green. But, even after I stood and quietly walked closer to it, it stayed right there. At one point we were eye to eye. It was in that moment that I knew Peyton was with me. Somehow, he’d seen into my heart and knew how much I missed him. He took that exact moment to stop by, I think just to let me know that he was still with me. For a few fleeting seconds, my heart was full and I knew that we were together.
Since then, I’ve seen a cardinal 7 more times. Each time has been when I was either talking about Peyton or feeling especially sad. They’ve been outside windows, in my sister’s yard, and in my backyard. But, in the last couple of weeks, they’ve been absent. I know, logically, that must mean they’ve migrated or are off doing bird things, but I’ve longed to see one. I even scanned Central Park in New York, hoping for just a glimpse of a red wing amidst all that green. But, there’s been nothing. I’ve become a bit obsessed with it, to be honest. I have bird feeders in my backyard and, after I fill them, I’ve stood at the window for hours just waiting for the cardinal to return. He has twice and once he even had a girlfriend with him. But that’s not enough. While I know that, scientifically, there’s a reason for their absence, my heart is heavy. I’ve felt like Peyton doesn’t need me or thinks I don’t need him.
Another sign I’ve seen is something that was always special between Peyton and I. When we first moved to Austin, we lived in Teravista, a neighborhood that has a huge rabbit population. Twice, we had burrows in our yard and each had baby bunnies in them. The first time, our dog Scout found them and, I think, was trying to bring them in the house. But she was a 40 lb dog and they were just tiny little bunnies; they didn’t survive. The second time, our other dog, Chuck, was barking and pacing up and down in the back corner of the yard. My first thought was that he’d found a snake. After I put on shoes and found a shovel, I made my way to the hole and was happily surprised to see 5 little brown and gray balls of fur. After what had happened with the other ones, I knew we couldn’t leave these little guys in the yard, so Peyton and I gathered them up in a shoe box and brought them in the house. They were adorable little cotton-tails, all of which Peyton promptly named. I spend the next hour on the phone with several shelters only to learn that no none of them will take in cottontails, but one lady did give us some advice. A while later, after we’d had some time to love on them, we gathered up their nesting material, moved them outside of our fence and remade their burrow so their momma would know how to find them. From then on, Peyton and I were on “bunny watch” every time we left the house – usually on the way to school. For years, we looked for bunnies and we were convinced that each one we saw was either one that we’d saved or one of their relatives. One morning, we actually counted 15 bunnies on the way to school!
After we moved to Georgetown, we didn’t see bunnies anymore. I guess it’s just not a place they like to live. It makes sense, as there is little underbrush and few places to hide. However, I’ve seen two in the last week. Both times have been in the early evening and just on the corner of my street. Both times, I’ve stopped the car, rolled down the window and talked to them (I’m sure the neighbors think I’m crazy). I just know that this too is Peyton’s way of saying “hi”.
Oh, and as I was driving through the back roads of Central Texas tonight, coming home from a girl’s weekend, a cardinal flew right in front of my windshield. 🙂