The Cardinal- Part 1-1/2 in a Series

Several weeks ago I began writing a series of columns related to end of life planning, hospice care, and choices. Daunting, but in my opinion, essential topics to ponder. I hope you will hang in here with me, read this series, and take it as vital Food For Thought.

Last time, I asked “When is it time to call in Hospice? And why?” I’m calling this column Part 1-1/2 because it’s not actually about the series topic, but rather an anecdote related to the writing of the series.

As I sat in my car at one of the outdoor spots where I like to write, beginning to draft the series, a beautiful red cardinal caught my eye. The bird landed on the overhead wire leading from the utility pole to the house before me. He lingered, preening as if showing off for me. I associate cardinals, especially the bright red males (my mom’s favorite color) with her energy being around me.

There are other signs I recognize as her presence as well: the smell of cigarette smoke. Not the stale smokey odor that lingers on your clothes after you’ve been in the company of smokers, but the aroma of fresh tobacco as someone nearby is smoking at the moment.  The smells are distinctly different. Those of you who remember my mom, know she chain smoked most of her adult life.

I also associate the fragrance of carnations with my mom’s presence.  Although she loved and carried red roses for her wedding, she more regularly enjoyed carnations, whose bloom, fragrance, and beauty lasted far longer than the rose’s.

These two aromas, or the visual cue of cardinals, and a particular energy feeling that I really can’t describe are signs to me that my mother’s energy is with me.  Think I am crazy if you do, but believing this makes me feel good, and it doesn’t do any harm.  So, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Anyway, a brilliant red cardinal caught my eye as he landed on the wires in front of me while I sat beginning to write a series of columns on end of life and hospice care.  I recognize that I give meaning to things like this that happen around me.  As my son says, “Mom, you make this stuff up.”   Well, that’s almost what he says.  I edited his exact comment.

As I watched the bird preening before me, I spoke out loud, “Mom, if that IS you (your essence) here to encourage me, please land on that pine tree right in front of my car.”  Yes, I believe in both Spirit and signs, but I’m still a bit of a skeptic!

After watching the bird for several minutes, I returned to my writing, but asked, “Please God, bring my attention back to the pine tree and the bird if it flies there.”  I went back to my writing, and after several minutes looked up just in time to see a FEMALE cardinal land on the pine tree directly in front of my car!  It was not the bright red MALE I’d seen moments earlier, but it’s female counterpart; less colorful, yet still lovely. I chuckled to myself, and wondered, “ok, IS that YOU, Mom?” Different bird; female bird….still a cardinal. The bird hopped down to the fence that was between the pine tree and my car, a bit closer to where I sat with my laptop. She tarried there for a time, and I’d swear she was looking at me. I watched, smiling back at her until she flew off.

Mom’s visit, real or in my imagining, in the physical expression of a cardinal, encouraged me to share the important message about the delicate topics of end of life, hospice, and choices. My mom didn’t experience the benefit of hospice care; we didn’t realize she was leaving us so quickly. But I was grateful we had talked about her wishes for her last days, and that we knew she did not want her life prolonged by extreme measures once it became apparent that her quality of life would no longer improve.

I share this little anecdote of my being prompted to share this series on end of life choices and decisions in the hope that you will be encouraged to read the columns. And I sincerely pray that the series, on this difficult subject, will empower you to initiate conversations with loved ones before, it is too late- for them and for you; whether you are or become the patient, or you are the loved one of a patient.

Next time, look for Part 2 in the series in the August 24th Scituate Mariner.

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