I’m out on a long walk when I see him. A flash of red just at the edge of my vision. And then I hear the song.
I pivot to see him perched up on a power line on the other side of the road.
They say when you see a cardinal in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven.
A friend of mine told me that. She lost her mother a while back. A loss that’s quite incomprehensible to me since they were inseparable. She’s lost something I will never know the joy of having, that kind of close mother-daughter relationship. I will never know that particular pain.
But I love my friend. And since she doesn’t get cardinals where she lives, I told her that I’ll keep an eye out for her mother.
In Northeast Ohio, there are a lot of cardinals. And so I figure it’s my job to greet spirits for those who don’t live near them.
I stand on the sidewalk contemplating my red friend until he flies away.
My favorite aunt died about a month ago. Suddenly.
It was not a good death. Although that’s a bit of an odd notion, especially to those of us still living: That a death could ever be good.
But some are a little better than others.
Because it’s always tough when your heroes leave this world. Even tougher when it happens in a way that seems arbitrary. Or like it could have been easily prevented.
My aunt was someone special. One of the funniest people I’ve ever known. A single mother in the Maine woods. And my father’s best friend. Which is impressive and says a lot, because the man isn’t a social butterfly. He frankly prefers machines to people.
But not her. My dad adored my aunt. She was loud and plain-faced in a time and place where women were supposed to be pretty and silent.
And she was one of the only weird people that my mother, obsessed with appearances and “fitting in,” ever seemed to respect. Somehow my aunt got a pass.
She wasn’t perfect. She made plenty of actual mistakes, trying to keep my cousin fed and clothed. Found ways to make money materialize that were dubious at best, illegal at worst. But even when others should have shamed her, they made allowances for her quirks. And she came back from it all relatively unscathed.
This is how I viewed her anyway. This is what I choose to remember.
Not the stubbornness that led to her death. The senselessness. Going against medical advice.
“I saw a cardinal on my walk today,” I tell Skyspook later. “I thought of my aunt.”
He smiles. Just smiles. Doesn’t say anything at all.
No “She’s in a better place now” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” Nothing canned. Or rehearsed. Just a smile.
It’s welcome authenticity — this comfort with a silence that others might find awkward.
My book is out!