Sunday Post 75: The Bird

Posted by Danny

Does God send signs?  I’m just not sure. 

I told Lisa before she died that if it was at all possible to come back and visit, I expected her to make that happen.  She told me she would not – she said she didn’t want to be stuck between here and there.  When she went, she was diving in with both feet.

But I sure have had some peculiar things happen since February 2010.

In June of 2009, three months before Lisa was diagnosed, her father took our entire family on a trip to Yellowstone.  About every three years he plans an incredible vacation where we laugh, grow closer and build significant memories.

In preparation for the trip, Lisa had t-shirts made up.  On the front it said, “The Katsopolis Family Tour.”  On the back, there was a list of places we’d been and the year we’d traveled.  The last entry on the tee was:  Hawaii, 2012.

That was Lisa’s way of encouraging her dad to keep the tradition going.  These truly are special occasions for our family.

So in true family tradition, Pops, as all the children call him, planned an incredible ten-day stay on the big island of Hawai’i!  We just got back.

On day 5, DJ received an email from a friend who said that her mother, who was a friend of Lisa’s, had a dream the night before.  In the dream, Lisa appeared.  As they were talking Lisa said, “Kathy, I just wish I could let Bruce know that the bird who has been following him is me.”

Interestingly enough, a bird had flown into our vacation home the same day that Kathy had the dream.  The bird flew in a second time later in the week.  And to top it off, as I stood on the lava rock in front of our house, a bird flew so close to my arm that I could feel a sharp breeze from his wing.  It startled me.   It almost felt like he touched me, but I didn’t see him until after he began flying away.

In no way do I believe that my wife has been reincarnated into a bird.  And I have absolutely nothing that could make me say the dream and our three encounters with Hawaiian fowl were anything more than coincidence.

And yet, I found it comforting. 

Maybe Lisa did turn rouge bird for a week.  Or maybe it was nothing.  Or maybe in some small way it is a sign, sent to me, to let me know she is OK and that she approved of our family’s time together.

In honor of our time, my mother-in-law sprung for Henna tattoos for the girls, and yes me.   Mine is the bird.

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  1. Tim Masters

     /  June 10, 2012

    A beautiful post, really. My favorite so far.

    Interestingly enough, soon after my grandmother died in 1978 at the age of 83, a red cardinal began hovering around our house. Well, it began with a hover, and escalated to an insistence, at first lightly tapping the large picture windows along the front of my parents’ house, and moving up to full-on kamikaze-like slams into those same windows. Occasionally, we’d see little red specks or droplets of blood on the panes, so ferocious were “her” attempts to make her presence known. (I’d always assumed it was a female cardinal, though I’m no ornithologist and have no way of confirming or contradicting this assumption). For a time we would be quite worried about our persistent interloper…the blood stains causing us obvious concern. But then, like clockwork, there she’d be again, going full-bore at our windows once more, none the worse for wear, her beak intact. We always joked, my parents, sisters and I, in a somewhat cavalier manner, that this was our “Omama” (as we called our grandma), coming back for a visit, or just checking up on us. In life, she had lived close-by, and we saw her regularly…usually for a Sunday dinner at her apartment. Eventually, her visits faded, as with time, did the red specks on the window panes. But every once in a while, our red feathered friend would reappear, albeit in a calmer, less frantic mood. As if to say “I see you. I’d like you to see me. And all is well.” She’d appear at our home, sometimes when we were out and about around town, and when we’d take our annual late-August sojourns to West Virginia. It even crossed my path several times when i was up at school in Boston. And at strange times, too, like long past the seasonal changes, when Boston would get too cold for humans, not to mention the far more fragile and less resilient festered species. Now, just as I can’t say whether the bird was a she or a he, I can’t say for sure whether each cardinal that came to visit was, in fact, the same cardinal. Furthermore, I have no idea what the life-expectancy of a cardinal is, but 1978 was a long time ago, and this bird was showing up well into the 21st century.

    Okay, so, flash forward to March 2005. My father, “Omama”‘s son, passes away, also at the age of 83. A short time later, and we’re talking days, not weeks, I see a cardinal… hovering near my mother’s house — our family home, the very same one we’d lived in back in 1978. This bird’s hover was a gentle hover, or a simple crossing of our path. No window-smashing, head-and-beak smashing for this one. Then, I’d start to see this cardinal around town. It would swoop down and in front of our car as we were driving our kids to school or to some sporting event. It would appear at my house, and it seemed to know where our bedrooms were. It would rest for a minute on our sills, and then alight for places unknown. These were check-ins, gentle nods, fleeting visits for a peek into our worlds and what we were doing. My kids even spotted the cardinal doing fly-overs at their school…on the playground at recess, very visibly doing roundtrips outside their respective classroom windows. Again, we noted — amongst ourselves — that maybe this was Grandpa (as we now called my Dad), inhabiting the same form as his mother had taken some 27 years before, only this time, we weren’t really joking about it, it seems as though this was a very real — and realistic — possibility.

    When we held the memorial service for my father, several months after his passing, I related the story of the cardinal in my remarks. Afterward several folks approached me to share similar stories of how their loved ones, too, had “re-appeared”…and interestingly, in the form or embodiment of a cardinal. Now, I know, cardinals are not uncommon birds, but it’s the uncommon behavior and sighting patterns that are what set these tales apart. There is a clear and consistent attempt to make some sort of a personal connection. Is this wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I prefer to believe in the magic elements of these scenarios, just this once.

    But, and I kid you not, these experiences are not limited to just us, and they are not limited to just birds, or more specifically, cardinals. Many years ago, when I was a boy, my father and sisters and I had a tradition (at the aforementioned West Virginia retreat), of early-morning, pre-breakfast swims in the ice-cold waters of the spring-fed pool. The old man, Lou Austin, who owned the place was always the first one in the pool, rain or shine, fair weather or foul, warm weather or cool…diligently swimming his laps. He did it for his health, for exercise, for the routine of it. Our motives, on the other hand, were not as clear-cut. It was crazy, yes, for only a crazy person would get up that early in the morning (breakfast was served at 8:30am…so in order to be in and out of the pool, back to your room and changed in time for breakfast you had to get up plenty early), and jump in that cold a pool. If you’d ask my father, he’d say that it invigorated him, and woke him up, like a jump-start it cleared his head, cleaned his eyes (of the sandman’s leave-behind), got his heart pumping, and prepared him for the day of activities. If you pushed a little further though, you’d discover another aspect to this self-imposed madness. Every morning the “music in the trees” at this mountain lodge would start at 8am and continue until the breakfast bell would ring at 8:30. The last bit of music that would play before the National Anthem was a random piece of march music…something by John Phillip Sousa or some such composer of days gone by. My father’s mission, if he chose to accept it — and, as a former commando in the British Army during WWII, he chose to, and how! — was to cut this as close as possible. So at 8:05 or 8:10 he (we) would run down to the pool, jump in, swim a lap or two…or four…or six…depending on how daredevil-y we were feeling, towel off, and high-tail it back to our rooms as the march music was playing…the whole idea being NOT to get caught or stuck outside when the National Anthem began…which would mean having to stand perfectly still, hand over heart, dripping wet and freezing cold. The successful morning swimmer would be safely back in his or her room with the door closed shut just as the first notes of the National Anthem cleared the speaker in the tallest and oldest Sugar Maple (the West Virginia tree) on the premises. But back to Lou Austin.

    He would be in the pool when we got there. And out of the pool and gone by the time that we got in the water. Sometimes he’d say hello…or just nod. Usually, by the time we’d make our sprint back to the Main House (as the march music was playing), there’d be Lou, standing at the corner where the driveway met the road…a major intersection on our run back to safety. He’d be fully dressed, in elegant long pants, crisp shirt, and button-down sweater vest. Again, nodding us on, offering a friendly greeting, and wishing us well in our attempt to beat the clock. I’m not sure how he knew — perhaps my father had once shared it with him — be he was in on the joke of the thing.

    Lou did his daily morning swims in that pool until his very last day on earth. At least, that’s how I like to remember it. Suffice it to say, thanks to the legendary healing waters at this West Virginia resort — both the drinking variety and the spring-fed swimming variety — Lou lived well into his 80s. And the summer after he died, we found ourselves at the pool pre-breakfast, doing our dunk-and-dash, and playing our game of beat-the clock once more. Only this time, there was no Lou there to greet us at the pool. We were surprised, however, to find, a lone rabbit, sitting in the exact spot where the driveway meets the road, where Lou used to stand, waiting (for us, we’d come to believe), and for the National Anthem, too.
    It was strange enough seeing a rabbit sitting perfectly still — and this was a real rabbit, not a garden sculpture! — but also seeing a rabbit sitting so perfectly still with so many human beings around. Strange. On that first day, we took notice, but thought nothing of it. This, by the way, pre-dates any of the cardinal stories, as Lou preceded my grandmother in death by two years (1976).

    But the next day, we did our early-morning swim, and once again, there was the rabbit. Same spot. Same stoic stance. After this second day, the thought then began to occur to us, perhaps this is Lou, in some other form, watching out for his old swimming buddies. At first, I’ll admit, it was sort of a joke, but after three or four times, the joke sort of morphed into a phenomenon. This scenario repeated itself several times that week, and on into the next year. Now, I’m not sure if the rabbit would show up in subsequent weeks when we weren’t guests at this resort, or if this was a show especially for us, during our stay. Whenever we did finally mention it to others, only a few observant types remarked that they, too, had spotted the furry little creature. (Lou was nice enough, but not nearly as cuddly).

    Now, at this resort, there is also a resort tradition of Dinner-on-the-Hill. Lou, in his younger days, would actually work the grills and serve the chicken and or steaks (depending on the day). In his later years, he would stand by the grill and greet the diners, encouraging them to try the ham, or scolding them for eating too much steak and not enough vegetables. Well, wouldn’t you know it, post-Lou, there was a new visitor up on the hill…one John Q. Rabbit. Hard to tell if this was the same rabbit that was down by the Main House waiting for us after our swim…but two random rabbits just lingering with so many people around…I don’t think so. Now the Hill Rabbit, as we’ll call him, admittedly did NOT stand where Lou would have stood. I think that any rabbit with half a brain wouldn’t be caught dead standing near a grill of any kind, well, unless they were caught dead standing next to a grill. So the Hill Rabbit stood his ground overlooking the golf course, just outside of the dining pavilion on the hill, in a position where Lou might have also stood to greet diners walking up the steep incline to have their supper. This rabbit, too, just as the pool rabbit had done before him, would make a number of return appearances in the years to come. Same spot. Same stoic stance and presence. We began to think that maybe somebody was drugging some poor little rabbit and placing him there to help perpetuate the myth, the legend, of Lou re-born.

    In 1982, six years after Lou Austin died, his wife Virginia passed away. That summer, we found ourselves at Dinner on the Hill, and, I kid you not, yes, there were TWO rabbits there to greet us, calmly and contently sitting side by side in the exact spot on the hill where the lone rabbit in previous years had stood. There are two Dinners on the Hill per week at this place, and both rabbits made it to both dinners. I couldn’t make this up, believe me. Truth IS stranger than fiction.

    These days, every time I see a cardinal I take it as a good omen. I nod in its direction. I defer with respect. I pause and take a moment to reflect. No, to me, a cardinal is no longer a bird, it’s a friend. An old friend. Checking in. As if to say: “I see you. I’d like you to see me. And all is well.”

    • The first part of your comment really grabbed me. When my Oma died in 2003 we began to be visited by a bright red cardinal. He would sit on the window sills and gently tap on the window. Fly to another window, tap, tap, tap. And repeat. Every day. Every summer. For the rest of the time that we lived there. Every time I see a cardinal, I think of her now. The similarities are exciting and eerie!

      • Tim Masters

         /  June 10, 2012

        Isn’t it strange? As I mentioned in my reply to the post, you are not the first person to share a similar story with me…and I find it amazing that in every instance it’s a cardinal.

      • It really is amazing. Our cardinal helped to bring a lot of comfort during our grief. 🙂

    • Danny Tanner

       /  June 10, 2012

      And knowing this resort, I can picture exactly where the rabbit stood. So maybe it’s not just us –

  2. Tim Masters

     /  June 10, 2012

    Disregard this first post. I accidentally hit POST before finishing. I finished and re-posted (below). So you can delete the Comment that ends with the word “fly-overs” and keep the other one, if you so desire.

  3. Chatter Master

     /  June 10, 2012

    Absolutely soul grabbing. Thank you for sharing this. There seems to be a lot of beauty and love in your life. I feel a blessing just having read this.

  4. Mel Ham

     /  June 10, 2012

    birds and angels have wings. Too many times have I heard of birds comforting grieving souls. They get close and it makes you stop. Unlike the regular days we have when we are all so busy and miss out on some of the singing. I know why the blue bird sings.

  5. Susan Disher

     /  June 10, 2012

    Bruce…just say “thank you”…a grace note and a hug from our Abba Father…can’t tell you the number of times that I have caught a glance of a young man who could our son…always a blessing and a smile…and confirmation that all’s right between my world and his…

    • Danny Tanner

       /  June 10, 2012

      I think you’re right – the bird brough laughter and comfort. Maybe just s simple gift.

  6. Marian

     /  June 10, 2012

    Do not under estimate the dreams….l10 years after dad died…. A hummingbird took up residence in my life…..unbeknownst to me my sister had contacted a psychic…don’t really know why..the psychic told my sister…that dad was watching over us as a hummingbird…… Then after mom died….an owl hung out at my house for 2 days….i had collected owls as a child……..embrace the coincidence

  7. Francie Reding

     /  June 15, 2012

    I don’t doubt for a minute that Lisa was there with you. God is great, and there are always daily reminders of that; we just have to be willing to receive the message. Plus, Lisa REALLLLY wanted to go to Hawaii!.


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