About Me

Thanks for being here! I am a mom of three (two girls, 15 and 13, and one boy, 9) and a teacher of many (thousands during my more than 17 years teaching high school English and Spanish in Philadelphia). Forever a student, I love learning - whether through talking to others, reading, watching movies and documentaries, or traveling. I also love running (slowly), hiking, and practicing yoga!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Cardinal

We were in my parents' kitchen on a cold winter evening when the hospice nurse said the words we
didn't want to hear: "I think it's time." Her words were no surprise; we had called her after the last devastating CAT scan results asking her to come, knowing this was probably the conversation we were going to have, but they were shocking nonetheless. This was happening. We were stopping treatment. I was going to have to say goodbye to my mom.

I was leaning against the kitchen sink. My mom was across the island from me, by the window. My sister and dad were on the other two sides of the island, forming a circle. The conversation wasn't long, and soon the nurse was gone. My mom walked quietly to the living room and retrieved the program from her own mother's funeral, ten years before. When she returned my sister and I sat with her. "This is what I would like," she told us. We picked the readings, a quote for the back, the music. Ken Carter would sing For The Beauty of the Earth. Eileen, she hoped, would sing Morning has Broken (this version, by Art Garfunkel and Diana Krall, is a favorite of mine: CLICK HERE). Other than that, I don't remember what else happened that night. Time -- two years as I write this -- has washed away the pebbles. I am scared it will wash away more.

Photograph by Jo Pierson, my mom's sister. 
After my mom died a friend of my parents' from the beach told my dad, "You know, cardinals are the souls of our loved ones letting us know they are still with us."  Though I have no idea why she said this, I know that she did because my dad, a tried and true agnostic, told me that she did. He then made a point of telling me every time he saw a cardinal at his bird-feeder.  A few weeks after my mom's death, I, too, found myself staring at a sparrow that had perched on the windowsill a little too long. Mom! The sparrow flew away and my trance was broken. I am losing my mind! I thought. It is easy to lose your mind after losing someone you love. Your grief is so deep, the mind so desperate. A butterfly would linger by my shoulder. Mom! A certain song would play on the radio. Mom! I both felt her and didn't feel her everywhere.

Sometimes I didn't feel her at all, and those were the worst times. This year, right before starting school again, I couldn't sleep. Many nights, I would wake, my mind racing, my heart beating fast, and always, after hours lying awake, I would arrive at the same question, as much as I tried to avoid it. God? My despair was a deep reservoir, and I was at the bottom. Mom. One night, after hours of lying awake, I visited each child's bedroom to make sure they were all ok. They were, each breathing softly, calm beneath the lovely cloak of childhood.  Afterwards I sat with the dog, on his beanbag next to the bookshelf. It was two am, my third night in a row of not sleeping. To my left was a shelf of books collected over the years, including one that had been my mom's. I don't know if it was of importance to her or not. IN THE SANCTUARY OF THE SOUL, it read. I opened to a random page. Ask with all your heart, again and again. So I asked. If I am going to be ok, I said, I need to know that my mom is ok. I need to know! I repeated this plea for what felt like a long time. God? I felt nothing. I went to bed and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning was a school day. I woke to my alarm, as usual. I showered and dressed, feeling as much like a robot as ever. Another day, another year. I shuffled to the kitchen to make the lunches. There was a strange noise coming from the laundry room. A cricket? I thought. I closed the refrigerator and stood still to listen. What was that? I had never heard a noise quite like it before. I moved to the back room to investigate. In the laundry room, the noise was farther away. I moved again towards the kitchen. Finally, I realized it was coming from the very back of the house. Persistent, and loud. A chirp like a cricket's, but deeper. I walked towards it. At the window, I saw it. Perched on one of the wrought-iron chairs, and singing towards the house. It did not move when it saw me, not for several minutes. Instead it looked right at me, seemingly puffed out its chest, and chirped louder. A female cardinal, trying to get my attention. My heart lifted. It was just an ordinary cardinal, like so many of those that often flew through the yard, but on this morning it had stopped to sing just for me.

"Did not our hearts burn within us, while he walked with us by the way ... " (Luke 24:32)
A female cardinal like the one that visited that morning in September. 
Another photo by Jo Pierson, my mom's sister. In her words, "Unfortunately I only have these two photos of a cardinal, and they are not the best. There are several that reside around my house, but they are faster than I am when it comes to getting a good shot." 


  1. Jen, this is beautiful. I hope you are right. I hope those we love do wander around us, stopping by to visit now and then in new and unique ways. I have no idea if that is possible, if it is real or a construct of our longing, but it is comforting to think. I wrote about this a while back on my blog, "Beautiful Funerals," but did so as someone somewhat removed. It is nice to see those ideas reflected by someone who has experienced such a deep loss. It gives me hope that it is possible. We love you guys. I hope all is well.