Mama Odie (The Princess and the Frog), Recognizing Signs and Finding Direction Through Grief
It has been more than a month since I have written a blog post. I actually missed writing but could not focus on my thoughts. February is a very difficult month for me, and I found that it upset me to restate my sadness over the many sad milestones that occur during that month. I have felt stuck in the past, so connected to the people I have lost, and although I know there is something else out there for me, I don’t know exactly how to move forward or where to go. I know that a lot of it is due to a lack of confidence, and maybe there is an element of the confinement of COVID also confining my outlook, but lately I have been suffering from frustration and even a bit of helplessness and hopelessness. Recently, however, I had some surprising inspiration to break through that emotional barrier.
I admit that I am a believer in signs. Over the years, I have received and written in this blog about signs that I have received, particularly from Ben, that let me know that he is with me. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. The firefly, Ray, knew deep in his heart that the star he saw was his love, Evangeline. I relate to the way he knows she’s watching him and the way he speaks to her. He sees things through the eyes of the love they had. I get that. Mama Odie may have been blind, but she saw the truth in people and events, and she recognized signs and possibilities.
Ben and I never spent a lot of time at Central Park. As his ALS progressed and he was homebound, we did appreciate our time outside and in the more level areas of the Park. Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time in Central Park. First, it was for exercise and then it grew to give me a lot of peace. I particularly loved to spot and feed the turtles. Turtles were animals that Ben and I loved and were a joke between us. We quoted a cartoon turtle that said, “I’ll get there…may take me some time… but I’ll get there.” I remember that one day, during a really sad and stressed time that I specifically headed to a favorite spot at Belvedere Castle to see turtles and feel close to Ben, I found the Castle closed and under scaffolding. Unnerved, I just kept walking, eventually finding a new path that led me to the discovery of a whole new group of turtles. I knew that was a sign from Ben. You may not believe this, and you may disagree, but this makes sense in my mind and it gives me comfort. I also loved to make wishes and toss coins into the Bethesda Fountain. I made wishes for myself but also for the many people in my life who needed some wishes. My Disney heart knows that wishes can come true, even if, as Fairy Godmother says, miracles may take a while.
I should say that despite being an animal lover, I am terrified of birds, and even of feathers. I have walked into oncoming traffic to avoid them. On my frequent days of feeding peanuts to my little squirrel buddies, I can be heard telling them to guard the peanuts from the evil looming birds, and I have yelled at and insulted more than one bird that has stolen a peanut away from a squirrel. Bluejays are the worst! Oddly, I began to have interactions with cardinals. I knew that cardinals are believed to bring spiritual messages, but they are still birds. One day, a cardinal landed right in my path and stared at me. It was on a day that the combination of the mask, heat and humidity were really making me ill. I stopped, not knowing how to get around this bird that I wanted to avoid. However, it never stopped looking at me and remained so calm, where most birds would fly away with close human movement. It struck me as so unusual that I even took its picture, said goodbye to it, and carefully skirted around it to leave, still not feeling great but a little distracted from my queasiness. It intrigued me that the bird had not moved, so after I passed it, I turned back and it seemed the bird left as soon as I did. The bird stayed on my mind, which, in itself, was unusual. Actually, the fact that I did not do a quick about-face upon seeing the bird was unusual.
A few weeks later, as I was nearing the exit to the Park, a cardinal flew onto the fence right next to me. Again, it stared at me and I stared back. I said aloud (and, fortunately, no one was around) that I knew the bird must have a message for me, but that I didn’t know what it was and that I was really a little afraid of it. I thanked the bird and said it was ok to leave, and as soon as I gave it permission to go, it flew off. I spent the walk home unnerved, thinking that it must have been a message from Ben or maybe my dad, but why, of all animals, would they choose a bird?!
I did not visit the Park much for the rest of the summer because I had a lot of trouble with the mask and the weather. I am also a klutz, so a walk in the Park in slippery wintry conditions is just an accident waiting to happen. I began walking again as the weather has improved. I was in the Park on the Sunday of the first weekend of Spring. I was enjoying feeding peanuts to my little squirrel buddies near the Fountain. I looked out on the crowd of people- some holding hands, some dancing, some looking out on the water or just hanging out- and I suddenly felt an overwhelming alone-ness. I felt the tears surging, and I turned away from the crowd. A cardinal flew right onto the branch near me, again, staring right at me. I found myself just staring right back, shocked at my own willing engagement with this animal that would ordinarily scare me. I distracted myself with the squirrels, but each time I looked for the cardinal, it flew to exactly where I looked. This bird was clearly connecting with me. It wasn’t about the peanuts because the cardinal was not fighting the squirrels for the peanuts. This went on for quite some time. That cardinal was not leaving me. I was still fighting a lot of sadness, but did feel somewhat comforted and I told the cardinal that I was ok and it could leave. I crunched up a peanut and tossed it on the leaves for the cardinal. The cardinal dove into the leaves, grabbed a peanut bit, looked up at me, and flew away. I believed that the cardinal was a sign from Ben that he’s with me and I shouldn’t feel alone. Still, it bewildered me that the sign would be from a bird. I don’t often remember my dreams, but before I went to sleep that night, I asked Ben to let me know if he was sending me a message. In fact, he did appear in my dream telling me that he was here and wrapping his arms around me. I woke up feeling assured that Ben had been with me and the experience with the cardinal was truly a sign, albeit a weird one.
I do believe that there are people who have the gift of communicating with spirit guides and with the spirits of those who have passed. For the past few years, I have had an annual visit with a psychic medium named Debra. It began because I always thought it would be entertaining to visit with a medium and losing my dad and Ben made me wonder if I could connect with them. The first time that I saw Debra, the things that she knew about Ben and my dad blew me away. There was no possible way that she could have known some of the things that she conveyed. I enjoy our discussions, her insights and “checking in” with my loved ones. Our annual visits are a gift that I give to myself. They are interesting, fun and enlightening. I do realize that this is not everyone’s cup of tea.
A few days ago, I had a visit with Debra, and I mentioned the cardinals and asked if they were visits from Ben or my dad. She said that cardinals are indeed signs from people we’ve lost. I let her know of my fear of birds and how strange I thought it was that they would take this form. She said sometimes there is a bigger meaning.
We continued to speak and she revealed that my mom and dad expressed that I sell myself short and I need to get out and open new doors and have new beginnings. I talked of my desire to write a book based on my blog and to expand my work with kids, especially with regard to caregiving. I said that I seem to stop myself, and I know that a lot of it is confidence, but also a lack of a firm knowledge of how to proceed and fear of failure as much as of success.
After listening to me, Debra smiled and said that this is the meaning of the cardinal. Connecting to the bird- an animal that scares me- forced me out of my comfort zone. I was willing to take that step because I feel the pull that it is a sign from Ben or my dad. Finding the confidence to pursue the things that I want to do is also outside of my comfort zone. Indeed, the cardinal was more than the already welcome message that Ben was with me. It was guidance from my mom, dad and Ben that I can, am able to, and should step out of my comfort zone towards new beginnings and things that I want to accomplish.
Debra suggested that I return to the Park to do some writing, which is something I haven’t done. In general, I’m not much of an outdoorsy type. However, that sounded like a good idea. She said not to be surprised if I am joined by cardinals. I have to say that the idea of cardinals accompanying me on this journey seemed fun and almost magical. Yesterday was a drizzly kind of day, so it wasn’t a day to sit in the Park and write, but I did go for a walk. I chuckled to myself as I wondered if I would indeed see another cardinal now that I understood and embraced their message. Sure enough, within a few minutes of arriving at my usual spot to feed the squirrels, a bright red cardinal perched itself on the fence a few feet away from me and stared at me. It made me smile under my mask. He then flew right in front of me, where I took this picture. He then went onto a branch, and we watched each other. I continued to feed my ever-growing crowd of adorable squirrels, and we also kept watching each other. Suddenly, as I was about to crush a peanut up for him (I didn’t think a bird could handle a big peanut in a shell), he flew down onto the pavement near a peanut I’d tossed for the squirrels and looked up at me. I actually said aloud that it was ok, he could take it, and he took it in his mouth, flew onto a branch, looked at me, and then flew off.
I sent a text with the picture to Debra, thanking her for our session and letting her know that I had, in fact, been joined, and she wrote that I should “keep going to the Park…new beginnings.”
Life is full of wonder, unexpected signs, twists and turns in our paths. I never would have believed that a cardinal would send messages from Ben and also offer guidance. I never thought I would look forward to visits from any bird (though I still told the other birds to go away). I am always comforted by the thought that my loved ones are still beside me, though I am realizing that feeling their absence also keeps me embedded in the security of my memories and the past. I have felt so stuck and not content with where I am. Mama Odie says, “You got to dig a little deeper. When you find out who you are, you’ll find out what you need.” The cardinal has let me know that Ben, my mom and dad are nudging me forward, guiding me to challenge myself to learn more about who I am, do new things, explore my ideas and have some new beginnings. They are also letting me know that they will remain with me, which is something that I need to know in my heart. I feel inspired and happier knowing that they believe in me and want this for me. Tomorrow is supposed to be a beautiful day and I am planning to head to the Park to see how I feel about writing there. Just like the new paths I take at the Park reveal new views, this is one baby step on a path to better understand who I am now meant, and able, to be.