The Occasions Lady and Christmas Cardinals
by Audrey Poff
Like many others, our family is preparing to celebrate this holiday season without a loved one. Following a series of falls that left him immobile a few months ago, my father passed away on Oct. 6. He would have been 88 on Dec. 13.
My brother and I have been taking care of our parents for nearly a decade. With the help of a caregiver, we were able to keep them at home until last spring. Following a brain aneurysm about 10 years ago, my dad recovered but was an increased risk for falling. My mom has been battling dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, for at least eight years. Together, they were able to remain at home until our dad was hospitalized earlier this year. To say the past 10 years has been difficult for our family is a huge understatement.
Still, knowing that our parents wanted to stay at home and stay together, it was worth the effort that our family put into their care – preparing meals, taking them for rides, fixing the volume on their television.
An avid Cardinals fan, my dad would sometimes call Rodney during baseball season to find out what channel the St. Louis Cardinals were playing on. In the fall, Rodney and I would drive my parents to look at nearby cotton fields or take my dad “deer hunting” as we drove by wooded areas to see if the deer were out feeding. The simple outings we were able to enjoy with my parents the last few years – rides through Craighead Forest or to see their youngest granddaughter at Arkansas State – will remain with me as some of the best times during increasingly difficult days.
The loss of a loved one is always difficult but seems to be magnified tenfold during the holidays. The photos, the traditions, the memories – so many of them are centered around the time spent with family while celebrating holidays. I say all that as a reminder that there are always those in our midst during the holiday season who are grieving or facing difficulties. It’s so easy to overlook the pain of others when we are in a season of joy. During a season of despair, however, you can’t help but notice others who are going through a difficult time. We all trade places eventually.
There’s a familiar quote that says, “When cardinals appear, angels are near.” Many people still hold to the belief that by spotting a cardinal, your loved one is nearby and the bird is the messenger from them to you.
My nieces sent an arrangement to my dad’s service that had a decorative cardinal in it. I tried to give it to them, but they wanted me to have it. I pass by it several times a day. Although I don’t see as many real cardinals in our yard since the temperatures have dropped, you can hardly enter a store without seeing Christmas’ most popular bird on holiday merchandise. They seem to be everywhere.
Our dad was a master electrician who worked for Arkansas Power & Light and operated his own business. Twenty-five years after retiring, he could typically still recall the address of someone we grew up with from his service calls over the years. He absolutely loved his work and proudly wore his “Lott Electric” shirts that my sister-in-law made for him, paired with suspenders on most days. Following his passing, my brother passed those shirts out to family members whom all have fond memories of my dad in his logo-embroidered shirt.
The night my dad passed away, Rodney and I walked into the parking lot of the assisted living center. My parents had shared an apartment there, and we had stayed to visit with my mom. As we walked to our vehicles, the lights above began to flash off and on. Suddenly, it was if the entire row of parking lot lights was part of a synchronized light show. As one lit up, the next one went off and continued turning off and on for several minutes.
The bright red cardinal will always be a reminder of my dad, but if there was one thing he could choose to do to really get my attention, I feel certain it would involve some surge of electricity that resulted in a fabulous light show.