How a Mysterious Cardinal Became a Divine Reminder

After her husband’s death, the bright red bird brought heaven-sent comfort.

Posted in , Jul 23, 2021

A cardinal perched on a snowy pine tree; Photo courtesy: Sherrie Moffitt

Tap. Tap. Tap.

What is that? I turned to face the glass door in my bedroom.

A cardinal, perched on the planter outside, flew up to the glass, bumping its body against it as if trying to get my attention. I’d seen cardinals in the yard before. They were my favorite birds. But in the 25 years I’d lived here, I’d never seen one this close to the house.

My morning visitor was a welcome distraction. For the first time in months, I woke up feeling something besides grief. Exactly two months before, I’d lost Dave, my husband of 40 years, to cancer. We’d married young, and he’d always been my rock. My children and grandchildren supported me the best way they could, but I didn’t know how to face life without Dave by my side.

The little cardinal in the window gave me the first sense of peace I’d had since Dave’s death. It gave me the strength to run some errands. Dave would’ve known how much joy that bird would bring me, I thought as I paid for my groceries at the store.

Dave knew cardinals were my favorite bird. He always used to point them out to me in the yard. An artist, he had even painted some beautiful cardinal portraits for me. I was almost tempted to believe Dave had something to do with it. But it was probably just wishful thinking.

I got home and put away my groceries. When I walked into the bedroom, I heard it again. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The cardinal was back! He cocked his head, his black eyes peering into mine. Could there be something more going on?

For the rest of the week, he woke me up in the mornings from his spot on the planter and appeared again at dusk, as if to say good night. He popped up in various other places throughout the day, usually just when I needed some encouragement.

When thunder shook my house, the cardinal sat out in the rain to comfort me through the whole storm.

One Sunday, when I came back from church, I dreaded walking in the front door. The house always felt so lonely at the end of the weekend, the time Dave and I used to set aside to spend together. But my spirits soared when I noticed the bright red bird waiting for me.

Of course, I told my family all about my new friend. My grandchildren especially wanted to see him for themselves. “I can’t say for sure when he’ll come,” I warned them when they came for a visit. “Don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t happen to be around while you’re here.”

I shouldn’t have worried. The cardinal stayed close by the grandkids throughout the day, as if he wanted to visit.

This was just the beginning. For the next three years, the cardinal continued to make regular appearances. He seemed to know just when my grief would hit me, and would show up when I most needed to be uplifted.

One summer evening, I was taking a walk around my property. I was heading up my gravel driveway when I spotted the cardinal on a power line. He didn’t usually accompany me on my evening walks, but by now, I knew he might appear anywhere, anytime. I wonder why he’s come to me here now, I thought.

The cardinal flew a few feet before landing back on the line. Again and again he flew a few feet and stopped, as if trying to keep just ahead of me. Suddenly, he dove off the power line, swooping down and landing on the dark gravel. He was about 15 feet in front of me and—I gasped when I saw it—one foot away from a snake. I would have walked right into it if the cardinal hadn’t warned me.

I froze in place. So did the cardinal. It didn’t move until the snake had finished crossing my gravel driveway. The cardinal looked back at me, making sure that I was safe, and then, mission completed, flew off into the trees. If there was any doubt about the purpose of the cardinal’s visits to me, they disappeared that warm summer evening.

I smiled, watching him disappear among the leaves. The message was clear. God understood my pain and wanted me to feel his presence in a real and tangible way. Although Dave could no longer be by my side, God always would be.

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