The Miracle of Cardinal Red When I’m Blue

30 05 2011

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

The first time it happened, well, perhaps the first time I was really certain it was happening, was the week before our son, Theodore, was born. It was August 2005, a sweltering summer, and my ankles were so swollen from the heat and the pregnancy that I’d long since given up trying to wear shoes.

I was in our bedroom, folding tiny socks and organizing onesies, when I heard it. A soft but persistent tapping at my bedroom window.

I looked up. There, staring at me from the other side of the glass, was a bright red Cardinal. He was perched on one of the branches of our enormous Maple tree, looking at me, his head tipped to one side. Time froze for just an instant while we observed each other, then he took to flight and was gone.

A coincidence, I thought to myself. But a gift nonetheless.

My Dad, after whom our baby boy would to be named, was a lover of nature. After the last flake had found its place following a Michigan snowstorm, he’d head out with a snow shovel to clear the driveway. Most of the time, I’d follow him with my kid-sized version. I loved to be around him. His corny sense of humor made me roll my eyes, but his laughter — even at his own jokes — was infectious. And besides, if I worked really hard, there was always the potential of a hot cocoa at the corner Big Boy when we were done.

Often, before he’d begin clearing the first path, he’d stop for a moment, lean on the handle of his shovel, and look all around him. Sometimes, he’d even pull his camera out of his pocket, snapping photos of branches bending under the weight of the ice, or of the fluffy, milk-white flakes like sleeves of a down-filled winter coat over the boughs of our pines. I’d stand there in silence, beside him, seeing the world through his eyes.

My Dad was a bird lover and had taught me to recognize the calls of all the varieties that chattered in our treetops, from the Red-Winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove and Blue Jay to his favorite, the Cardinal. It was always easy to pick out the Cardinals in their cherry red coats after a newly-fallen snow.

If we dawdled too long, we’d hear the side door open. “Are you two just going to stand there, or actually get to clearing the driveway?” my Mom would call out to us. Mom was very practical-minded and couldn’t understand for the life of her why my Dad needed to stop and stare at the snow-covered pine trees in our front yard, not just once, but every single time it snowed. But in them, I believe, he saw miracles. What nature was capable of, each and every snowfall. What was all around us, powerful in its silence.

One of the greatest joys I’d experienced during my pregnancy was learning that I was to give birth to a boy. I’d always wanted a boy — one that I could name after my Dad, and I was glad that during his life, I’d been able to tell him in the definitive way that only a teenager can, that that was exactly what I was going to do. My sister Julie remembers the hot summer day that I turned to him in our garage and declared, “Dad, someday I’m going to have a baby boy. And I’m going to name him after you.”

There had never been any question after the ultrasound, the one that confirmed I was carrying a boy, that he would be named Theodore, which means Gift of God. Somehow, some way, I’d been able to make good on that promise, even though my Dad had not lived to see it.

One of the greatest sorrows was that my Dad would not be there to hold his namesake in his first hours of life, to throw him up and onto his shoulders for a piggy-back ride, teach him how to catch a baseball. My Dad, my hero, a tall, blue-eyed blonde who’d played ice hockey on the “Over 30” league well into his 50s, had been taken from us in 1995, after an 18-month battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He was only 59.

That was the thought that was weighing on my mind that hot summer afternoon, as I worked to get every last detail in place before the baby came. “If only Dad could be here to meet the little guy,” I thought more than once, brushing tears from my cheeks.

As if in answer, that Cardinal showed up not just once, but three times in that week before Theo was born, each time finding me on the other side of the glass as I readied the bassinette, stacked diapers and folded receiving blankets.

Still, I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that it was more than just a coincidence. Until. Until the final time, when at the very moment that the Cardinal appeared at window, the clock radio on my nightstand clicked on. I was at least ten feet away when it happened. And then. And then the song that was playing. It had been a favorite of my Dad’s and I’d often heard him belting out the chorus when he was working around the house. “Me, me, me, me and Mrs., Mrs. Jones…”

What were the chances that, as I prepared for the baby who would be named Theodore, that the Cardinal was tapping at the glass, the clock radio turned on to a station I never listened to and was playing one of my Dad’s favorite tunes?

This is the miracle of Cardinal red when I’m blue. It hasn’t happened to me many times since, but it has indeed happened. A bright red Cardinal crosses my path seemlingly out of nowhere when I’m facing one of life’s toughest battles — my Stage 4 Breast Cancer diagnosis — or just crying quietly to myself, missing them, my Mom, my Dad. A bright coat of feathers swoops past me, or taps on the glass, reminding me that I am not alone, that there is far more going on all around us at any given moment than we can see or truly absorb.

On this Memorial Day, I remember my Mom and my Dad — two people who loved each other, me and my two sisters with all they had, who gave selflessly and sacrified deeply so we could become the people we were meant to be, people who are full of love and who, yes indeed, believe in miracles.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson



23 responses

30 05 2011
brian Murphy

Good Lord, Amy! What a beautiful memory . . . and how lucky that we, your friends and fans, can share it! HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!

31 05 2011

Hi Amy- You are an amazing writer and that is a great story! Being a breast cancer survivor of metastatic breast cancer myself. I have a 6 year old and I am going to turn 45 next month. I survived a death sentence when it spread to my brain and after 5 years of researching cures, alternatives and anything that would help me, I have come up with a lot of information that could help you or anyone with cancer or an auto immune disease. First, something that can give you relief during your chemo is something called Vital Ion go to I regret doing chemo because I now know it does not get rid of cancer and it only ruins your immune system. I would advise not doing it and researching it before you go on with it. Get and read this book and do what is recommended which you can do with the chemo – get it on Cancer-Free Your Guide to Gentle, Non-Toxic Healing by Bill Henderson. I do it every day and it is totally safe and I feel great. I also went to the Burzinski Clinic when it came back in my brain again. Expensive but it helped but didn’t get rid of it completely. I wanted an alternative and there are over 300 out there that are non-toxic and can help you. Also, I am now a strong believer in prayer. I received a miracle and God spared my life and I know there is a miracle waiting for you, too. Get everyone you know to pray for you. Never let fear in and always know you will be healed and recover. Say you are healing and never say that you are sick. Tell everyone that you are healing every day and believe it. Your words and thoughts are stronger than the drugs and poisons they are giving you. If a doctor hasn’t cured anyone of what you have then find another one and don’t listen to him/her. Remember, cancer is a 200 Billion dollar business. Do what is best for you and your family. God Bless and stay Hopeful!

30 05 2011

Beautiful…incredible…magical…remembrances, miracles, signals…love. Your dad lives on in your spirit and soul. What a tribute you wrote…what a wonderful woman his little girl grew up to be. I am so thankful your parents brought you into this world to share with the rest of us. Hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day and I look forward to seeing your news segment tonight!

30 05 2011

Amy, I truly believe that God gives us little gifts to let us know he’s still there and taking care of us. Your gift was a cardinal and a song. Mine was a perfect rosebud.

My Daddy passed away unexpectedly in 1996 while visiting my family in California, where we were living at that time. We finally got my mother back to Florida 2 days later and started making preparations for his homegoing ceremony. My father was an avid gardener and always had dirt under his nails. Matter of fact, my sister and I talked about sneaking some dirt into the funeral home and putting it under his nails so he’d look like our Daddy. The day we got back from the funeral home after making all the arrangements, I happened to mention to my mother that it would have been perfect if we could have had some of Daddy’s roses for his casket, but it was late June in Florida and they had stopped blooming with the heat. I got up the next morning and was standing on the back porch looking at the yard that I had grown up in when I noticed a little splash of color in his garden. I went out to see what it was and it was one perfect red rosebud. I quickly showed my mother, picked it, put it in water, and saved it till I could go to the funeral home and put it in my Daddy’s hands. God had given me the gift of a perfect rosebud to give to my Daddy one last time. What an awesome loving God we have!

30 05 2011
Jennifer Bopp Stegbauer


30 05 2011
Lisa Serda-Ansel

I truly believe they have their ways of letting us know they are always with us. Just beautiful!

30 05 2011
Karen J. H.

Today your message is a wonderful memory to share with the world. You truly have the gift of knowing how to “stop, and smell the roses”. That gift is there, and available to all of us, if only we’d take the time to develop it. Thankyou for sharing with all of us.

30 05 2011
Bob Adams

I too had great parents who raised my brother and me to be a firm believer in God and the hereafter. Too, how lucky I am to have had them, and like you and others who have responded, have such fond memories–well ok, most of the time. I may have stepped out of line once or twice and was brought back to reality very quickly after feeling a bit of pain on the rear end.

30 05 2011

Your dad had the bluest eyes. He was a wonderful man, kind and generous to a fault. Your parents are with you, every day. I truely believe that. I feel my dad around me when I’m at my very lowest. He and Ted were such wonderful friends. You have a beautiful story and wonderful memories of both your parents. That has to feel awesome.

30 05 2011
Annette Govan Peel

Such a beautifully written post! I have been following you thru Michelle Ball and find you so inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your most intimate thoughts & experiences here. Though I don’t have a cancer diagnosis, I likely may in the future or a friend will. I find your posts (& you!) very smart & refreshing & full of heart.
On a side note, we recently relocated from our home state of MI to Missouri, the Cardinal state! I will think of you and your special Miracle whenever I hear their beautiful birdsong.
Well wishes to you & your family,

30 05 2011
Deborah Ann Peters

Oh Amy, what a beautiful memory. As I type through the tears just know that your Mom and Dad are with you everyday. Even though memories are all you have left of them now, they both live on in your heart. Happy Memorial Day.

30 05 2011

Amy, when you write about your dad not being able to put that baby boy up on his shoulders … well, it brings back the memory of the last time you were up before dad’s stroke and he was on the floor playing with Theo, then putting him up on his own tall, broad shoulders for his best friend … we know Ted was smiling down on all of us that day.

30 05 2011
Julie Tysick

What a wonderful rememberance…I do believe God puts things in front of us to make us think or remember and lets us know he is always with us. I watched your story on the news tonight and you made me remember how important family is and we never know what is going to happen in our lives. My prayers are with you and your family. Know there are people out there fighting to help find a cure for cancer…we are big supporters of the American Cancer Society and have had a team in the Relay for Life for the past few years. There are way too many families affected by cancer.

31 05 2011

Amy- what a beautiful story–and seeing the connection, the gifts, and all–speak to your spirit.
You are a true inspiration.



31 05 2011
Laurie Horn

What a beautiful memorial, Amy.

31 05 2011

My Mom loved Cardinals too! Be open to the gifts. Your parents are leaving them. My Mom gives me signs all the time. There are no coincidences with God! Believe and stay strong! God bless! Julie

31 05 2011

My Mom loved Cardinals too! Be open to the gifts. My Mom leaves me signs all the time. Your parents are too. Just be open to the things around you. There are no coincidences with God. Stay strong and God Bless! Julie

31 05 2011
Rena Laliberte

Oh Amy, What an inspiration you are! I saw the news report and it made me cry. I just had to read your blog. I lost my Dad at 57 from a brain aneurysm. (57) His name was Theodore and he loved birds also! Had a purple martin house in the yard for years. Lost my mother in 2008, suddenly, from a heart attack. My sisters and I always are sent Cardinals from my parents… we find them in the most unusual places and times. Just crazy! They are always there when we need them. There is a great article in an old addition of Woman’s World about Guardian Angels – it is called On the Wings of Love and is written by Sherry Sheffer from New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. Perhaps if you Google it you could find it and read it. It is amazing. I could send it to you also if you would like to have a copy. For what it is worth, I think you have a very large extended family in the community that are all praying for you and your family and are willing to help and support you through your journey. I think you are an amazing woman that is gracing this world with your strength and purpose. My heart and prayers are with you…….

31 05 2011
margaret jarose

Amy, a touching tribute to Ted & Phyllis, forever in our hearts, ( those signs along he way that present themself) to let us know they are watching over you, Julie, & LIsa, and your families. All your aunts & uncles, cousins, and their are many, are with you Amy, in thought, and prayer. our best, aunt Marg & uncle Bob, Kim, Bob Jr, Valerie, & Suzanne.

1 06 2011

Hi Amy, I saw the news story tonight.. Just by chance, I had no idea it was coming on. It made me cry…. Hard. As it was showing and a bit later when I went to bed. See , we are sisters in a sense,,, I too am a BRCA 1 carrier. I found out in 2006 after my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thank goodness my older sister was aware of the gene and we all got tested. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted the preventative surgery…. Become a “previvor”…. That’s what they call it now. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would be in that 15% bracket that would not come down with either cancer. Hahaha….
Well, I did go ahead and had the hysterectomy and masectomy wondering if I really needed to do this to myself… After all, I didn’t have cancer.
Well, when I went in for my postoperative check, the breast surgeon told me that they had sent my breast tissue off to the lab, and the lab found DCIS in one of the slides. DCIS.. Ductal carcinoma insutu… I may not have spelled that right, but long story short…., I had cancer cells there , ready and waiting. I had an ultrasound and a mammogram That year, and neither one showed anything. Then I cried for the first time since the genetic test results, because now I knew I had done the right thing. Thank goodness my lymph nodes were all clear. Taking tomoxaphin was discussed, but they decided I didn’t have to take it.
So now, 5 1/2 years later, I see your segment. Actually, I had just had a revision of my left breast three weeks ago, and I have really been happy with the results.
But your segment brought it all back again, and it scared me so so bad. I know I was told they can’t guarantee to have gotten every cell, and these cells can float around and attach and grow anywhere and because of our wonderful defective gene, we can’t stop it. But, I guess deep in my mind, I just didn’t think it ever really could.. Or would. Now here I see someone like me, in my own backyard, who thought they were safe , fighting again.
I’m scared because I don’t have anyone really watching over me. Since I did not get “full blown” cancer, everyone, the doctors that is, just sent me on my way. They took me apart, put me back together again, then pushed me out the door.
I do have my ob/gyn, but not the one that did part of the surgeries..the “lower”
part …lol, she moved out of state, and my current one only sees me every other year, although he has me come in the off years for a ultrasound of my pelvic area. The breast surgeon told me I didn’t need to see her again, and the plastic surgeon, he is a great guy, but he is just for cosmetics. My general doctor is just that. I don’t know, maybe this is all good enough.
But now, after seeing your story, I’m scared all over again…but it is a reality, I just never thought it really happens. I am so impressed that you went public like you did for the benefit of others….like me.
Have you heard of F.O.R.C.E. If not, look it up. It is an organization dedicated just to the BRCA 1 and 2 Community. Very very informative.
If you can email me, that would be so great.. I have so many questions.
In the meantime, I will be praying for you…please let us know if there are any events/fundraisers for your family.
In the meantime… FIGHT LIKE A GIRL!!!!!

2 06 2011

Wow Amy, what a powerful article. Your words are truly amazing and your ability to touch us all with the experiences you so willingly share are unforgettable. You have a gift my friend. Keep watching for the cardinal. He’s there!!

8 08 2011

Dear Amy,
Way before I knew anything would happen to to me or my only child, we had a promise to each other that if anything ever happened, we would send the other a cardinal from heaven to let the other know we were okay. We gave each other cardinal gifts for almost every occasion. And then, my wonderful son was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer at age 14. We packed a lot of living in a year for which I am thanksful and he then he was rescued early and went to heaven on November 28, 2010. And of course, he promised to send cardinals. And Amy, he has.I cannot describe the grief of losing a child, but I so believe in encouraging signs from beyond that have helped me hang on. I waited for four months before I had my first cardinal, but I knew when it happened, it would be significant. And it was. It happened within a day after I spoke at my son’s high school for the Relay for Life Cancer fundraiser in his memory. And then my beautiful cardinal boy showed up and he has been here ever since, flying down to look at me when I am outside and listening to me when I talk to him. We shared Britton’s cardinal promise at his service and everyone knows when they see one it is Britton stopping by to say hi. My latest experience was sitting at his final resting place, the one place I had never seen a cardinal. It is in a beautiful park like setting with lots of birds, but after a daily visit for eight months, no cardinals. So on this day, I spoke to Britton in my thoughts and said, “If there is any place that would seem like a sign from you, it is here, in this last spot. So please, send one and let me know. It’s time.” And at that moment, a beautiful cardinal boy flew down from the large oak tree directly behind my son’s marker and hopped around on the ground while I stared and cried. When I left excited to tell everyone that I had once again heard from my son, I arrived home to find out his best friend since birth had come down from Tennessee and was at my house waiting to surprise me. I knew my son was letting us know, he knew and that this was truly the day to let us know he was just on the other side waiting. So, be strong in your battle against this horrible disease and be strong in your faith that this is not the end and your cardinals are meant to do exactly what you feel they are doing. They are our red winged angels, messengers from our loved ones in heaven. If you are able to believe in miracles, then you will see them daily. With prayers for you and your family….Gina

30 05 2012

Wow, what an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it! Cardinals are one of my favorite birds with their amazing red coat. Once, when my dog died, I saw a pair of cardinals outside, and they were beautiful! Keep looking for that cardinal!

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