For as long as I can remember, my favorite bird has been the tufted titmouse. I have always been charmed by his bright, inquisitive black eye, the perky tuft atop his head, his lovely markings, with shades of grey and his peachy-coloring underneath.
My brothers and I grew up learning about and loving nature. Our family vacations were always tent camping trips — Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky, southern Canada, Wisconsin, Colorado — and we were always equipped with bird and wildflower books. Finding a Lady’s Slipper in the forest or spotting a new bird gave us immeasurable pleasure. I have carried that love into adulthood, and birds, especially, give me great joy.
Many people say that the cardinal is a sign from God or a sign from heaven that our loved ones are watching over us, including a beloved lady I know, who has had a daily visitor tap on her windows in greeting for the past two years, and she believes wholeheartedly that he is her dad come to greet her and watch over her. I always thought the sentiment of the cardinal, or a butterfly, or a hummingbird, was a lovely one, but I did not give much credence to its validity.
The mother of a colleague at school died several months before my mom did, and in the months that ensued after we had both joined that sad club, he and I had several conversations about our losses. He told me that in the few months after his mom died, on more than one occasion he saw signs from her — perfectly aligned rocks on the sidewalk or other things that he thought were messages to him.
And after my mom died, I found a letter in her strongbox in which she wrote about how she had, on three separate occasions, received “eagle messages” and believed it to be a sign from my stepdad, Gene, after his death. In both instances — my colleague’s comments and my discovery of Mama J’s letter — I thought, “that’s nice,” but with a hefty dose of skepticism.
Then, this series of events occurred: My mom died in early October of 2016, and for Christmas that year, I received a package from my stepmom Denise, which contained, among other things, a small, porcelain bird ornament. It was a tufted titmouse. The letter that accompanied the bird told me that many years ago, after my parents were divorced and my dad remarried, my mom had given my stepmom the ornament, saying “every Christmas tree needs a bird.” In the kindest of gestures, my stepmom thought that the bird would give me comfort, and she sent it to me. But here’s the thing — there was no way that my mom could have known, when she gave Denise the ornament, or, some 40 years later, could Denise have known, when she passed it along to me, that the tufted titmouse, aka “Tufty” was my favorite bird.
After we moved in to our newly built home, dubbed “Sunshine House,” my husband Brian and I started feeding the birds in our back yard. We had been seeing lots of cardinals and house finches and the like, but on Mother’s Day, my first Mother’s Day without my mom, we had another visitor: the tufted titmouse. I had never seen him there until that day and would not see him again until the next time he came — when Brian was out of town for a couple of days and I was home alone. Here’s what I texted him:
“Tufty came to the backyard again today, and I got a picture! God is looking out for me while you are away.”
Since then, Tufty has been a fairly regular visitor to Sunshine House. Sometimes it will be weeks before I see him, and sometimes he comes for a few days in a row. Each time, he makes me wonder: Are there really portents or signs? Do our loved ones watch over us from heaven or nature or the universe or wherever they are? I cannot answer definitively. Call it susceptibility, or a need to believe, or divine intervention, or even a little bit crazy, but those three events, particularly their timing, brought me great comfort in my grief, and I have to admit that, even if just a little bit, I believe that Mama J is still watching over me.