Signs of the Spirit
Some things I know just are.
Jimmy died early Wednesday, September 27, before dawn broke in Boston, Massachusetts. I know the date because Jimmy’s fiancée Carla sent my daughter Tarah and her friends a text message telling them of Jimmy’s death. She also said: “Do something beautiful today,” which I wrote on my whiteboard, along with the date.
Carla is one of “my girls.” Carla, Tay, Dana, Bev, Hannah, and my daughter Tarah have been close friends for too many years to count. I’ve spent many days with them over those years, enough to love them and call them my girls, enough to feel connected to them as they experience life—both its joys and its sorrows.
On the day Jimmy died, Dana’s heart and mind were heavy with thoughts of him while she was driving to Boston to pick up Bev. As she drove, a blue jay flew past her windshield, in slow motion, in a deliberate move to get Dana’s attention. It then perched on a nearby tree branch, and it stared at her, until their eyes locked. Dana felt certain it was Jimmy’s presence.
Later that morning, Dana was the first of the girls to receive a phone call from Carla. As they spoke, Carla stopped the conversation to tell Dana about the blue jay perched in front of her, its gaze intense, staring. Right away, Dana knew, “It’s him. It’s Jimmy,” she said. “I was supposed to be on the phone with you while this happened so you could tell me.” In turn, Dana told Carla her blue jay experience.
I believe in such signs of the spirit being nearby, so I, too, took note when Tarah shared the blue jay story with me. I also take note of birds. In the days before Hurricane Irma struck my Florida home on September 10 and 11, I noticed that with the exception of some buzzards and a hawk, all the birds left our area. They knew the storm was coming and flew to safety. The birdsong that rings in my mornings was absent. They have been slow to return, and in the weeks until September 27, I saw few of them. I missed them and hearing their music throughout my day.
A day or two after Jimmy died, I was outside checking my orchids and I saw the first blue jay since the hurricane. It was alone. It stayed in the brush next to the house only long enough to be certain I saw him. (Of course, I told Tarah.)
I sometimes question my beliefs—among them my belief that the blue jay was a sign. I have no scientific proof—not a bit of data—to back up my beliefs. But some things I know just are. There is the seen, the unseen, and then there is the felt. I know when I feel something. I know when the presence of someone, seen and even unseen, is nearby. I cannot measure that presence in any way except by my own awareness.
When such events occur, and we receive what might be signals from beyond, some are quick to say it is coincidence or a particular focus at the time. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s no more than coincidence that the blue jay showed up in my yard that morning or that two of them insisted that Dana and Carla take notice. Maybe I noticed it because blue jays were on my mind. The thing is: I saw no other birds during the time I was outside. I’ve been outside many days since that morning and almost a month later, I have yet to see another blue jay.
Perhaps it is in the noticing, the awareness. In the initial hours, days, and weeks following loss, our emotions are on the surface, as if there is a different, more sensitive, more intuitive layer atop our skin—one labeled feelings, emotions, heart. The cries of our hearts no longer are tucked away where no one can see them. No longer are they stowed in those places where it’s easier for us to discount or even ignore them.
Early days following loss are when our hearts are indeed on our sleeves—laid bare for all to see. In that hypersensitive mode, every touch, every word, every song, every tear—has greater, deeper intensity. Because of that intensity and because our awareness has expanded, perhaps that is when our eyes truly open—perhaps that is when we see the blue jays.
I believe that when someone’s spirit has just left their body and hasn’t quite yet found its place in the cosmos, heaven, the unseen, we are sensitive to the presence of that spirit. I believe the spirit of someone who has recently died is nearby. I also believe that in our heightened state of emotion and intensity, we become aware of and we can still commune with that spirit—and they with us. Perhaps God gifts us—and them—with that closeness and connection to offer us comfort and to reinforce our faith.
In my experience, that nearby state of the spirit does not last as long as I would like. As our raw exterior begins to heal and as life’s distractions—living, which is a good thing—pull us back into a more solid realm, the spirit at the same time senses that we have returned to that solid world. And that spirit—that spirit that is now free—has its other work to do as it finds its place within the cosmos, the unseen, heaven. As that place is found and the spirit’s work begins, the connections happen less frequently, although I also know the spirit checks in from time to time.
If you have recently lost a loved one, and you become aware of his or her presence, I don’t think you are crazy. I don’t think you are imagining things. You are not a dreamer and you are not a fool. You are in the presence of something pure and honest and good. Embrace that presence while you can—before the world pulls you away.
As you return to the world and to life, remember to pause to listen to and welcome the blue jays. As you return to the world and to life, also remember something else just as important: Do something beautiful today.