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Why the cardinal?

As the stories go, the cardinal has long been a sign of a loved one who is no longer with us. When you see one, it’s as if that special person is dropping by to visit you. These visits can happen on a happy day, when you are celebrating life, a milestone, a birthday or maybe spending time with family on a holiday. The visits can also come on days when it’s gloomy and things just aren’t quite going right, or sometimes downright devastating. And sometimes, the visits are just them passing through as a little reminder and for no apparent reason, or so it would seem. Yet, each time you see one, it always feel like that perfect reminder I’m sure they were hoping for, to remind you that they will always be there for you, watching over from another place, laughing and crying along with you as you traverse the ups and downs of life.

Willard and Irilla had always been avid bird watchers. As the years passed, each morning they would sit with the bird book and watch the many birds that came to feed at their backyard feeders, trying to identify any new or strange attendees to the free food. I think they quite enjoyed this time as they would always tell us when someone “new” came around.

One day was different. On the day that Willard passed, a lone bird came to perch on the feeder. You guessed it a male cardinal in all of his red glory. He stayed the day as family gathered, leaving for fleeting moments only to return quickly to sit at the feeder. Irilla would enjoy many more visits from her new male friend and even as she moved a few years later, “he” found her and would visit from time to time. Fast forward 16 years and many visits later from her cardinal friend, Irilla left us late on a Tuesday. Irilla’s condition had deteriorated quickly, and some family had congregated in the kitchen talking and one of us happened to see out the window a bird landing on the feeder. This time a female cardinal had dropped by for a visit. Within a short time…a male cardinal joined her. We hadn’t seen the female come to feed at all in the days leading up to that day, but on that day, the two of them kept coming and stayed around the feeder the rest of that afternoon. A short while later Irilla passed.

Over the years, the signs have come again and again as we have seen the cardinal on days of joy and on days of sorrow in our family. Those little reminders have helped through the good days and the bad days and of course the days in between. As we headed down the path of starting this foundation in honor of these two people, we wanted to integrate this piece of the story into the next chapter. Using the cardinal as the centerpiece of Vaughn’s Wings seemed like the right way to continue the “cardinal” tradition of showing up on good days and bad, as a little reminder that someone is out there, and that we have special people watching over us.