Organ and tissue donation · Spirituality · Transformation · Transformation Posts

A red cardinal. A visitor from heaven?


There’s a saying, “When a cardinal appears in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven.”  I was unfamiliar with it until it appeared, as one of those cheesy postcard-like images, in my Facebook feed.


But for some reason, it made me pause.  Lately, I have been inundated with red cardinals.  Figuratively, anyway. 

I’ve been puzzled by how many opportunities have popped up, lately, to tell my sister’s story.  And none of my doing.  I mean, really.  She died 12 years ago.  It was fascinating to discover, 10 years ago, that one of her tissue recipients was then Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.  Exciting to be part of telling that story.  And It was a pleasant surprise to be contacted, in 2014, by another writer, who wanted to reprise that story. 

But really.  The story, as awesome as it is, has been told. And retold.

So, I’ve been puzzling – marveling – over why, now, in 2016, this story has popped up literally everywhere.  Again and again.

Carson Palmer is now a cardinal, an Arizona Cardinal, to be precise. 

He has since reinjured that same knee into which my sister’s Achilles tendon was once implanted.  Her tendon is no longer in his knee, yet my sister’s story, the one about her career-saving gift, continues to live.

Out of the blue (or maybe red), on September 7, I received this comment on my blog:


She asked if we would be willing to fly to Phoenix to attend a Cardinals game and to meet Carson.  Throughout this journey, we had never actually met Carson.  We said yes and last month finally met a red cardinal, flying into his back yard.


When we met, I thanked him for allowing his – our – story to be told, but I said what impressed me the most was that here we were, so many years later, the tendon now gone, still sharing our story.  He looked me in the eye and said, “Karen, it’s what got me here.”


A few days later a crew from NFL Films flew to Houston to interview us on camera.  I am told the piece will air on NFL Films Presents (Fox Sports 1) on December 28 at 6:00 PM Eastern.


Completely unrelated to that, I reached out to Houstonia magazine, suggesting I write a “Bayougraphy” story about Elena Mendoza, the family care supervisor at LifeGift (organ procurement organization), about her and the role of the family care specialist.  I intended to make the piece solely about her, not even mentioning my connection to her.  But the editors asked if I would be willing to make the piece, instead, an “H-Town Diary” personal essay, about how our lives have become intertwined.  I said yes, and the result was this story appearing in their December issue.

Since then, my “yard” has been dotted with cardinals, figuratively, and seemingly for no apparent reason.  I was asked to do a radio interview on NPR.  I was asked to share my story in conjunction with a powerful new photography exhibit at Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center.  A gentleman, Matt Beasley, interviewed me for his Houston Podcast.  The local Fox affiliate invited me to speak on their morning news.

Why is  all of this happening, now, after so many years?

When the “postcard” about a red cardinal appeared in my Facebook feed, I felt a chill down my spine.

Could my sister, Julie, somehow be a driving force behind all of this?  As I said in my post Coincidences are Unicorns, I don’t believe in coincidence.

Through her death, she has inspired such change in my life.  It has taken me 12 years to blow up and reconstruct my life, the life I believe, in my heart, I was meant to live.

As odd as it sounds, I am closer to my sister now than when she was living.  (She was 16 when she married and moved away, creating a distance between us that remained even after she returned to Houston in her late 30’s.)  And I am a healthier, more content person now, by far, than I was then.  Whereas she was a pain in the ass to me growing up, she has become a cheerleader and soulmate in spirit, gently nudging me forward, to live my dream.

This red cardinal symbolism piqued my curiosity, so I did a little Google research and learned, from, that “the red cardinal bird holds special spiritual meaning for Christians as they symbolize everlasting vitality (the faith in the blood of Christ as the birds are red in color), Christmas (the birth of Christ) and are also considered a creative force (the red color equals vitality and creativity).”

Well, it’s Christmas, and I am in the throes of getting my new freelance writing career off the ground…

I also found a very interesting site,, that’s chock full of fascinating information about the symbolism of cardinals.  Among the tidbits:  Because symbolic signs are so uniquely individual, appearing in all shapes and sizes, they may not always be easily recognized as symbolic signs, or immediately understood. Symbolic signs may be presented to us in an unending array of forms: birds, animals, people, places, things or events. Whatever shape or form your symbolic sign may come in, keep in mind that the form is the messenger and the messenger is an important clue to the message.

I’d like to think that Julie is behind this recent whirlwind of activity, this retelling of her donation story.  If you knew her, you would know that it was in her character to make herself heard.

I’m listening.

2 thoughts on “A red cardinal. A visitor from heaven?

  1. I have tears as I write this. My dad, 89, had been suffering from dementia for about 3 years. On May 5 of this year he died after spending 3 days in hospice. We were very close. In April a cardinal appeared at an empty birdfeeder outside my window. No cardinals had been here in the ten years I’ve lived
    here. For me it was a sign from dad … a miracle!


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