Bluebirds from Heaven

Looking back at this illustration of Ann and my son Rob, must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

My 1984 illustration of Ann and my son Rob must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

“I’m always looking for cosmic rhymes.” – Bono

Today is the anniversary of my younger sister Ann’s death. She died suddenly, of an undetected heart condition on October 9, 2008. It hardy seems possible that she’s been gone for seven years. When she made her transition she left a huge hole in my life. We spoke every day and spent as much time together as we could. The two youngest of unstable parents, we clung to each other growing up. Survivors of a shipwreck of a childhood, there was no one who nurtured and supported my recovery more than her.

Life without Ann was hard. It’s not that I didn’t believe she was in a better place. I just missed our daily connection. I yearned for proof that she was still near me. The summer after she left, my heart ached as I packed for my family’s annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. Truthfully, I didn’t much feel like going. A friend had told me about seeing a red cardinal after her father passed in times of trouble or when she missed him. She believed they were sent by her dad to let her know all was well. To give my trip a sense of purpose I asked Ann to send me a bluebird when I was there to let me know she was alright. Although they inhabit the island, I had never seen one. If a bluebird crossed my path while I was there, I decided it would be a sign that she was near.

When we arrived on the island, even its beauty couldn’t fully cheer me up. Everywhere we went my eyes scanned the trees for bluebirds without any luck. When my sister Laura brought me to her friend, folk artist Ashley Medowski’s gallery, I began to rethink the perimeters of how my bluebird would show up. On the gallery wall, with a red sold sticker on it, hung the most enchanting piece of art with a little bluebird on it. It was entitled, The Family Tree. A box with a door, made from a victorian photo album, opened up to a tree. Hanging stairs were attached to it to symbolize our assent to heaven and the rejoining of the loved ones who went before us. Laura knew how much I missed Ann and bought it for me. That gift opened me up to being flexible as to how the bluebird was going to manifest on my trip. Real or fashioned by a human hand, it didn’t matter. I accepted it as an assurance from Ann.

The Family Tree

The Family Tree

Later that week, I went to visit my friend, artist, Margot Datz. She wanted me to see an image she had painted with me in mind. Inspired by the profundity of my loss she had named it, My Blue Heart. I couldn’t believe when I saw a bluebird holding a heart in its beak at the center of its design. Margot knew about my younger sister’s death but not about my quest for bluebird signs. I’ve glossed over many coincidences in my life, but it was hard for me to believe this was just happenstance. It had to come from Ann, through Margot’s paintbrush, to me. Today the painting hangs in my studio next to my drawing table.

My Blue Heart

My Blue Heart

Me with Margo that summer.

Me with Margot that summer.

After I returned from Martha’s Vineyard, bluebirds were on my radar. It seemed like everywhere I looked I saw one and was reminded of Ann. I had let go of any hope of ever seeing a real eastern bluebird in my suburb of Chicago. Like me, no one I knew had ever seen one in our area.

That all changed Sept. 29, 2014. That day I was feeling discouraged about launching my children’s books and said a prayer for help. Not a minute later, I glanced out the window and saw what looked like an eastern bluebird! I couldn’t believe it. I went and grabbed binoculars to make sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking. Looking through them, I could clearly see a small cobalt blue bird with an orange breast eating seeds under our bird feeder. Then, as if to clarify my vision, it flew toward my window and soared away. Ann, one of my biggest supporters, had to let me know that everything was going to be all right.

Of course there is no way to prove my bluebird assurances scientifically. Some may say my sightings are a product of an overactive imagination, but I know what I know. As the years move on, I no longer yearn for Ann like I did. Over time, other relationships in my life have deepened. The hole has been filled. I am at peace. I’ve found that no matter how much faith you have there is always an adjustment period when someone you love dies. Missing their physical presence takes time to come to terms with and be healed.

“Death is just life’s next big adventure.” – J. K. Rowling

Today, I’m happy for Ann. She is still with me, behind the scenes, supporting my journey. I know she is experiencing a world my mind can’t even begin to comprehend. I wish her Godspeed on the new adventures she traverses. She never was one for sitting still.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

24 thoughts on “Bluebirds from Heaven

  1. Thank-you Sue, I look forward to your posts. Your talents touch many hearts. I share with my FB friends. I’m sure many people young a old are comforted by your Art, stories and books. You always have a special way of reaching out to people concerning the human strengths and frailties of life.


    • I’m glad my post touched you. Thank you for the kind words about my art and sharing it. I figure if you have a talent God wants it shared with the world. I’m so appreciative with your help in doing that.


  2. I, too, receive signs from deceased loved ones. Your sightings are true signs that although we transition from Mother Earth, we still abide in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved us. All we have to do is believe.


  3. Love this Sue! I agree that if we are open we can see the signs from the spirit world. Every time I see a penny or butterfly I think of someone who has passed. Some might call me crazy but that’s ok with me!


  4. What a beautiful rememberance of Ann! I don’t believe in coincidence either and she is sending you comfort from afar. Heartfelt blessings to you Sue!


  5. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt experiences. My grandson Eddy recently caught a glimpse of his great grandmother in the form of a butterfly. He was moving into her condo on the anniversary of her death. When he got out of the car, a monarch butterfly danced about his head and made him smile. Then after he carried some of his belonging into the condo and came back to his car, the butterfly was still waiting for him. She dances about his head again and then sat on his car and “posed” so that he could take a picture of her. The butterfly was old with a tattered wing. Great Grandma Ethel died of cancer and it had spread to her arm . . . just like the butterfly’s wing.


  6. I love this post, Sue. For me and my sisters, it is a tiny Hummingbird that we feel is a Godwink comforting us in the loss of our Mom. It’s been 15 years but I still miss her.


  7. Sue, this was such a poignant post that tenderly knits together loss, love and healing through the blue of grace and hope. I feel as if you and Ann were more than kindred spirits and sisters; you were truly of one another. How else can anyone explain how you managed to capture her pensive, thoughtful gaze in your penciled work of her and Rob? I was struck by the look in Ann’s eyes. She seemed to be looking far beyond the little bluebird in your little one’s hands, like for a moment there, a secret world had opened up to her, offering her a glimpse into something that hadn’t been unfurled just yet. And you saw that.


  8. I am in the beginning of writing a book about Life after death. It’s about 3 of my loved ones who have sent signs to me. I tell how to receive the sign
    So after reading this I was happy to hear she let you know she was there. Hint: just ask, believe and wait.
    I always believed in life after death. Before my mother passed away we made a pack of how she would send a sign. After she passed within a month she did exactly what we had planned.


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