An edited version of this piece was printed in the October issue of Enchanted magazine, a publication which explores all aspects of spirituality.
The rhyme says one for sorrow but whenever I see a magpie my heart jumps for joy. I’d never really noticed these birds until just after my husband died. I was 32 years old with two small children and I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. When I got home after the funeral I was met with the bizarre sight of a magpie fluttering madly against the kitchen window, its wings beating at the glass as if trying to get in. I’d never seen the birds in the garden before and after a few minutes it went away. In the weeks that followed I forgot about it and tried to rebuild life for me and my children. We moved house and they started school a short time after losing their Dad, my son especially found it hard and one day he started to cry and said he didn’t want to go to the school because the black and white birds kept following him. He was frightened of them. Puzzled I walked in with him the next day; sure enough two magpies came hopping up the drive behind us and didn’t leave until we went inside. When I came out they had stationed themselves in a tree in the car park across the road…right above my car.
I told my best friend about it, she was understandably sceptical but joked that she would keep an eye out for some magpie feathers for me. A week later she called me from her parent’s home just outside London where she had gone to visit. She said she had heard a noise in the alleyway next to the house and when she went to investigate she saw a magpie flying away. On the ground was a beautiful feather from its tail which she brought back from me.
Years passed we went to live abroad where there were no European magpies but when we did return after six years it was to great sadness. My younger sister died very suddenly, very tragically. The day the call came I was standing by the window clutching the telephone in shock; she had been just 34 years old. A magpie came fluttering into the garden and looked at me quizzically as I cried and even at that awful moment I felt perhaps she had come back to provide some kind of comfort. At her funeral one of the birds hopped about on the edges of the crowd and every time I took flowers it would come and say hello.
When my Dad died eighteen months later I was already looking for my little black and white friend. My late sister’s partner who was sceptical, almost fainted when at my dad’s funeral guess what was sitting on the earth next to the grave? It stayed until the ceremony was done then flew to the far side of the cemetary where another magpie was waiting.
The birds would appear everywhere. When I went to Dublin I even joked that one of them was bound to appear at some point and follow us around the park in the city; sure enough it joined us as we entered the gate and accompanied us all the way around! My friend was dumbstruck. She was also stunned when the birds began to visit whenever I went to see her. My Mum, who had also been her friend, passed away two years previously leaving only me and my children as the surviving members of my family and until then she had never seen a magpie in her garden-now they come right up to the French doors and look in; but only when I’m there.
A year ago I moved house (hopefully for the last time) to an area a hundred miles from my family home. The day we arrived a magpie was sitting on the roof opposite my new house watching with great interest as my stuff was unloaded. My office is in the front room and rarely does a day go by when I don’t see two beady little black eyes looking down at me as work by the window.
Coincidence or a sign from those gone? It depends on your outlook. As far as I’m concerned they are messengers and I’m never alone when I see them, someone, somewhere is watching over me.