two and a half years. Recently, my mom died.
I remember in college losing my grandfather; that death devastated me. He always called me ‘Nina.’ It was an affectionate term of endearment. It warmed my heart to be near this lovely man who grew up in Italy and whose occupation was shepherding and farming. I always pictured him on the hills in his home town quietly tending his flock. He was tender and loving; it broke my heart when he died.
It seemed as if after college one by one my family members developed diabetes, cancer, or suffered massive heart attacks. Toward the end of their lives, I visited them at home and in the hospital. I was never good about saying good-bye. I wanted my family to live long lives. But they had to leave; I had to let them go. But it was hard. My sorrow consumed me; the depths of my pain shown by shedding loud tears while I tried to understand the “why” of death. I felt completely empty and emotionally drained after each leaving. I also felt it difficult to listen to the comments of surviving relatives and friends: “At least, he didn’t suffer long.” But
most of my relatives suffered-whether it was a couple of months or years, like in my dad’s case, it was brutal and agonizing to watch his level of pain while trying to maintain his dignity; death like birth is not easy. Often, I would hear people say during a wake: “Oh, he looks so real lying there in the casket.” But there was nothing even remotely real to me when I looked inside that casket. The person was lifeless. Where was that person? Where did he really go?
Later, after I married, my best friend, Karen committed suicide. She was in her early thirties when she died. I got the call from a friend when I was getting ready to go to an aerobics class. Karen and I were both young; we had so much to live for and do. Karen was incredibly beautiful and a gifted artist. I knew she was unhappy and going through some tough times. But I didn’t recognize the tragic signs of despair and loneliness. I didn’t see her deep pain. I wrestled with her death for a long time. Where did she go after killing herself?
I have been thinking a lot about death since my dad and mom died. I believe so strongly now that they are with me. They are communicating to me in unique ways. Let me give you an example. After my dad died, I went to his office in his home. I looked at his empty desk where he sat to pay our bills. I looked at the paneling he carefully and meticulously labored to make this room masculine and special-his little man-cave. He built bookcases, cabinets with drawers, furniture, and he even hand-crafted the most beautiful bar in our family room—he was so immensely handy. I remember the nights after work when he would spend hours into the wee morning to build us this modern home in the suburbs. He was so proud of this home. So, in his office remembering, I sat on the floor in front of the cabinet drawers. Next to them were several low shelves housing unlabeled photo albums. I chose one album not knowing what pictures I might find in those worn pages. The album I randomly chose slipped to the floor and opened right side up at my feet. And there in front of my eyes was a picture of dad with his arm around my shoulders. I was an adult in this
picture and remember when the picture was taken. When that photo album openedto that picture of us, I recall thinking “Dad wanted me to know he is OK and that he will always have his arms around me.” He was not really gone. I felt his presence.
There are other stories of mom and dad communicating with me since their deaths. I sense their existence in unusual circumstances; yet they seem to be more normal for me now. They come in dreams, in songs, in words. One very clear message came from mom after she died. I woke up in bed and looked toward the large windows in our bedroom. We live on a
mountain and we have no shades or curtains on the windows. And the views in the morning and at night are fantastic! Sunrises and sunsets are just spectacular. That particular morning, upon awakening, I noticed that one large window pane (there are two) had a big rectangular sheet of condensation—only on that window! It was peculiar to me in that its shape was well formed; and there to the left of the rectangle was the word “Hi.” The word printed very legibly as if someone needed to say hello. At first, I thought I was hallucinating. I grabbed my glasses on the nightstand and took another look. The word was still there. Very visible! I asked my husband to look at the rectangle in the window. He saw the perfectly
formed condensation. It reminded me of a sheet of paper affixed to the glass. I asked my husband if he saw anything else within or on the framed rectangle. He said he did not. I asked him to move closer to me; it was then that he too saw the word “Hi.” I stared at the word. It did not disappear for a while. Again, this word, I believe was a sign that mom was near.
Later in the week, I went grocery shopping with my husband. We parked the car and entered the Big Y. Almost as soon as we entered, I heard the song “Fly Me to the Moon” and the crooner was Frank Sinatra. This held such great significance for me because my dad sang all of Frank’s tunes; he sounded just like him. He sang for the troops in the army during World War II, at home and in night clubs because he was so good. He would just pick up the microphone when asked to sing. I felt so reassured that day in the Big Y that dad was telling me he was with mom and flying high.
There are so many other stories I could share. But perhaps you are skeptical of my accounts. I don’t blame you. All I can tell you is that believing that death is not the end—that my family is still here, loving me makes me feel less alone. It makes me look at all creatures and the
gifts of this earth as “living”—vital spiritual beings—stewards of this earth and all its inhabitants.
I also know that my soul, my life energy will live on. I only hope that I can live today with grateful purpose; without fear –knowing that I am losing nothing in death but gaining life.