A card that suddenly resurfaced after 15 years, lilacs blooming in the Midwest in October and a sunbeam that stretched from the grave to the sky. Signs from beyond? Or are hard-to-explain occurrences after the death of a loved one simply coincidences?
Many family caregivers report unusual incidents after the passing of a family member. A co-worker who recently lost her mother called these “God winks” or messages sent to comfort us in grief. I’ve talked to caregivers who believe these events are their loved ones reaching out. It can be a controversial topic. Whatever you believe, there may be comfort in these out-of-the ordinary happenings, especially around the holidays when we are missing those we love.
Here’s what happened after my father passed away earlier this year. Unexplainable incidents? Not necessarily. Consoling? They were for me.
The Lost Card
I adored my fifth-grade teacher, Elena Armstrong, who fueled my passion for writing. On Mother’s Day that year, she organized a class project to create homemade cards. My card had a pink construction paper cover, embellished with dried leaves and gold glitter and, inside, one of the very first poems I’d ever written – to my mom.
I was thrilled with how the card turned out, and so was Mom. For the rest of her life, she kept it in the top drawer of her dresser. Right after she died, I thought I’d take the card back to hang on to the memory. But when I opened the dresser drawer, it was empty. My father had been on a cleaning bent and said he had burned most of the drawer’s contents. I was heartsick. I looked everywhere, on more than one occasion, thinking the card might have been spared. No luck.
The day my dad died – Aug. 29, 2016 – we were in a hurry to clean out his apartment. My brother and sister-in-law had done a lot of the work before they returned home. “I’ve left some boxes of pictures,” my sister-in-law told me. So, just hours after my father left this world, I returned – heartbroken – to his place to gather up the remaining contents. In the corner of his closet, I noticed a small, old shoebox. When I opened that box, a flash of pink caught my eye. And there it was – that Mother’s Day card I hadn’t seen for more than 15 years.
I was so startled I screamed and dropped the box. Then I picked up the yellowed card, held it to my heart and burst into tears.
The Graveside Sunbeam
One of the most moving moments from my father’s memorial service was the Marine honor guard ceremony at his gravesite. My father was a World War II veteran who saw a lot of action, so when he passed away, the Marines sent a three-man contingent to perform a poignant flag-folding ceremony.
I was thrilled that my sister-in-law had her camera at the cemetery so we could get pictures. It wasn’t until I posted the gravesite photo on my own Facebook page that I saw it. A faint sunbeam started in the small hole that had been dug for my father’s urn and reached up into the sky – growing brighter the higher it went.
The Blooming Lilac
Ever since childhood my favorite bush has been the lilac, a popular springtime flower in the Midwest. That’s why, when a tree outside our home office died a few years ago, I replaced it with a lilac, which is now a towering 15-foot bush that produces beautiful lavender-colored blossoms. Just a few days after my father’s memorial service, my husband came in from mowing and said he’d smelled lilacs. Within days, one-third of the bush was in full bloom. I had enough flowers for a bouquet.
I looked throughout the neighborhood, even the city, for another lilac in bloom that October and I couldn’t find one.
Certainly, any of the three incidents could be explained. We had an unusually warm fall in the Midwest and many other plants bloomed late. And the card in the box? I could easily have overlooked it on previous searches. The sunbeam in the photo may just have been the light playing tricks.
I won’t spend a lot of time mulling over the whys and hows this holiday season. But I will be thankful for the signs that help me feel connected to something much bigger than myself.
I know many caregivers have stories as well. I’d love to hear about similar situations that may have brought you comfort.
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