Those first few months after my mom died in 2009, I remember begging for a sign, any kind of sign. The same absolute desperation gripped me after my dad died and especially after my brother Joe left this world so abruptly. That absolute empty desperation that gripped me is a feeling that I will never completely shake. I remember feeling downright pissed that I hadn’t received signs. It was months upon months that I was angry, disgruntled, bitter and questioning my faith in ways I never thought possible.
It took me many, many months – hell, if I am being honest, it took years for this feeling to lighten. And the reason it lightened was so “by chance”. It was a complete off-the-cuff remark by a friend, who told me perhaps there were signs all around me, but I was too entrenched in grief to see them. Huh? At the time, in a very annoyed tone, I thanked that friend for their unsolicited damn advice and moved through grief with anger, rage, sadness, etc..Then one day, like magic really, strange coincidences were all around me. Maybe these “coincidences” were all around me all along and my eyes were finally ready to see them? Maybe I was legitimately losing it? Either way, I totally owed that friend a real apology!
That day was about two years ago. Since then, there are too many times to count when my breathe has left me, tears have welled up in my eyes and I have gone completely numb because one of these “signs” has reached out and smacked me right upside the head! Lately, these signs have been a bit more abundant as I look forward to a solo odyssey that I wouldn’t have attempted until recently.
The beginning of this “string of signs” laid itself out in front of me a little less than a month ago. As I was awaiting my monthly treatment, a little more nervous than usual (I chalk up the nerves to a few unexplained symptoms coupled with an upcoming trip that simply can’t be canceled). So, there I was sitting in my oncologist’s office preparing to have my port accessed. A nurse I didn’t know came in and methodically laid out all of her instruments before me as she got ready to access my port. As I sat there I saw on the side of her wrist a tattoo of the very Celtic Love Knot that hangs around my neck. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked down at it. Naturally, the poor nurse saw my reaction and was alarmed that something was wrong. I asked her about the tattoo and she said it “was a family thing”. Huh. I was feeling dizzy as I recalled my own sterling silver knot that my mom tirelessly researched and shopped as she lay dying. This knot that hangs so proudly around my neck was my mom’s parting gift to me and my sister. Every time a petscan, catscan or MRI demands I take it off, I feel a little part of me cringe. What are the chances that the nurse drawing my port, on this particularly worrisome treatment day, would display the very same Celtic Love Knot? I took a deep breathe as she filled vile after vile of my blood, there it was – a sign. I felt my shoulders fall away from ears, where they had gone in an attempt to harness the worry I was feeling. With each vile I grew a little more at ease, knowing my mom, good old “Lorac” was with me. Everything after that, would be okay because I knew she was there, she was right beside me.
Maybe a week later, I reached out to one of my brother’s friends whose mom appeared to be having some type of medical situation, in which I didn’t know the specifics. I wanted to let her know, I was sending love her way and if she needed anything to give me a shout. Since my brother’s death, many of these relationships that were really maintained through him have fallen a bit silent. Or sometimes gotten caught in a tangle between myself and my other siblings. But, the spring after my brother Joe died this particular friend, the lovely Ms. M and I found ourselves on the same beach at the same time over a thousand miles away from home. Her generous spirit was so happy to meet my family and I for a lunch date on that beach. Ms. M was with her mom and greeted us with nothing but love, that was three years ago. I should add, I will be forever grateful that she followed through and met us for lunch. It would have been so much easier for her to avoid the whole situation. Instead we had this lovely lunch on the beach and we had the pleasure of meeting her mom as well. Fast forward to today, her mom wasn’t doing well, she had been given a cancer diagnosis and she was in a nursing facility recovering from a surgery. Ms. M responded to me and let me know a visit would be great. I gathered up some goodies for her mom and was really looking forward to seeing her.
For some very strange reason, I hadn’t really looked up the address of the nursing facility. I blame my lack of planning on the ease of technology today! I had simply planned to plug in the address and roll, which I did. It was only as I made a right and then another, that I realized I would be headed to the very same facility that my brother, Joe, died at (his was the hospice portion, therefore had a different name). The very last time that I pulled into this facility was the last time I saw Joe alive, it was our last night, our last conversation, our last laugh, our last cry, our last. I had spent three years avoiding these streets, this very route had been on my own personal “no fly zone” and here I found myself with no other option but to pull in. I felt a slight panic attack coming on as I turned into the facility. The radio in the car was playing and as soon as I pulled in and slowly drove by the building that housed my brother in his final hours, tears were flowing at this point, but “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd came on the radio. Oh my Joe, oh man, my Joe – there he was. Just when I desperately needed that nudge, why there he was. I could again feel those shoulders slide down from my ears, a few more tears freely escaped but I felt a sense of utter calm, there he was, sending me a sign. Damn it, I wish he could be here and he could just turn on the damn radio next to me and play a song! But, I shall take his presence any way I can get it these days. Beggers can’t be choosers. At this very moment I knew that I was in the right place, at the right time with a sense of purpose.
As I walked into the facility instead of dread, I felt a grateful, sad heart. I looked around at the familiar carpet, lighting, nurses station, etc..the memories of my dying brother flooded me. And then, to my complete shock, the memories of the warmth and the compassion shown to us as he lay there in his final days. I don’t know that I could have walked into this situation at any other time and felt what I felt on this day. I am not sure if it was the song? If it was fact that the lovely Ms. M and her mom had been brought into my life by Joe or if it was the perfect amount of time in which bitterness and rage had succumbed to sadness and sorrow? Maybe it was the perfect combination of all those things? Maybe it was just time that my experience gave way to spread some love again, a little light. While I sat down and visited with Ms. M’s incredible mother, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. And then I felt a sense of reassurance that Ms. M’s mom is gonna make it outta here. This lady with this big personality, she and I we were meant to share this moment of hope. I was certain that my brother was right beside me too.
As I left that night, I got in my car and for the first time since his death, I cried loudly, completely unashamed, exposed and vulnerable I cried (probably a real ugly cry, ha!) and yet, somehow, I knew he was right next to me. In life he always knew how to pick me up and even in death, here he was, still right beside me picking me up.
So as I was handed this opportunity for a solo odyssey to another land I’ve become aware that I am never really “solo” these days. I shall embark with a grateful heart and a healthy dose of fearlessness tempered with a ton of love and support from my family and friends, and with an eye out for all the signs around me.
I can’t thank this village – in this world and in another world – enough for all the love and support they have shown me and continue to show me every single day. Thanks for picking me up again and again.