Anyone who’s lost someone will do pretty much anything to find them. They look for meaning or presence in the vacuum that remains ‘after.’ For someone starving for connection, a scent, a feather, or a penny might be a tempting appetizer. Something moves; something appears, pretty much anything will do. At Christmas, especially the first one after that person you thought would always be there— isn’t, any ‘sign of life’ would pretty much be your entire wish list.
Now, I’m not the ‘see the face in the piece of toast’ type. No matter how I want to find an apparition of the husband who exited this world so quickly, my skeptical self is always vigilant. But, last year, especially in the first few months after he died, I think I’d have had to be in a coma not to notice a few bizarre signs that visited me.
Half-heartedly hanging a wreath on the front door a week or two before last Christmas, I heard distinct screeching but couldn’t see where it was coming from. The high pitched sound got disturbingly louder as it got closer until it was above me in the unmistakable shape of a hawk – two to be exact. No big deal except that hawk-watching was one of my husband’s favorite past times. Whenever he spotted one, he’d yell “Hon, did you see that?” Invariably, I missed the sightings. But that day, those two squawking hawks stopped their racket as soon as they appeared above me, alighting on sky high branches of nearby trees. It took only minutes for one of them to take off again, leaving his partner remaining alone on her perch. Allegory? Maybe. I told myself the hawk visitation was just a lame coincidence but it still felt eerily like I was that hawk left behind. Still, I might have filed that incident under a wistful ‘maybe’ but the very next week, another moment popped up that gave me pause.
Was that moment encased in a snazzy holiday happening I looked forward to? Get serious. The event was a Christmas tree lighting ceremony sponsored by the funeral home who, in that past year, waked loved ones of families like ours. Reluctantly, my daughter and I dragged ourselves to the Elks hall, where it was sensitively held, but no matter where the ceremony took place, tears were the theme of the night. Placing an ornament, with my husband’s name on it, on a tree that was anything but ours, did nothing to make the event less cringe worthy. Add Christmas hymns, played on a portable organ slightly reminiscent of an SNL skit, and the night felt like the worst kind of Twilight Zone moment. Other than wishing my guy was next to me, chuckling at the awkward scene, my only thoughts were ‘I have to get out of here before I drown in tears’. As the invitation was announced for refreshments, my sweet girl and I almost tripped over each other as we fled that kindly, well-intentioned ceremony. Both of us were lost in our own thoughts as we walked into the quiet parking lot — which wasn’t silent night for long. Imagine our reaction to hearing the incongruous strains of ‘All I want for Christmas Is You’ blaring from the brilliant glare of Santa’s firetruck on its way to a town event. You can’t make this stuff up. As we looked at each other laughing, my daughter said ‘Yup, that’s dad’.
If you’re thinking, there was a logical explanation – I’m sure there was but I dare you to top it.
Then there was the Christmas tree, which you already know I’m more than a bit freakish about. I think my husband was always secretly gleeful that it was my ‘thing’ since it neatly got him off the hook each year. Who looks forward to light stringing that rivals Rockefeller Center? I’ve also been known to move the ornaments, under the cover of darkness, to their rightful places after well-meaning husband and grandkidlets’ placements. Last Christmas was no different except for the tree’s priceless new additions – my husband’s picture in a jeweled frame and a slim silver knight, engraved in his memory. They joined all the other mementos of my and our lives together in a sparkling imitation of decorative Christmas cheer, or as much as I could muster. That is until an entire row of said sparkling lights started to blink, the usually ominous sign that bulbs are ready to conk out. What the heck? I realized quickly that I’d have to dive through all the strings to find which one was the culprit — but I had no time. My son and his family were just then walking through the door. I decided to put concern about the alien light string on hold until the next morning, channeling instead a blithe Pee Wee Herman’s ‘I meant to do that’.
Suddenly, something caught my eye. I noticed that the only section of lights that were acting out were directly under my husband’s picture as well as the knight and his initial ornament that flanked it. Spooky, right? But newsflash – when Christmas Day dawned the next day and I flipped the switch on the tree lights, they were all bright and steady. There was not one sign of blinking or dimming. Aces.They say spirits love to play with electricity and what better time to fool around with lighting systems than Christmas Eve? Well played, husband!
Were all of these incidents ‘signs’ — or just random coincidences? Was it my guy’s spirit coming out to play, knowing how much I missed his crazy sense of humor? No one can ever really know. Years ago, after my brother died, pictures kept going off kilter on the walls in my parents’ house. Always the prankster, flipping pictures to irritate father’s sense of anal order so he had to straighten them, my brother’s pranks were legendary. Still, I’m not exactly gullible and admit it takes a whack on the head to catch on sometimes. Last Christmas, I may have become a believer.
This past week, I found a sprig of green on the front seat of my car, out of context with anywhere I had been or bought, and it made me pause. Not sure if it was a touch of holiday evergreen that somehow just jumped in my car, I sniffed. No, it was no alpine fir; it was the unmistakable scent of rosemary. Aside from the obvious fact that plants do not grow in my very neat car, I suddenly remembered an interesting fact I read months ago about the rosemary plant. It was so surprising to me that, in many cultures, the fragrant herb is associated with death and funerals, meaning ‘remembrance’. Wow.
While I hardly need an aromatic little green memo to think about that handsome guy of mine every day, hour or minute, it was admittedly a nice touch. Maybe this all sounds a little too woo-woo, but when you’re searching for any glimmer of light, it might be what gets you through the night. All I know is when I feel abandoned by my husband’s constant chatter, I remember the night I came home from California this year to find both up and downstairs hall lights out. It seemed far too odd an occurrence not to think he might be trying to get my attention. (Remember, spirits just love tooling with electrical stuff.) I’d like to think that sometimes any hit from your own special spirit is not only welcome, it’s the breath in the ‘after’ we desperately need.
I’ve had precious little ‘signs’ these past months (if you don’t count the rosemary). I suspect my guy has gotten comfy in his space. It’s not hard to imagine him, the perennially amiable journalist, busily asking every spirit he meets about their life. Or, maybe he feels I’m standing up on my own and he doesn’t want to stop the flow of moving forward. Hey, hon, newsflash – I can take it! Flick the lights, leave the feathers, even bits of plants, though garlic might leave too heavy a scent, even for an Italian girl.
This year, this Christmas, the second one without my husband, I could really use a ‘spirited’ booster shot. So, honey, if you have a yen to ‘visit’ me this Christmas and wonder if I’m still yearning for a sign of your presence – bring it on. I’ll be waiting.
Have you been waiting for a — ‘sign of life’?