We all experience the loss of grandparents, parents, relatives, friends, pets, and people who have filled our lives.
And we all share in our feelings of grief and sadness for the ones we love. But what’s different are the beliefs we hold about what happens when someone dies.
I consider myself spiritual but not religious. I believe we go somewhere when we die, although I am humble enough to admit that I don’t know what that looks like exactly. But I am sure that it involves seeing the ones I loved on this earth once again.
That would include my younger brother Brett, my greatest friend, who passed away in March of 2012 from a long, brave battle with alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide. I have had other losses in my life, but none have impacted me or how I see the world more than his loss.
I found something weeks after my brother had died tucked neatly in between the pages of my brother’s bible, one of only a few sentimental items that I had wanted. Written in blue felt pen was this note:
“0->5, Mom’s love, but the fights – 5 & up, scared without Jody.”
Nothing in the world made Brett and me who we are more than the things that happened to us in childhood. Although, admittedly, I did not understand childhood trauma back then like I do now. Sadly, neither did he nor the professionals at the time.
What is interesting, you see, is we had written letters, shared cards, communicated through emails and texts, and I had read probably over 200 pages from his journals after he passed away—and my name was always written the same way over the years: Jodee. Not surprising, as that is how I spell my name. But here, on a single piece of lined paper, it was written differently.
I could tell he wrote it when he was an adult as there were a few words about missing our young niece’s birthday on September 15th. Even more profound and enlightening was that he wrote about “a couple years of emptiness” during his late teens and early 20s a few paragraphs down, and that honest revelation broke my heart. My brother got it right when he wrote this note. I had changed the spelling of my name when I was just a teenager, but when I was a little girl, when he and I were taking on the world, it was indeed “J-o-d-y.”
How many of us, when we lose someone we love so much, have wanted some sort of sign, not only to ease our pain but to assure us that there is something beautiful beyond this life?
When it comes to faith, some things happen that are unexplainable. That seem impossible. That defy the voice of reason.
In the summer of 2016, my husband Jim and I were overjoyed to having some time off to relax and enjoy the sun. Due to bad weather in Alberta, Canada, our plans changed and we drove a province away to British Columbia for our week’s vacation. As it turns out, it was pouring rain in our favorite places—Sicamous and Penticton—so we continued driving south looking for sun and settled in Osoyoos, a place we had never been before, not even as children.
Out on the boat a couple days later, enjoying our down time from work, we sailed into U.S. waters quite by accident and saw a unique resort community out on the water. After our week of holiday, we drove the 11 hours home and we were so intrigued that Jim looked the resort up on Google maps. It was just inside the border in Oroville, Washington, a small town of less than 1,800 people. It has adorable 50s-style cottage homes, a pool, a diner, a gym, marina, and a beautiful beach.
We live at the lake, and the last thing in the world we were considering was purchasing another home. But the environment and setting were like nothing we had ever seen. It was the lifestyle there that we wanted; a place our friends, our nieces and nephews, our sons, and their significant others could come, and where someday we will entertain our grandchildren. Grandchildren we love even now, long before they are born.
So on a whim, we purchased a family vacation home.
A few weeks later, on August 18, 2016, I sat in the truck in a grocery store parking lot in Oroville for 15 minutes waiting for my husband.
He jumped in the vehicle and slammed the door.
“Turn off the truck,” I said.
“What’s wrong?” he asked startled, not noticing that I had been crying.
“Just turn it off for a second. You know how I have been working all week early in the morning on my final manuscript changes from my editor?”
“Ya,” Jim replied.
You see, I had taken those few years after the loss of my brother to write a memoir about our life, a complicated love story: The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame, and Addiction, and How I Broke Free in hopes of helping others. This vacation and this peaceful new home were just what I needed as being so vulnerable in my truth made me feel anxious.
I began to smile, and my eyes filled with tears like they had so many times before.
“And less than two hours ago I had a conference call, trying to finalize the title I want to use.”
Jim just stared at me without saying a word.
“I am sitting here. In a different country. In a tiny town we shouldn’t be in. At a grocery store we shouldn’t be at, except for the fact that the other one down the street ran out of romaine lettuce. And you parked right here. You could have parked anywhere in this huge parking lot. In any direction.”
“Oo-kay.” he said, with a bit of a drawl.
“I was sitting here, knowing I am so close. I am almost done. I was thinking of Brett. Can he see me? Is he happy? Is he proud of me? Did I get the story just right?”
My husband continued looking at me with concern and bewilderment. I turned to him and said simply, “Look up.”
And he lifted his head.
Behind the store is a small mountain. And in that mountain, in white rocks—no other names, no other rocks, just this:
Have you ever received a sign from someone that has passed? Let me know in the comments below as I would love to hear your story.