When my husband Jim died in 2019, I didn’t realize the strange places my memories and emotions were going to take me. I weathered the initial storm with courage and artifice, but actually I have gone through a host of grief related anxieties, fears and melancholia-as anyone would attest after losing someone so very close. The tears, the anger, the sadness, the angst has been a bloodless wound of painful experiences. Obviously, I wasn’t aware going through these tests of my stamina would actually be necessary to get me to the place I occupy right now-which is peace within my own psyche (soul).
In the dark days of my widowhood I found myself talking into thin air to a man who I would never see again. I burned the candle at both ends trying to fill the void. I tried reckoning with the past. I worked on forgiving Jim’s endless perplexities, jealousies, and severe imaginings he saddled me with throughout our 57 year-long marriage. They kept me continuously confused and searching for answers. Jim was a very complex human being but I loved him through it all although he was very hard to understand.
One great thing I found helped me cope through these sad times after his death was my growth in God, and prayer. However, as I trekked a foggy memory lane I still had bad dreams, good dreams, and periods of nervousness, restlessness and feelings of uselessness. I fell into a pattern of dwelling on the past. I was always asking Alexa to play sad songs like “A Song for You” by Leon Russell which kind of describes our relationship and how I would surmise he felt about me. Our favorites from our youth sometimes made me cry. Songs such as “Dream Lover ” by Bobby Darren, or Johnny Mathis’ huge hit “Wonderful, Wonderful” brought back some really good memories of days gone forever-when we were falling in love.
I have asked myself over and over, ‘could I have done better by him?’ I beat myself up quite regularly for not being as patient and understanding enough to the man I loved and looked after during his twelve years of illness and disability. Jim had been a remarkably healthy man before his stroke in 2007, despite the fact he was a chain smoker, and at one time had a drinking problem. After that it was all downhill for him, but he never complained of his infirmities (or having to quit smoking), not even when he was dying. I am sure he was afraid, but it never showed.
Since Jim’s passing almost three years now, I have been told by relatives and friends I am doing a lot better than most would do after a loss of such magnitude, but they aren’t with me when I get blue and need one of Jim’s witty, bantering teases made to keep me on my toes-yes with always a chance of rebuttal, but never the last word! Strangely, on most levels we were on the same page, and his devout political dissertations continually kept me informed whether I wanted to be or not; he loved to bloviate. This guy of mine was a lot of things good and bad, but he was never boring and his particular brand of humor and intelligence kept me coming back for more, but unfortunately his riotous quips and backstabs were not always without a price. He could be hopelessly insulting.
Oddly, through the ensuing years, his absence from my life has become as much a part of me as having him here in the flesh. I think that is why every so often I have taken to asking my departed husband out-loud to give me a sign he is still close-by. It would be so comforting to know if he were at least here in spirit. I tend to believe he is not too far away, just above the rim between life and death-he is there hanging over the railing waving at me. He’ll always be with me. It is something I know.
The requests I have asked of Jim over these lonely years are real happenings. The few people I have let in on my secret encounters have been nice about it and real believers, but some deemed them “probably coincidental,” although I would not agree. I realize there will always be skeptics out there who would likely shoot down my brief meetings as far fetched, weird, or possibly fetish figments of my imagination, but I choose to refer to them as divine interactions. A term I stole from my cousin Pam out in Colorado when I told her about this latest episode.
If you will please, these recurrences are not just prayers, random thoughts, or wishful thinking. I did not cook them up in some witch’s caldron on a dark night out in my backyard. They really took place, oft- times with tangible proof of such. One particular incident happened just recently on Jim’s birthday. October 13th, he would have been 81. And so with a bit of reluctance I am compelled to share in this essay-some truly awesome events that happened to me, but first let’s go back to the beginning.
It was a bright sunshiny day in February a couple weeks after Jim’s funeral. I was in the car travelling home from Target like we had done together umpteen times before. I was now trying, best I could, to deal with the sadness I felt throughout my body and the sickening, agonizing loss of my sidekick. I knew I had to resume my new life as a widow without getting lost in the muddy waters of depression. I knew it was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t either. I tried not to complain much to my family and friends, and I was stoically determined to move on. What helped me to sort out my life, as it had become, was to talk to myself like a Dutch uncle.
Jim was deep in my thoughts that day as I made my way home from the department store. Then I had to stop for a red light. I patted his empty seat and remarked how much I missed him not being with me today. Incredibly, it seemed like just yesterday he was sitting right here! It was then I noticed the dark blue sedan ahead of me, also waiting for the light to change, the license plate said JAF. Those were Jim’s initials! I knew right then, this had to be a sign from my man. I was so excited about it I laughed and cried all the way home. I will never forget it! That was no coincidence.
I did some very heavy thinking during those early days after his death, especially in our old 2002 Dodge Caravan minivan where Jim had ridden shotgun since he hung up his car keys for good, ten years prior. Declaring me the designated driver from then on must have been extremely hard for him. “Now Linda, the decision to get rid of this old car is going to be all yours.” I could see him saying this in my mind’s eye. But this time I was all alone. The car had been acting up lately and I was worried it may breakdown on me. We both loved that old vehicle, and had planned on getting a younger similar version in the near future. But, one of our big bug-a-boos as our children will tell you- is to procrastinate. I guess we were waiting for all the wheels to fall off, and the upholstery to go up in a huge puff of gray granulated dust before we made our final decision! One thing we didn’t want was a car loan! A year after his death I settled on a Kia Soul, one of the biggest purchases I had ever made on my own.
I can remember times when I would be driving to the grocery store, I would glance over to the passenger side and there would be Jim anxiously complaining about my driving. Talk about backseat drivers being annoying. He was a front seat driver with big, wide eyes and a cold, white hand clutching the arm rest. If you were watching his feet you would have thought he was the one driving! It was unnerving. I was a safe driver, but he never got used to me being the pilot. Nonetheless, he would accompany me the last two years of his life just about everywhere I went-not only because I wanted to get him out of the house for a change of scene, but it had become apparent it was no longer safe to leave him alone anymore. So he would sit in the van listening to Rush Limbaugh as he waited for me to finish my shopping. These excursions could be frustrating for both of us.
I remember one evening approximately a year after he had gone to be with the Lord, I was in the bathroom preparing for bed. As I dried my face and hands, I felt the urge to go back to the mirrored vanity where I had just been brushing my teeth. I wanted to ask Jim a question. Why in the mirror I don’t know. “Hey honey if you’re out there, please give me a sign,” I asked rather disconcertedly but waiting momentarily to see if anything would happen. Crickets, so I proceeded to my room to put on my pajamas and go to bed. I thought no more about it. I wasn’t quite under the covers when I heard a loud clatter coming from the bathroom! A bit spooked, I opened the door slightly, and peaked in. There lay the contents of a white wicker shelf that had hung on the wall close to the toilet! It held hand towels and toiletries and a small brass vintage windup clock popular during the 1960s. What a mess I had to clean-up that night! Now if that wasn’t a sign from the other-side, I will eat the hand towels and Ivory soap that fell into the toilet! By the way, I checked the support screws holding the shelf to the wall and they were still intact and not loose.
Recently, as aforementioned, I thought I would ask for a sign again. It seemed time. Probably a year has gone by since the shelf took flight, and I was hankering for another sign. Incidentally, I do not ask for a sign very often. I don’t think it wise to wear out one’s welcome when it comes to the supernatural. Being such, in my mind, it then becomes a contrivance, and not a divine interaction.
I do not dwell on these miracles of divine interaction to soothe my worried brow-I just go with the flow and try to live my life for the joys of today, and the happiness they will bring me tomorrow. But every so often, and certainly on this special occasion-I thought it would be so nice to hear from him. Without question, I will always miss him, and the good times we spent together. We raised four extraordinary children, so for sure we did something right.
This time my divine interaction happened when I asked Jim to give me another sign that he was still close-by, especially since tomorrow was going to be his 81st birthday. Once again I was in the bathroom attending to my nightly ritual before bed when I decided to propose another request. “But, Jim please this time don’t knock the shelf off the wall,” I jested aloud. Again crickets. The next morning I wished him a happy heavenly birthday, got dressed and ready for a visit to my favorite antique shop with my youngest daughter Laura who was coming to spend a few days with me. By then, I had forgotten all about getting a sign from the birthday boy. I was so happy to be out and about and enjoying the day with my daughter. Incidentally the pandemic isolation combined with the loss of Jim has been especially difficult. It is refreshing to be getting on with things. As I browsed around the antique shop, I found myself alone in a jammed-packed room with vintage furniture, oriental rugs, and darling trinkets from my childhood, plus quirky bric-a-brac of all kinds. I like to paint, so as I scanned a crowded wall of ancient oil paintings-not impressed by any, my eyes soon beckoned a calendar all but smashed in a corner on the same wall. It seemed indeed out of place and nearly out of sight-it was hard to read. Unassumingly, and for no apparent reason, I walked over to inspect the year printed on the tattered Bankers Life advertisement. It read 1940, the year Jim was born! Needless to say for $5.00 I bought that bit of ephemera. The proprietor of the shop said that the calendar had been there for years, in fact she didn’t remember the last time she had even seen it. Hello!
As I write this piece today, it is October 22, 2021. This would have been our 60th wedding anniversary. Thanks for the memories Jim! Love you and miss you. Keep in touch when you can.
In the words of Don Henley’s hit song written in 1989, “In a New York minute, everything can change; In a New York minute; Things can get pretty strange.” I wonder if Henley, an Eagles rock band member, knew the scope of his prophetic lyrics. “And in these days; when darkness falls early; and people rush home; To the ones they love; You better take a fool’s advice; And take care of your own; One day they’re here; Next day they’re gone.”