When my mother died thirteen years ago, I looked for signs of her presence everywhere. I asked her to visit me in my dreams and looked for evidence that she was with me, but found none. Years later, I realized I was trying too hard. Was looking for something too specific, too concrete. So much so that I missed out on plenty of messages from person I had loved most on earth.
But now I see signs of her presence everywhere. She comes to me in butterflies, and pennies face-up on the ground. She comes when I need her most, and sometimes for no reason at all except to remind me that she’s with me.
Last week, my sister Debbie passed away. Growing up, we were very close. Ten years older than me, Debbie took me places with her friends and never made me feel like I was just a kid. I was one of the girls. After moving to California more than 25 years ago, we didn’t talk much, but the love I felt for her remained strong.
Last year, after complications from spinal surgery, Debbie became a quadriplegic. She was on a ventilator and lived in constant fear of not being able to breathe for the last nine months of her life. After visiting her in Chicago last October, I could only think about her when I was at home, alone, because in those moments her suffering became my suffering, and it overwhelmed me.
Because of the distance, and because of her inability to communicate in any way, I had not spoken to my sister since my visit. When I received word of her passing, I wondered if she knew how much I loved her. How much I would miss her. And how glad I was that she was my sister.
Debbie was quick to answer my questions. Within 24 hours of her passing, my sister sent me three messages:
After learning about my sisters passing, I spent the day writing and reading. Only in the evening did I turn on the television. The first show I watched was the prior week’s The Good Wife, where Alicia learns that Will—the man she loved but could never have—has died. In that moment, Alicia’s entire world is forever changed.
Message number one: I know how much you love me, and I understand how painful it was to lose me.
The next show I watched was the prior week’s Gray’s Anatomy. As the show opens, a man has been permanently paralyzed in a car accident. He’s a quadriplegic and, because his diaphragm was injured, he will live on a ventilator the rest of this life. The man is heavily sedated and his wife wants Christina (Yang) to wake him and ask him if he wants to live like that, or would prefer to be disconnected from the vent and allowed to die.
As the man considers his choice, Christina envisions her life unfolding in two separate ways. The vision of the future shows the injured man choosing to live, suffering and angry at his fate. When returning to the present, the man chooses to die.
Message number two: My passing was for the best. For the past nine months, I was not living. I’m free now, and I’m at peace.
The following morning I went for a run. I thought about my sister the entire way, and just before making the turn toward home, I began to cry. In that very moment, the song Sister by Dave Matthews began to play on my ipod. As he sang the words, I heard my sister’s voice:
Sister, I hear you laugh
My heart fills full up
Keep me please
Sister, when you cry
I feel your tears running down my face
Sister, Sister will you keep me?
–Dave Mathews, Sister
Message number three: I’m glad that you were my sister, too.
What about you? Do you receive message from a loved one that has passed on?