People talk of signs. Other widowed people. They tell me that their husband sent them a butterfly, or they see their wife each morning when the hummingbird comes to their window. Maybe a special song plays on their radio and it’s a sign from their late spouse. Birds, stars, rainbows, coins, feathers – I have heard it all. Are these signs real, or are they simply people missing their loved ones and wanting desperately to feel them in some way? Hell if I know. And really – who cares anyway? Does it matter? If it gives the grieving person comfort, then who am I, who are you, to tell them it isn’t real? How can you question someone else’s experience? Personally, I don’t think you can. If someone says they felt their husband’s presence because he left them a penny on the car seat, then who am I to argue with them? The thing is – I have never received any of these kinds of signs. No. That is not my husband. In life, my husband took care of me. He made my life easier, better, safer. He supported me in everything I ever did or wanted to do. He was my biggest fan and my best friend. Why would his energy or his soul or whatever the hell he is now, be any different?
Since Don died 13 months ago, I have had exactly 3 dreams where I felt his physical presence – and there have been 3 scenarios / circumstances that occured, where I felt strongly that he made them happen. Somehow. I don’t pretend to know the first thing about how someone who is dead can make things happen. I don’t even know what I believe in or don’t believe in at this point. Is my husband a star? Is he energy floating around in the atmosphere? Is he part of the earth? The sky? Maybe he is a cloud or rain or a piece of one of the planets. Or maybe a soul is just a soul and it isn’t something you can see with your eyes. I have absolutely no clue. What I do know is what I feel, and my feelings with these 3 situations are so strong, that I don’t even question them. I just choose to believe that my husband is somehow looking out for me, making things easier. Being the husband that he vowed he would always be. Here is how I know:
Scenario One: His car. Our car. And now, my car. His Grand Prix Pontiac 1997. He got it in 1999 down in Florida. I remember how excited he was. He loved that car immediately. It was his baby. He polished it and talked to it and loved it like it was human. Typical guy behavior. I mocked him of course, but secretly, I found it sweet. When he moved up to NJ after our 7 year long-distance relationship in February of 2005, he drove up in that car, in the snow. And from that first day that he moved in, he shared that car with me. My husband not only shared that car with me, but he made sure I knew that it was now ours. He really enjoyed sharing his things with me. It made him happy. “Now you can get to work easier , Boo. You dont have to take a bus to a train and all that anymore. You can drive our car.” So we shared it – me driving it to work and having it home by 4pm – and then him taking it to his overnight EMS job.
Years went by, and in time, New Jersey and the shitty roads took a toll on our car. “My poor baby”, Don would sigh everytime he drove over yet another pothole, or brought the car into the mechanic for the 3rd time in 5 months. “This place is killing my baby.” About a year before he died, we had started to talk about getting ourselves a new car. Of course, the very idea of this saddened Don beyond belief. He didnt want to let go of his car, ever. “Maybe when we get the new car,” he would say hopefully and desperately, “you can drive it and then I can just keep driving this one and tinker around town with it.” “Boo, we have to let the car go soon. Two cars means two parking spots, two gas tanks, two everything. We can barely afford one car.” “Yes, Boo” he would say, and pout his bottom lip at me. And with that, he was on a mission. He took a second job at the local Petsmart stocking shelves, in addition to the volenteer job he already had there taking care of the kitties. He started researching new cars on the internet, because this is what my husband did every single time before a big purchase. He researched. Of course, he wanted HIS car, but Pontiac no longer made that car. He did find a Pontiac Bonneville online that he fell in love with. “Look Boo! Maybe we can get this car. It looks just like ours, except it’s newer and safer.” And so, he went off to his two jobs to take care of his family and try to get us a better life. Until, of course, the morning that he left for Petsmart, and never came home. My husband collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while trying to make our life better.
Fast-forward about 3 weeks after Don’s death. The funeral had happened, the ceremonial formalities had ended, and our little family was left to put the pieces of our lives back together. I had driven our car to mom and dad’s house in Massachusetts, talking to it the entire 4 hours, begging it: “Please just get me home one last time. Please don’t break down. Please don’t break down.” The last couple years or so, the car would always have issues, break down, or “Service engine” light would appear, whenever I was driving it. Never when Don had it. So I begged the car to get me home. And it did.
My mom, dad, brother and I sat at the dining room table, trying to come up with ideas for my life. What would I do next? Was it possible for me to remain in our apartment for a little while while I figured it out? Could I survive on my job alone, without Don’s income? These were all things that needed to be discussed. The elephant in the room was that the car needed to go. It was no longer safe for me to drive it, and it was time. As my parents brought up this topic to me, I became overwhelmed with the loss of everything, and broke down crying. My brother looked at me, heartbroken, grabbed my dad and walked outside. A little while later, they both returned, and my brother said simply: “I have an idea.” His best friend Brendan apparently had a car that he wasn’t using, that was basically sitting in his driveway not being driven by anyone. Brendan’s new job gave him a free car to use/drive, so he never needed this one. It was a 2002 with about 80,000 miles on it. (ours was a 1997 with 145,000 miles on it.) He was planning on selling it for a few thousand dollars. My brother David explained the situation, and asked him if he would sell it to him for say, somewhere under $2k, so he could give it to me? Brendan agreed, and then Dad and David sprung into brother and Dad-type action; getting new tires for the car, having new wipers put in, washing it inside and out, and spending days and weeks making sure it was safe for me to have. My brother bought me a car. My brother bought me a car. He said he just wanted to do something to help, and this was what he could think of to do. Honestly, I cant think of many things more sweet or thoughtful than that.
Here is the weird part – the car was a Pontiac Bonneville. It was the same exact car that Don had looked at online, just months earlier. The car was so similar to our car, it was scary. The inside was exactly the same. The feel of the seats, the dashboards, everything. The outside was silver, ours was beige. Other than that, it looked and felt like my car. Don’s car. Our car. It was important to me that Don’s baby not just get hacked into pieces and sold as junk parts. My brother put an ad on Craigslist to try and sell it for me, but he warned me that it most likely wouldnt sell. Even if it did, he would only get $400 for it tops, he thought, from someone who would use the parts. The idea of Don’s precious car being sold for junk parts did not sit right with me. Kind of broke my heart. My brother waited a couple weeks, and then got a call from a young couple living in New Hampshire who wanted to come see the car. They drove over 2 hours from the White Mountains area to come look at the car, and my dad and brother showed it to them. They bought the car for $800. My brother gave me the money to help me live and get by. Later that night, my dad called to tell me about the couple who bought our car. “You wouldnt believe it,” he said to me. “They were two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. They reminded me of you and Don when you first got married. He is a mechanic, like Don was, so he said he can fix it up himself. And he wanted something just like this for his wife to drive around locally. They couldn’t have been more excited or happy to own this car. It was almost like it was a brand new jaguar to them. They will take very good care of it.” I felt like our baby was in good hands, and began to breathe.
The day I drove my “new” Pontiac back home to New Jersey, my brother did a few more things that blew my mind. “Let me show you something”, he said, and took me outside to the car. “Before I sold Don’s car, I took a few things off it and switched them with your new Pontiac. I figured this way, you could still have little pieces of Don and his car in this car.” The floor mats in the front seat. The Pontiac logo from the hood of the car. The rearview mirror. All of these things, my brother swiped from our original car, and put them on my new car. It seems like such a tiny thing, but when your husband is gone, it is everything. When I touch that rearview mirror, I know that he touched it over and over again. My feet go where his feet went on those floor mats. And today, when I drive this Pontiac around, that looks and feels exactly like our other car, I can feel Don in there with me. I love this car now the same way that Don loved his car. His baby. Now, with all of that information in this little story, one could believe that a bunch of coincidences took place and my incredible brother bought me a car. Or – you could believe – like I do – that my husband is still finding ways to take care of me.
Scenario Two: Caitlin. My grief counselor, who is so much more than just a grief counselor. I have never in my life been in any kind of “therapy”, nor have I wanted to be. I’ve always had this sort of nightmare vision of therapists as these evil, condescending people who try to keep you sick so they can keep collecting their money, and who don’t really give a shit about you at all, and never really listen to what you’re saying. And they are always so concerned with time. God forbid if you go over your alloted time by 45 seconds. Plus all those meaningless platitude things they say like: “Let’s discuss your repressed memories”, or “Tell me more about your mother”, or “how do you feel about that?”, sort of make me want to puke. That’s how I feel about that.
However, sometime around last Christmas, I was talking to my good friend Frank, who is a dark and wonderfully cynical comedian, and rightly so. He lost both of his parents, and his best friend in the world commited suicide. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg. The guy knows pain. He begged me to call his grief counselor, whom he loves. It took him awhile to convince me. “Please just try”, he kept saying. Finally, I gave her a call, and her schedule was booked solid! She gave me the name of a colleague of hers, I went to see her, and she was very nice. Then at the end, after I had poured my heart out, she says: “Im not sure I can help you, because I’m not a grief counselor. That’s not my specialty.” Then she gave me the number for her colleague. Her name was Caitlin, and even though I felt like giving up before I had even begun, I called her. She had a soothing voice on the phone. She sounded like a real person who wasn’t putting on some crazy, overly-quiet “doctor” aura. We made an appointment, and I started seeing her sometime in January.
What I can tell you about Caitlin is this: She stands in her doorway and holds the door open to welcome me everytime I see her. She has never once said in that “you’re just a case study to me” way that we are “out of time.” She curses. She lets me curse. She laughs. We laugh. I cry. I feel safe. She gives me a new perspective on things all the time. Makes me see things in a way I didn’t think about before. She reminds me that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for, and that I’m often too hard on myself. She is insightful and keen and sharp, and often says something surprising or not what I expect to hear. For example, when I told her one time that Im afraid to move forward in the grieving process because then I would have to let him go, she said: “No you don’t. You don’t ever have to let Don go. Not ever. That’s not the goal here. The goal is to find a way for you to live this new life, and to find a place, eventually, for him to sit in it. He will always be a huge part of you. Always. He is part of what shaped you. It would be impossible to let him go. You take him with you, and its about shifting your relationship with him to somewhere different, because he is no longer here. It’s not about letting him go.” I think that was the greatest thing she has ever said to me. It gave me such huge relief and a reason to breathe again. I kept hearing all these people talking of “saying goodbye” to my husband, and It broke me into pieces. Why the hell would I ever want to say goodbye to him? I refuse. We didnt get divorced. He died. I love him. I will always love him, and I will take him with me wherever I go. Having that idea validated as being okay meant so much to me.
Caitlin is someone who really, truly cares about me. It’s not just a job to her. Or an act. (or, if it is, she is the best actress I’ve ever met.) She is a phenomenal human being with a huge heart. She remembers everything I tell her. Names, when things happened, small details. She writes nothing down, and isnt recording the sessions. The “sessions” often feel like a great talk with a really close friend, who just happens to be incredibly wise. When I performed the play I wrote about Don in the One-Act Festival Competition, she came to see it. When I did a 5k Walk to honor Don, she donated to the cause. She not only helped me come up with the idea for “Pay it Forward for Don Day” on the one-year mark of his death, she also participated in a big and thoughtful way.
Here is the thing that I hope doesn’t freak her out, but it’s true. She reminds me of my husband. She has his quick, sharp wit and his friendly, laid-back nature. She says things that make me feel comforted, just like he did. When I go there and talk about Don with her, I actually feel him in the room with us. With me. It is a strong feeling, and it happens over and over again. It feels like a hug. He is there, and I know that he somehow brought her to me. She was a gift from him. Another way to make sure that I’m safe and to take care of me. A couple of weeks ago, she said to me: “One day, you won’t need to come here anymore. You won’t need to see me anymore.” I felt as if someone had just shot me when she said that. Not need her? Not want to see her? What on earth was she talking about? Had she lost her mind? There are days when the only thing that keeps me going until tomorrow, is knowing that I have that place to go to on Mondays, and just be. The thought of losing “that” makes me feel sick.
I truly believe that she is more than just a counselor in my life. When I met Don, I was in a terrible place, and going through the after-effects of a trauma. Don saved my life. I believe he saved it a second time when he brought me to Caitlin. One day, when I may not “need” to see her anymore, I hope we can be friends. I already see her as a friend. I care about her the way I care about my friends. You can’t tell someone that much about yourself and what is inside your heart week after week, and not feel something for them. At least I can’t. I’m just not built that way. If Im crying and laughing and opening my soul to you, you better believe Im going to care about you long after that “hour” is over. I don’t know how to explain it or how it’s even possible, but my husband is responsible for this relationship. It is very hard for me to be this open with many people. With most people I don’t know well, I just feel awkward and fake. I trusted her immediately, the same way I trusted Don immediately. I just knew they were exceptional people, and I knew I could tell them anything. I could tell them the thing I hadn’t told anyone. I knew. Don knew too. And that is why he sent her.
Scenario Three: A place to live and a roommate that doesn’t suck. About 16 years ago, I moved into a great little apartment with my best childhood friend Sarah, in Forest Hills, NY. We loved it there, and it was a fantastic neighborhood with all kinds of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, everything you can imagine right within walking distance. We were only blocks from the subway and the LIRR train. Super easy access to NYC and Long Island, right in between both. When I was there with Sarah, I was probably not the best roommate at that time. In fact, I know I wasn’t. I was not myself. I was going through a recent trauma, and I was all over the place emotionally. I was a huge mess for a long time. While living there, I met Don online. Our friendship did not develop into a “relationship” until a couple years later, but the first time I spoke with my husband in that music chat-room, I was in Forest Hills on Sarah’s computer. Back then, I didnt know it, but I was starting to heal. It was an apartment of healing.
Fast-forward to this past year. My husband was gone, and I was left in our crappy, dusty, old apartment – with double the bills and rent, no health insurance, and only my income. Add to that the emotional toll that came from living in the place where we shared our entire life together, and it was a disaster. I was sad every night, couldn’t sleep, and saw no real way out. About 6 months after he died, I started to actively look for an apartment, a new place to live. I did not want a roommate. I’m 40 years old, I told myself. I’m not in freakin’ college. The only person I want to share space with is my husband, and since I can’t do that anymore, I want to live alone, dammit! My finances and budget strongly disagreed and put me in my place. Soon I found myself looking at “apartment shares” on Craigslist. Weeks and months went by where I responded to post after post after post. People looking for a roommate. It was horrible. Some of them were in their 20’s, and wanted other partiers in their college years to live with. The ones that were not in their 20’s were in their 60’s and creepy. One older gentleman was looking for someone to rent one room that was literally the size of a phone booth. He was creepy as fuck and probably would have murdered me in my sleep. Most of the postings were scams. They would either demand all your credit card information just to SEE the apartment, or it would be some weird-ass dude named “Zolof” who was renting his pad while he was away “doing ministry work in Ugunda.” They would post a picture of a very real apartment that they had copy – pasted online somewhere, say it was theirs, then ask you to wire money in exchange for the keys. Is anyone out there really this stupid to fall for this shit? Other people wanted nothing to do with my two cats. “One cat – maybe, but two? No. Sorry.” I kept hearing my husband’s voice in my head from a couple years back, when we were searching for an apartment together to possibly move out of our crappy one. “I will live in a shoe or under a bridge before I get rid of my kitties,” he would say defiantly. Then he would turn to them, pet them and say: “You will always have a good home and you will always, always be loved. No matter what it takes.”
We had looked at place after place that wouldn’t accept us because of our pets, and we were getting frustrated. One day we went to an Open House at this beautiful “luxury living” apartment complex in Hackensack, NJ. It was a high-rise with carpeted floors and central-air and a parking garage and lovely, friendly people. It was way out of our price range, but we dreamed about that place for months afterwards. We kept talking about it, about one day getting out of this craphole and being able to live there instead. When we got married, during our reception, we were introduced as husband and wife to the theme song from The Jeffersons. (“We’re Moving On Up … to a deelux apartment … in the sky …) Don kept referring to our someday apartment as our “dee-lux apartment in the sky.” During our search, I took him to Forest Hills one afternoon, and we spent the day there walking around. I wanted him to see where I lived when we met, and the place I wanted to one day come back to. He loved it. “This place rules”, he said. We talked about looking for our deelux apartment there oneday soon. One day.
Meanwhile, in after-Don-death-land, months of searching and getting nowhere was starting to grate on me, and I was starting to think that I would have to live alone in our sad memory-box apartment in New Jersey for the rest of my life. I didnt see a way out.
Then, one day, I was robotically going through the postings on Craigslist, as had become part of my daily routine, when I came upon one from someone named Michael. As I started to read it, I felt something. Part of me thought it was too good to be true, but a stronger part of me said: “Write to this man. Tell him your story. Just do it.” It was the same feeling I had the very first time I talked to Don, the very first time I talked to Caitlin. I didnt know what would happen, but I knew this person was something different, hiding amongst all the crap. Something he said in his posting that struck me right away, was that the most important thing to him was to live with a roommate who was “kind.” He spoke about kindness a lot. My husband was the epitamy of kindness. He lived it every single day. After emailing this stranger with my sad tale of woe and death, I received a response a short while later that gave me hope. We made plans to meet, and then for me to see the apartment. We hit it off immediately, and I moved in August 28th. Until then, almost every single place I had looked at was somewhere on Long Island, or somewhere that I would have moved to because I “had to.” Couldn’t afford to live alone anymore – financially or emotionally. I needed to get out. Michael’s apartment could have been just another run-of-the-mill, average, acceptable place to reside. But it wasn’t. Don made sure that I got more than that. He made sure I got what he couldn’t be here to have. Michael’s apartment was not just an apartment. It was a new home. A high-rise. 21 floors up. In Forest Hills.
There are other reasons I believe that Don brought me back to Forest Hills; this wonderful little neighborhood that is something old, something new. There are reasons I believe he crossed my path with Michael’s. Too many strange occurances. One day we were texting back and forth about the apartment details, and at the end of each text, he kept calling me “Boo.” It sent shivers up my spine. Of all the things to call me – he chose the one thing that my husband and I called each other solely, for years and years. We never even used each other’s names. It was just always “Boo.”
There was another day when I announced on Facebook to my friends that I had finally found a new apartment and wonderful roommate. Michael left a comment saying: “Welcome to your new home. Our deluxe apartment in the sky.” It came with a picture attached from his living room window. The beautiful sunset view from inside the apartment. He had no knowledge of our Jefferson’s theme song joke, or the fact that Don called our future apartment that exact same thing. It was weird. It was fate. It was right.
When leaving my NJ place, the thing I constantly said I would miss most of all is the NYC skyline view, especially at night. There is nothing like it in the world. The city lights up the sky and sparkles. Don used to say: “This is the best part of living in New Jersey. Staring at New York. This view never gets old.” The first night I slept in my new Forest Hills home, my bedroom window shades were open, and something was twinkling in the night sky. It was New York City. The same exact view, except this time, I didnt have to walk outside to the street to see it. This view was in my BEDROOM! Don took the one thing that I would miss about living in NJ, and made sure I had it here too. I know it.
My husband also made sure that I would be living with not just any old roommate, but one of the most caring and selfless people I have ever met. What can I say about Michael? He is like a big, Gay Angel. He sparkles like that city does at night. He has an abundance of energy – all the time. He walks around singing showtunes and humming. He is funny and smart and so damn nice. He not only accepted our kitties into his life and home, but he called me about a week before I moved in, and asked me to “put them on the phone” so he could talk to them. He said he had been walking around the apartment practicing talking to them and saying their names. Only Don, the biggest animal lover I know, could have sent me someone like this. Michael has a very small bedroom, and gave me the huge one. He saved exactly half the space for me and all my stuff – in all the closets, cabinets, everywhere. He has a whole slew of silly nicknames that come out of nowhere for me – crumbcake, love muffin, precious, dear heart. He is zen and calm and peaceful and warm. He is a writer, like me. He is an actor, like me. He loves his privacy – the same way that I’m used to living with my husband, is the way he likes to live. Don and I got along perfectly because we always respected each other’s space and alone time, yet we adored each other’s company. We rarely fought in a tiny space because of this fact. My new roommate is the same way. He is like nobody I have ever met, and at the same time, like Caitlin, he reminds me of my husband.
Something old. Something new. Something Gay. So that maybe one day, I won’t have to be so blue.
I don’t get butterflys and pennies from my husband. He doesnt send those kind of signs. No. My husband sends Pontiacs, and counselors, and wonderfully gay men, and beautiful sunset and city views, and apartments in the sky. My husband vowed on our wedding day to always be the husband I had dreamed of, and to take care of me and make sure I was safe. And that is exactly what he is doing. From his dee-lux apartment in the sky. Just like he promised.