99: The Sign

99: The Sign

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Sign

The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God.

~The Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman

Valentine’s Day was always special in our house. Dad would return from work bearing an armload of sweetheart roses for Mom and a small box of chocolates for me. My younger brothers, who thought the flowers-and-candy ritual was too mushy to bear, managed to find delight in whatever heart-shaped bakery goods Mom provided. After dinner we would sit on the family room floor, shaking a flurry of dime-store valentines from hand-decorated boxes we’d fashioned at school. We ran our hands through the piles, searching for cards with sweets attached. Only after the candy hearts and foiled chocolates had been retrieved would we bother to read our classmates’ sentiments. Our rituals were simple and predictable. We took comfort in that.

Even after my brothers and I grew up and began our own families and traditions, Mom could count on those street-vendor roses, still wrapped in damp newspaper. They weren’t as fancy as the floral shop variety, but they were hand-delivered by the man of her dreams. None of us, in our comfortable little world, could have predicted that Dad would be only 56 years old when he brought home his last bunch of roses. Cancer took him swiftly and left our family with a few short months to say our goodbyes. In that time, Mom begged Dad to send a sign once he was “settled in” and watching over us. He promised he would.

Nearly three years passed and Mom watched diligently for something. Nothing came. Nothing, anyway, that prompted her to confidently say, “Now that’s a sign!” There had been a Thanksgiving evening when she stood washing dishes and felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder so surely that she had turned around to see who it was. She briefly played with the idea that it was Dad, but convinced herself it was probably her imagination. “Holidays are the hardest,” she often confided to me. “That’s when I feel most alone.”

If holidays were hard, I imagined, Valentine’s Day must be the hardest. My brothers must have felt the same way because we all tried our best to distract Mom with gifts, cards and restaurant meals. Nothing ever felt adequate. Last year, Mom insisted we enjoy Valentine’s Day with our own families. She spent the afternoon shopping with her sister, who had also lost her husband at a young age. The two chose a simple diner for their evening meal, one that wasn’t likely to be filled with couples on the most romantic day of the year.

Over meatloaf and country fried steak, the two widows playfully badmouthed their late husbands for leaving them alone. They suspected perhaps the men were having so much fun in the afterlife that they had forgotten about the women who still missed them very much. Lost in their commiseration, they didn’t notice a stranger who quietly approached their table. The gentleman gave six roses to each of them, then mysteriously walked out of the restaurant.

“Red roses,” marveled my aunt. “Herm always gave me red roses.”

“They must know we’re mad at them,” Mom joked. But they were both washed with an inner calm that had for so long eluded them. The flowers were, it must be told, pathetically wilted. “Oh, well,” laughed Mom. “Dead roses from dead husbands. It seems rather appropriate.” The next morning, Mom took the roses to the cemetery and put them on Dad’s grave. She thanked him for the long-awaited sign.

Holidays are still hard. But thanks to a miracle delivered by a Valentine’s angel, we believe that Dad is okay and watching over us. And that makes every day a little easier.

~Lisa Naeger Shea

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