16: Not All Alone

16: Not All Alone

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Not All Alone

Love is not singular except in syllable.

~Marvin Taylor

“How many?” The perky young restaurant hostess asked with a professional smile. She picked up a stack of menus and peered over my shoulder.

“One,” I murmured, looking at the floor.

“Oh, you’re all alone.” Her smile faded to sympathy. She led me to a small table in the corner and quietly removed the second place setting.

It’s true — I live alone, eat alone, go places alone. I am a widow, a word I still can’t believe is used to describe me. When my husband Jim died, I thought the days of the two of us against the world were over. I would have to manage by myself. That was before I experienced the miracles. Not parting-the-seas, raising-the-dead miracles, just everyday small-m miracles that showed he was still with me.

While making arrangements at the funeral home, my husband’s gray suit hanging on a rack in the next room, I spotted a $1,000 error in the itemized statement. It was merely a typo, easily corrected, but I had never found a mistake involving figures in my life. My husband used to nag me about it. “Look the bill over before you pay it. It might be wrong.” Maybe other people routinely notice incorrect numbers. For me it was a miracle. I could almost see Jim’s finger pointing at the offending number.

That was the first.

In April, six weeks later, I attended a family funeral in another state with my grown children: Julie, Veronica, Kathy, and Jean. We were all hovering by the door of our motel room waiting for Veronica when she asked, “Has anyone seen my little black dress purse? The car keys and my driver’s license are in it.”

We quit leaning against the wall and began looking around the room. As time passed, our alarm increased and the search intensified. We stripped bedding, shook shoes, crawled around the floor peering under furniture. No luck.

One by one, we admitted failure. “It’s not here,” Veronica said. “I know I had it last night. Maybe it fell into the car trunk when we got the luggage and we missed it in the dark.” She reached for the phone book. “I’ll call the rental place and see about getting another key. Why don’t you guys go ahead with Jean?”

We said we’d stay with her even though we would miss the funeral. With sighs and slumping shoulders we plopped down to wait while she looked up the number. I had a conversation with my husband and reminded him of the times we’d searched for missing items — glasses, gloves, especially keys. “We could use some help here,” I told him.

Before Veronica could pick up the phone, Kathy looked down at the floor between the beds. “Is this it?” She held up a small black purse. Hard to believe none of us had seen it lying there in plain sight.

Jim always found his keys eventually.

That was the second.

The next month Kathy had surgery. I stayed in the hospital with her the first night and Julie took the second. From birth, one of Julie’s best talents has been sleeping. Not much interrupts it, but that night she was roused by a voice saying, “Julie, wake up. Kathy needs you.” And sure enough, she found Kathy struggling to breathe and unable to reach the call button for the nurse.

In June I attended my grandson’s high school play fifty miles away. By the time I started home, we were in the middle of a downpour. Rain beat against the car so hard my windshield wipers could not keep up. Since on previous trips I had napped in the passenger seat while my husband drove, I wasn’t totally familiar with the road. However, I did know I would have to negotiate two hard-to-see exits. The first one was a cloverleaf off an overpass. If I turned too soon, I could plummet forty feet down an embankment. If I missed it, the next exit was eleven miles away. I could barely make out the center line on the highway and reading traffic signs was impossible. “Honey, I can’t see,” I said, and the rain lifted long enough for me to make the turn. At the next exit, the rain let up again.

Shortly after Jim died, just as I was adjusting to the quiet house and his car never leaving the garage, I started having dreams that he was back, sitting at the dining room table waiting for bacon and eggs, the TV remote in his hand. A few weeks later I dreamt he was reviewing the bank statement. With the stern expression I remembered so well, he told me I had money, but not a lot. I could live comfortably but did not need another pair of black shoes. Another time he stood looking out the window at the garden. “Better pick the tomatoes before they freeze,” he said. I argued that the temperature never got that low in early September. The next night we had a record-breaking early frost.

Similar dreams came periodically for almost a year. Then one night he said, “I have to go now.” I asked what to do about a funeral. Most people had only one. How was I going to explain a second? He shook his head. “No funeral. You’re the only person who could see me.” And he left. That was the last time I had one of those dreams.

Before my husband’s death I would have scoffed at such tales. But not anymore.

~Sally O’Brien

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