My dad believed in visitors from the afterlife. He was also a man of stories, and one of his frequent stories was a memory from when his younger brother, John, died as a teenager in the early 70s. The story goes like this: John was in his hospital bed, comatose in the very last minutes of life. My dad had rushed to his bedside from several hours north, barely making it in time. Right before John succumbed to cancer and died, my dad looked up and saw, floating near the ceiling in the corner of that hospital room, ethereal versions of his grandmother, grandfather, and an aunt. Dad said it was as if they were there to greet John’s spirit on the other side.
When my brother was in a severe motorcycle accident when he was 18, we weren’t sure he was going to live. As we all sat in that waiting room at U of L Hospital, my dad’s vision remained focused on the floor in front of him. He wouldn’t lift his gaze away from that shiny tile for any reason. When I finally asked him why, he said that as long as he stared at the floor, my brother couldn’t appear before him, which would be a signal that he had died. This wasn’t my dad’s first experience with loss and he believed he had seen others in his family just moments after they died.
Now, my dad was also a big believer in reincarnation. He was convinced we all had past lives and when my brother was just a tiny toddler, Dad would ask him questions about his past life to see if my brother could still remember it at that tender age. I still remember Dad’s glee when my brother answered one of his questions affirmatively.
At Dad’s memorial service, his cousin Pat approached me, gripped my hand, and shared that if Dad could find a way, he would visit me. She knew he believed strongly in those afterlife appearances and if anyone could find a way to make it happen, Larry would.
So I waited.
And hoped. For anything. A wisp of his aftershave crossing in front of my nose. The whisper of my name. The sound of his voice calling out my nickname, “Inkle.” Any tiny sign that he was with me in spirit, even for a few moments.
My mom waited, too.
Neither of us has ever had any sign. He’s just… gone.
When I was a Christian, I had a fairly solid belief about what happens after we die. Heaven. Hell. And some Purgatory thrown in for good measure. I may not have bought into a lot of the dogma, but at least I kind of had an idea of what might happen.
As a Jew, my view of the afterlife is so much less defined. If I want to believe in Heaven, I can. If I don’t, that’s okay, too. Do I believe in reincarnation? If so, I’d be in the company of a lot of other Jews. We don’t know what the afterlife holds and there is no dogma to tell us what to believe. While that is freeing and I wouldn’t want it any other way, it makes this stage of grief a little bit harder.
I like to believe that the reason there’s been no “sign” or visit from Dad is because he’s chillin’ with my grandpa, Pap, John, and maybe my great-great uncle that died in WWII that was my Dad’s hero. Or maybe he’s in his childhood home in Corydon, sitting vigil by his mother’s bed. She’s in her mid-90s and is in a mostly vegetative state, dementia having snuffed the light from her eyes a decade before.
Or maybe he’s already been reincarnated, and he’s somewhere on the other side of the globe, someone’s new baby in an exotic port of call (because he would’ve loved that).
The only thing I know for sure is that I miss my father. I miss him with all of my breath and all of my tears. I’ve given up on waiting for a sign because I don’t think it’s coming. I have to be content with my memories and sending my love for him out into the universe. If it’s possible to reach him, I sure hope it does.