When my dad was alive, there were two days that I, his only kid, loved to honor him: Father’s Day and his birthday. Now that he’s gone, the anniversary of his death has become the holiest of days that I remember him.
It’s been 8 years now but I still come upon that day like I come to the ocean’s edge in winter. How cold, how shocking will these grief waves be on my heart? Will I be able to easily wade into them, or will I stand shivering at the water’s edge unsure if I’m even brave enough this year to jump in? This last anniversary, I was definitely hovering up high on the dry sands. I had stuff, stuff I wished he was around for: worry about my mom (his long ago ex-wife), wondering about whether I should put an addition on the house. He would have had the perfect guidance, would have led me methodically through a balanced heart/brain analysis of both topics. And, my book deal – no one would have celebrated it more.
Just a few days before this year’s holy day, I had been thinking about how often my dad told me he was proud of me. Hardly anyone else has ever used that word about me. I don’t even think my mom has ever told me she was proud of me. It was my dad’s word to bandy about. But when I finalized my book deal a few weeks prior, a friend told me she was proud of me. It felt like an instant salve on my heart. She magically invoked my dad in that moment and I could feel his huge smile warm me from above.
Like most who have lost someone dear, I often wish I could pick up the phone and call my dad in heaven. I recently listened to an old episode of NPR’s This American Life about the “Wind Phone” where people were doing just that. In 2010 a man in Otsuchi Japan who was devastated by the loss of his cousin set up a phone booth in his back yard with a disconnected rotary phone. He used the phone regularly to have chats with his cousin to ease his grief. When Otsuchi was tragically hit by the 2011 tsunami, it lost about 10% of its population. Soon after members of the community were making their way to the phone to place direct person-to-heaven calls. You can hear recordings of some of these breathtaking “conversations” in This American Life: Really Long Distance
I have a phone at the end of my kitchen counter. I just realized this is my “Wind Phone.” Almost directly above the phone is a light in my family room that flickers like it’s an old fashioned push button phone with multiple extensions ringing, showing me someone is on the line: “That’s Heaven on Line 3, Miss Bridget!”
People always ask about the flickering light. I instantly reply, sometimes not remembering how odd it is: “My dad…” Some nod knowingly and then share their own similar stories of lost loved ones finding means to communicate. Others don’t get it but I don’t stop to explain. It’s between me and him. [NOTE: as I typed that last sentence, it flickered!]
Under the “dad” light is a tall etagère with shelves filled with my collection of cake stands. (Don’t judge: there’s a perfect stand for every cake and I make a lot of cakes. OK, judge, but cakes rule.) Until the day before this last anniversary of my dad’s passing there was a very special small cake stand with a bell jar top. It was hand-painted with joyous flowers and butterflies. I loved it and every time I made a cake that was too big for it, I quietly cursed myself. Indeed, I never got to make the perfectly tiny cake for it to celebrate and protect.
I had been out the day before the anniversary of my dad’s passing, frolicking in the above-mentioned ocean on the occasion of a friend’s birthday beach party. I walked in the door that night, set down my bags to give some love to my two dogs after a long day away. They love the beach so they were immediately sniffing me and my bags with ferocity and curiosity. I started to explain the party was on a beach that doesn’t allow dogs. (Don’t judge: they really love the beach.)
At that moment, across the room, the bell jar which had been resting peacefully for months, safely perched within the confines of a heavy wooden tray with a substantial lip, suddenly crashed to the floor. It was on a shelf about five feet up, so it shattered into what appeared to be a million pieces all over the family room and kitchen floors. I grabbed the dogs to remove them from potential danger, and started calmly, meticulously cleaning up the debris. There was no good reason that the bell jar would have moved from its home of at least several months, lovingly protected by that sturdy wooden tray. It was a message but I couldn’t figure out what it said. The phone line wasn’t crystal clear.
I had been thinking about my dad that day as I tread the ocean water with dolphins nearby, and again as I was violently tumbled and then spit out onto the beach after one badly timed attempt to exit the mighty sea. My dad was always freaked out by the hidden dangers and humbled by the power of the ocean. Even in a magical, calm and clear Hawaiian bay he had refused to swim with the dolphins because he was “damn sure” his humility would turn to terror.
The following day, the actual anniversary of his death, I was rummaging through storage containers in my garage. I was perched high up on the ladder so I could carefully shimmy a heavy bin over to rest on top of it. I looked down as I steadied myself before I moved the bin, and noticed on the shelf just below me was a book that my dad had given me for my birthday long ago.
Don’t you love the fancy card? My dad had a way with post-its, and that was clearly the best part of the gift so it stayed just that way.
My dad had a knack for bringing me peace in the most extraordinary circumstances, like when I called and declared with a tremble in my voice that I had just hung up on 911 because I thought I should call him first to see if I was having a stroke. No, he wasn’t a doctor but he was my omniscient dad. (Never mind that when you hang up on 911 and you don’t answer when they call back to see if you are OK, that a throng of emergency responders will knock on your door within minutes). I’m sure he was scared out of his wits in those first moments, but he locked in on his most centered wise dad self. He calmly asked me a series of questions, soon diagnosed me as having vertigo, told me I would be fine, and sent me on my daughterly way.
I have always been a bit of a whirling dervish and my dad was always the only person who could tell me to slow down, breathe, take things off my plate to give my soul relief, and I would actually take his advice. I think his #1 job in our relationship was to lead me on a path toward peace.
After rediscovering this book, he whispered repeatedly over our makeshift heavenly phone lines for several days, “Peace is the way, peace is the way, peace is the way.” I felt him smiling down on me, saying “It was always going to be OK, and it’s always going to be OK. I just needed to crash around and flash some light on the way back to peace.”
That holy, sometimes flickering light is a good one to leave on. Turns out it’s connected to all the best phone lines.
Originally published at bit.ly