Less Tears

“Did you see that?” She asked as I walked through the store, trying to focus.

I stopped to look at what she wanted me to notice. It was a display of cardinals. Glassware, plates, and mugs were adorned with the red-winged symbol. I picked up a miniature one and saw that it had a small card associated with it.

My eyes were so swollen from crying I could hardly read.

“It says that when someone wants to send you a message from heaven to tell you they are ok, a cardinal will appear.”

I was having a lot of other signs happening, but not this one. When my mom moved on in 2019, my life dramatically changed as I could easily go between the two realms.

I had seen a few videos where people described their encounters with birds, but I hadn’t had the experience. I picked up a small charm to purchase and went back to looking around.

It was the day after my dog had passed on to heaven in my lap. I had gotten out of the house to distract myself and was trying to feel normal.

I felt guilty for being so lost without him. How could I feel this way about a dog? People had died that I knew, and I wasn’t this upset. I felt like I had watched my child go away, and I kept trying to tell myself I had to pull it together.

I had been trained not to feel anything as I grew up, so I was used to being able to pretend the pain wasn’t there. But, this time, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept coming in waves, and I knew that he wouldn’t be there when I got back home as he had been for 12 years.

Over the noise in my mind, I heard it playing on a speaker above my head.

“Do you hear that?” I asked my daughter.

It was Ave Maria. That was always a strong indication that my mom was trying to tell me she was around.

I have found that music is an easy way for those in heaven to communicate with us. My playlist on my phone will suddenly go to a song with lyrics that tells me how to look at a situation in a helpful way. Or there will be words that will comfort me when I don’t understand circumstances that seem so out of control. It will happen while I am driving or shopping.

At first, I used to ignore it or explain it away. That’s one way we keep ourselves safe and try to understand what we don’t understand. It’s just a coincidence, and it means nothing, right?

But when you start to listen closely and pay attention, it becomes so pronounced that you can’t brush it off anymore.

While my mom was days away from her transition into eternal life, I could not go anywhere without hearing Rod Stewart sing Forever Young. After the third time, I started to notice this, and I would suddenly catch the lyrics while in a store, restaurant, or even on hold. It really hit me when I was in the freezer section of a small grocery store I rarely went to.

The realization of it was astounding. All knowledge is given where she is, so songs, books, anything is available to send subtle messages.

I had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the other side. I had been taught not to mess with the dead because that was demonic. Evil can come as light, so don’t go near it, like when you are taught as a kid not to touch a hot stove. So I had tried for years to push away what was trying to break through into my existence.

As I stood there not twenty-four hours after his departure, I listened to this significant tune being played just for me. I knew I was being told I wasn’t alone.

Grief can do that in the most unrelenting way. It comes in and covers you in darkness. No unseen forces are working against you; this is you against you.

While I knew I had to feel what I did, I didn’t want to stay stuck in it, which is easy to do. So I was trying to remain mindful of how much I was getting swept up in the sadness. I had wanted to leave with him, and I couldn’t. I was trying not to think about the long dark tunnel that was ahead for me without him.

And then the guilt.

When I told my daughter about that, she said,

“People are always going to do things that make us upset, and they are going to hurt and disappoint us, but he never did that to you. He gave you unconditional love, and sometimes you had to correct him, but he never hurt you.”

That helped.

So as Ave Maria played, I turned and saw a shelf of battery-operated lanterns. When the switch on the bottom was moved, it lit up, and a fan started to move glittery snowflakes like a snow globe but with no effort to shake it.

One of them had a male and female cardinal in it. My dad didn’t want a Christmas tree put up the year before, so I thought maybe he would like this instead. It had a significant meaning attached to it as he went through his second year as a widower. Having her favorite song play nonstop was guiding me on how to help him and me.

When I gave it to him and told him I had one, he said,

“Maybe we will be looking at them at the same time.”

“Should we communicate by telepathy through the birds?”

At first, he thought I was serious, and he always gets this look on his face that makes me laugh. The same one that put her into hysterics.

“Is that possible?” He asked.

“I’m just kidding,” I said. Who knows at this point. Maybe.

“Oh. You had me a little worried there for a minute.”

After all I had told him about my supernatural life, this was a worry?

“I do have strange things that I can’t explain happen to me all the time.”

“Accept it, Chris. God has chosen you to give this gift to. Just accept it.”

We didn’t access supernatural powers through our Christmas lanterns, but mine would turn itself on at random times. Even if the off switch were on, it would startup, and I just accepted it.

I had been searching for something to put on my tree in memory of my dog. I couldn’t find anything in the store that day, so I went online. I was briefly disappointed to see that a particular one had sold out. It was a cardinal looking into a window. He had always sat with one eye toward the living room windows to be sure we were protected.

“I want this,” I said, showing my daughter. “But it’s gone.”

I tried to find something else, but I kept coming back to that one.

One day as I was walking past my tree, which I had put up early as another distraction from my grief, I said,

“I expect to get that ornament, and I am going to put it right on this branch!”

I was somewhat moving into the anger portion of my loss. Not severe, but enough to not put up with the lack of supply for something I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the world, just something small. And if God owned everything, then I could have it.

Every day, sometimes more than once, I would go up to that spot on my tree and say out loud,

“That ornament is going right there, and it’s going to hang on that branch.”

I never looked at it online again, but my daughter did.

A handful of days into this, she was woken up at 2 am and told to search a particular website. To her amazement, there was one available, and she purchased it before falling back to sleep.

Every day she had to listen to my speech about how great my tree looked with the ornament on it. She waited as time went by, and there was no delivery. She messaged the seller and was told that it had been delayed, but it was coming.

Meanwhile, I kept repeating the same mantra every single time I walked by the space. It was mine, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

On December 19, many weeks after all this began, I got home late and I was trying to tell her something. She kept shifting her eyes away while I was speaking. Finally, I said,

“What is wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that with your eyes?”

She didn’t answer me but looked away again. I squinted, trying to get a reading on what was up. Had the stress of her career gotten to her? What problem was I now going to have to help her solve? Was she overworked? I came up with nothing. Usually, I just knew.

“What is going on?”

More of a head nod this time made me look toward whatever had her attention. The entire house was dark except for the lights on the tree, and I stepped closer to the spot that had been empty.

I could not believe it! The sold-out ornament was on the tree!

“What? How did this happen?” I said.

She told me about her late night purchase with my mom’s voice telling her where to get it.

I thought that was the end of it, but we had two cardinals repeatedly show up in the yard over the summer. They were replicas of the ones in my lantern, and I had never had this happen before. One of them started to fly so close to me at times, I had to shut the door quickly so that it wouldn’t get in the house.

During all of this, my grief still raged on at times so harshly that it would stop me in mid-sentence or come out of nowhere when I thought I was fine.

I was sitting in my friend’s salon chair in mid-July as she mixed up hair color. She had her dog go to heaven days after mine did, very unexpectedly, so she knew first hand the sorrow I was feeling.

She stopped what she was doing and stepped in front of me. This was unusual for her as she is a very driven person who doesn’t stop once involved in a task.

She took off her glasses and said,

“God just said me that He is going to show you the love that your dog had for you in a different way. Stinky was an example of what is coming next into your life.”

Then she went back to work on my hair. But that became an anchor for me as I have drifted in and out of rough places, being tossed around, wondering if life would be okay without him.

We are being taken care of in so many ways, and we don’t even know it. To see, though, it requires expansion. I still miss my dog, but the sting of it has gotten easier. I still want him to materialize next to me on the couch and scratch my hand to get me to pet him, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I have to move on because there is more to do here. He isn’t coming back no matter how much I want him to.

But, what I can do is keep myself as close as possible to the One who created him just for me.

In Psalm 34:18 it says,

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (NLT)

This I have found to be true. As I have drawn near to God, I have overcome some of the hurt to get through the darker days. As I have allowed healing to come without resistance, my capacity to help others has grown. I can’t go anywhere now without someone telling me they have had to say goodbye to an important person.

Last weekend, I was in a hardware store getting zip ties, and the cashier randomly said his best friend had died at the end of October. I could see a tall man standing next to him, around fifty years old.

“Do you feel his presence? Was he tall?” I was testing the waters.

“Yes, I can feel him by me every day. He was much taller than me and died at 55. But it’s like he never left.”

And I thought I was going to get zip ties.

My faith has increased through all of it, my spiritual ears have become more receptive, and my eyes opened to more incredible things with less tears.

Surprise Party

“I want to go in there,” she said.

This has become a familiar phrase over the years, and when it’s stated, I know that something that its original owner has long forgotten is going to be in her hands.

It’s always the same smell—the opposite of new car scent. Everything assaults the senses at the door for me. When I first started to frequent second-hand shops with her, I always said,

“I’m looking at dead people’s stuff.”

I just couldn’t get past the idea that those 1970 avocado green coffee cups had once graced Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen counter. Or Olga’s mustard yellow crockpot had seen its final potluck when the grim reaper showed up, halting all the fun. I easily could put faces and names to all the merchandise.

The dusty burgundy brandy glasses had seen Helen’s last toast, and that super ugly lamp in the corner had gone dark after many days of illuminating the room so Fred could read the evening newspaper. Uncle Bud’s collection of beer bottle caps testify to the world that he liked to drink in excess while his team lost, and the ax leaning against the wall that once had given George calloused hands as he chopped wood is on clearance.

The ladle that great-grandma Beatrice used every Thanksgiving for her thick, bland gravy is up for grabs alongside cousin Lucille’s flour sifter and canister set with the yellow daffodils. Who could pass up on Sir Edward the Third’s favorite smoking jacket and Philip’s baseball cards that he had gotten with his first pack of gum? And then there’s the hatpin Betsy fastened neatly before her monthly book club meeting and Richard’s flashing neon man cave signs that have a bit of mid-life crisis attached to them.

I could go on, but besides envisioning the dearly departed, I could only think of one word: hoarding.

And there’s always these extra rooms and signs with arrows pointing to another secret passage that say: more, more, more!

In almost every visit, I have gone into lower levels where it seems like you are intruding into someone’s basement that got stuck in a time machine. Like a dungeon with concrete walls all around. It doesn’t help when you say to yourself,

“This feels like I am descending into hell.”

And the person who placed items for purchase thought it was a great idea to put all the rubber masks right at the bottom of the creaky stairs. So you are greeted by eyeless sockets.

She always gravitates toward the toy section because this is why we are there in the first place. As a successful creator on YouTube, she searches for more props to utilize in future videos. She is also highly skilled at resurrecting the dead through hair restoration and giving new meaning to dolls long fallen by the wayside. Once it’s in her possession, she will provide it with the best home and a life’s purpose.

I try to preoccupy myself with browsing through the items I once owned as a child and now are considered “vintage”. That sounds nicer than ancient.

How reckless were adults to give us real wooden objects to build with and risk getting a sliver? Or paint that contained unknown ingredients had we eaten possibly could have caused severe side effects? We lived on the edge then, I guess.

I have gotten more comfortable as time has rolled by. I try to block out the idea of the deceased and see it as a warehouse for second chances. I still have to combat a lot of sensations, and if I get too overloaded in a space, I move on to another one. My first indication of needing to keep moving is dizziness and a bit of disorientation.

We recently visited a busy store, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff. As my daughters and I rounded a corner, she appeared with the most dazzling smile.

“Aren’t you girls finding anything fun?”

“Not yet,” I said.

She was beaming.

“There is a lot of good things in here. I was the owner, but I sold the place to my son. I’m 87 years old, and it was time. He has taken over and done way beyond what I did, and I am very proud of him.”

“You do not look your age at all,” I said.

“You are in the will!” She quickly replied.

“What do I get? All of this?” I said, sweeping my hand around as they do on game shows over all the prizes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

“Do you know what keeps me going?”

“No.”

“Fireball whiskey. I was given a huge jug of it, and it was so big it had a handle on it.”

“Did you get through the entire thing?”

“Of course I did!” More radiance.

I don’t recall how we got around to guessing my age, but she put me back into my 40s. She was close, but not quite. She went on to guess the ages of my girls. She couldn’t talk enough about her family living abroad in various countries.

“Would you ever go see them?”

“I don’t want to travel alone.”

Her husband had passed on.

“He had the best sense of humor. We got along so well, and it’s important to laugh in life.”

“And drink whiskey.”

“You are definitely in the will!”

Surprisingly, we left without a purchase, but then hours later, my daughter regretted not listening to her inward leading toward a particular doll.

“I can go back with you tomorrow.”

“I hope it will still be there.”

This is the one who always gives me the “look” when I am at a cross-road decision on something, and she knows I am supposed to have it.

“Angels are guarding it. God will make sure you have it.”

The next day was much quieter and calmer. Her prized possession was still waiting on the shelf, and she decided that there were some others worth looking at in locked cases.

While she stood by what she needed to view, I went to the desk where a woman was pricing merchandise.

“Can I help you?”

“I need key 21 to unlock a case.”

She turned and spoke to a man who I recognized from the night before.

“If you get me the key, I can help them,” he said.

When he came over to us, I asked,

“I met the former owner last night. Are you the son who took over?”

He laughed.

“I am not her son, but I did buy it from her at the beginning of the year. She always refers to me as her son, and it’s so nice of her to do that.”

She was a sharp person, so it wasn’t a case of dementia. She truly counted him as her child.

“I am in her will now,” I said.

“Get in line. She says that to everyone.”

“She had nothing but good things to say about you. You took what she started and are making it even better.”

He pointed to a poster on the wall. The business had earned one of this year’s Best Awards, meaning it was voted as a number one place to visit in the area.

“I did that already, and we aren’t slowing down.”

With both cases laid out on the counter, my daughter began looking through the piles of clothes and accessories. The lady who had been marking items now was watching.

“She restores things,” I said.

“I do too. I redesign old clothing. I have a big room I work in at home, and it passes the time since my husband isn’t around anymore.”

I saw a man standing behind her with his hand on her left shoulder.

“My husband Barry died eight years ago.”

“You know he is standing right next to you. You can feel that, right?”

It’s getting harder lately not to let it be said, and the words seem to fly out of my mouth before I know they are going to.

“Oh, yes! Right here,” she said, pointing to the spot where I could see him. You can’t spend that much time with a person and have them just disappear forever.”

“You are right. I’m glad you know it.”

“He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and we were told that it would be easily cured. Well, it wasn’t. It was a big shock when he passed on. But his alarm clock went off every morning when he used to get up for work. Even if I turned it off, it would wake me up the next morning. He has never left me.”

I know she misses him, but she also seemed very peaceful about it. I guess she has come to accept what is, but the feeling that he is near also is helpful.

God just keeps showing me more as I ask for it. There’s a scripture that says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”(ESV)

I can say that when you know that someone has advanced on and they are at peace, it makes grieving easier. You miss them, but like in this woman’s case, she can still sense him around. I keep having similar experiences.

The night before my birthday last summer, I was in a store by the bakery waiting with my daughter. She was having the worker write a message on a cake. When it was handed off to her, this older woman came out of nowhere, leaned in, and read it out loud to me with much emphasis:

“Happy 53rd Birthday, mom!”

Like loud, like my mom would have. And her body language and clothing were in full mother mode. Then she disappeared into the masses.

The next day, on my birthday, while I was standing outside a building looking at flowers, a man walked right up behind me and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of his lungs in this super booming low voice. He sang it all the way to his car. About a week before that, I had said,

“Mom, I want you to sing Happy Birthday to me.”

I had forgotten I had requested it until he was yelling it practically into my hair!

While driving home that day, I recalled that we would see my grandparents on some of my birthdays in North Dakota. They always saved one firework for me.

In Minnesota, the powers that be don’t think we can handle it, so it’s illegal. But not there. Apparently, the residents have better eye-hand coordination in that state.

I told my girls that I always had one bottle rocket or something sent skyward to commemorate another year.

Later, after I got home, I thought I heard a muffled pop. This was way past the 4th. I went out the front door to see the biggest explosion of color rain down over my house. That was it—just one.

“Thanks, mom,” I said, going back in.

I think we have put the afterlife into a confined space to make it more acceptable. Many people have a low-level fear that keeps them from seeing clearly, and then the sadness of grief gets piled on.

The preoccupation with loss blocks some vital heavenly signs from being seen or heard. And, while it seems like something has been taken, it has been transformed into better. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, but there also can be laughter which is just as healing. And those who have walked through the door, we all will someday, wish us joy.

I have gotten used to not being able to explain anything, and the more I allow it, God keeps sending extra my way.

I can’t say I’m okay with all of it at times, especially if it’s something really extraordinary and out there, but I have decided to do this from Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

It is a little scary to live like this, casting yourself totally into the care of heaven. But it also is so fun at times that I can’t imagine living without it. It sets you apart from the trivial cares and traps that are easily laid before us.

It helps you understand and see everything at a higher level of existence so you can drop away from those things that really don’t matter.

In some ways, it’s like being the unsuspecting victim of something good happening. Like when all your friends decide to secretly plan something that you will be the center of attention. You walk into a room expecting one thing, and then they all jump out of hiding. It takes the mind a minute to accept it, but then you realize this has been done for you. Once the shock wears off, you see it for what it really is.

You never know where God will show up next, who you will cross paths with, and how you will be spiritually awakened further by the next surprise party.