I don’t normally preach or talk about seeing and hearing signs all around me. Faith, spirituality, all those things in my life I feel are very personal. That said, it’s not that I don’t believe in them or a higher power or whatever you want to call it. You might think I’d toy with atheism after losing my wife so suddenly and terribly, but I guess we all react differently. I don’t want to convert anyone. I just cannot bring myself to think that is the case. I guess part of me thinks that she’s finally at peace, happy, and maybe – just maybe – living the way she did when we met and happier than she was when she left. If it took leaving me and the kids to give her some peace then so be it.
But until tonight there really were no signs pointing to that peace or secondary plane of existence, I guess. Oh, I got everyone else’s signs and signals. They were more than too happy to send them my way and make me hear about them. Even slight acquaintances, people Andrea wasn’t even particularly fond of would come to me with their “sightings” of my wife. One had a dream and told me how happy and peaceful she was. Another told me they were overwhelmed with her presence. I know they all wanted me to feel better and they were all very excited to tell me about their experiences and I took them all with a smile and a nod and a “that’s wonderful” kind of pleasantry and moved on.
Because it just pissed me off. There’s no fancy or prosaic way of saying it better. I am here, every day, struggling, fighting and working to the point of collapse, making lunches, cooking dinners, trying to get by on the smallest amount of money that’s left when the money runs out — and don’t kid yourself. The money runs out every single check very quickly. When my oldest daughter came to me asking how much of her social security checks was in savings for her college education I nearly sprayed milk out of my nose trying not to choke on it. (We had a very long talk about finances and how not to handle things like her papa after that)
Some people get sincerely honest help from her, at least it seems they do. Andrea’s sister does. A lot. She was in the middle of a half marathon and couldn’t keep going, asked for Andrea’s help and one of Andrea’s good friends – someone I’m now pretty close with who lost her husband – appeared out of nowhere to encourage her during the race. It’s amazing, and I have no answer for it other than Andrea was watching and listening to her sister. I mean, she runs, exercises, and pays tribute to her sister all the time. Maybe that’s what I should be doing, but my daily life is so crazy it’s not tribute so much as tribulation.
Plus, I think about her all the time! She was the love of my life. I’m not sure anyone else could ever compare and I stare at the empty pages of my life ahead of me and they seem just that – a little emptier – when I try to write our story. I have four amazing kids and they’ve kept me grounded, but I see my future being emptier and emptier as they leave and forge their own way. The plan to grow old together, see the world, spoil our grandchildren, those are gone. I don’t know what to do next. So when everyone has a story about Andrea appearing or helping or being present I just get pissed off because I’ve needed her, and still need her, and she’s not here. Now, before you all say “you’re doing such a great job” or “she knows you’ll handle it” just keep those comments to yourself. I’m not. I’m struggling, every day, and just a touch or a word or even a moment of peace would make my world seem so much more worthwhile. I don’t get that, but apparently others do – including others who hardly knew her.
And I believe in these signs. On New Year’s Eve 2002, I was in Israel on assignment. In a terribly difficult week my mother-in-law had cancelled watching the kids for us while I was out of the country and I called my folks in a panic. My Dad just drove my Mom, a week later, down to Dallas to help us. He had been sick, thinking he had the flu, but drove me to the airport on the day before and sent me off. I landed in Tel Aviv and hit the ground working. We shot something like 2 or 3 interviews right there and headed straight to Jerusalem from there. Next day, New Year’s, we did the same. I spent the day trying to call my parents and Andrea to say Happy New Year and find out what was going and couldn’t get hold of anyone. I was in a quandary because getting no one on the phone was a bit confounding. The reporter I was with said it would be fine.
But that next morning – which was a day later than in Dallas where I was – the phone rang at 5:30 in the morning. It was my wife, Andrea.
“Dave, I’ve been trying to track you down for a day and a half!”
“What is it?” I must have sounded rude and angry because it was so early.
“Your Dad’s had a heart attack, Dave, he’s in the hospital. It’s not good.”
Andrea had convinced my father and mother to go to the doctor, they just figured he had the flu. But She pushed and pushed. She drove my Mom to the hospital behind the ambulance. She found neighbors to help with the kids while she stayed with my Mom. She cleaned up and organized the house so my brother could drive up from Houston to help. My wife more or less took over and may have helped save my Dad’s life. She has a deep spot in all their hearts for just that reason.
For me, I had to cancel our interviews. An amazing woman we were supposed to interview in Bethlehem called me up and said even though we weren’t coming she wanted my Dad’s father and mother’s names. She was going to temple to pray for him. I got home a few hours earlier than I left (love the international dateline) and when I got to the hospital – straight from the airport – the doctors walked into the room, looking a bit white and confused.
“We looked at your heart. For the life of us we can’t believe this. You should have had an attack years ago. Your heart started growing its own bypass . . . and though it’s that clogged, you have no visible damage to your heart. It happens, but I’ve never really seen it. You’re a lucky man.”
Now, it could all be coincidence, but when people in other countries I don’t know from other religions are working for him I figure that amount of human consciousness or prayer, whatever, were signs that were slapping us all in the face. He wasn’t out of the woods, but today he’s more active than ever and the man who helped me through all my problems.
So that brings me back to last night. I was particularly angry. I’d booked all the acoutrements for the prom and the Black Keys concert and the motel room because I was anticipating a big tax refund. It has yet to arrive. I’ve paid for that bad planning the last two weeks. I had scrimped, pushed, and spent nothing for the last week. My daughter wanted to go out to eat to celebrate passing a major test and I had to tell her we couldn’t – I had $1.50 in the bank. I got to the car from my train and saw I had enough gas to drive 8 miles. I had a gallon of gas in the car. I scoured the house looking for anything – spare change, money I’d forgotten in a suit coat pocket or a rain coat, anything. I have meals and lunches for the week. I’d planned that far.
I got angry. I had this amazing picture of Andrea and me on my night stand and I just looked at her and got mad.
“Why can’t you ever help us! You’ve helped the most random people and we NEED you. Why can’t you ever just help us?!”
It was rude, silly, and just me being angry. But I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get to Friday when I got paid. I had to get to work, the kids had to get to and from school, I had taken everything but filling up my gas guzzling SUV into account. I went to my desk and as I walked through the kitchen there was a pile of mail I’d sorted but avoided going through because there was nothing much worthwhile in it. Something told me to look at it but I was so angry and panicked I skipped it. I was snapping at the kids. I told Hannah I didn’t have time to give her a hug – which is just awful, I know – and was scouring through my files in my office for anything – a leftover gift card, anything.
After that I headed back to the kitchen and that nagging feeling hit me again. I started opening the mail. A college recruitment form for some college Abbi isn’t considering. An EOB for an insurance claim. I found another insurance letter and figured it was the same. But when I opened it . . . inside was a check. A refund from my Flexible Spending Account. Enough for gas to get me through the majority of the week.
Now, again, I’m not trying to convert anyone. It may very well be I am just reading too much into this. After all, that letter had been there for days. I just avoided it. So why did I look at it now?
Maybe she’s been here all along. Maybe she hasn’t. Maybe it just took me losing it and pleading with her. I mean, I talk to herall the time,even though I even think that’s a bit crazy. But I miss her, more than ever. It’s been a year, sure, but that doesn’t make her lack of presence seem less painful. If anything it hurts worse to have all these things just keep sinking in to my soul. I can’t count on her help for everything, and I don’t. Hell, she doesn’t help much anyway it seems.
But just one time . . . one day, finally, I got a sign. Maybe it was a sign of my own stupidity or lack of faith.
But I’m in bed with my heart at a bit of peace, knowing we’ll make the week. I finally got my own little sign, even if it wasn’t her, to cling to. And I think for the first night in awhile, I may get a decent night’s sleep.