My father died quietly in an ICU hospital bed five years ago today. Finally disconnected from the tubes and machines that were keeping him alive, but just barely, he slipped away into what I hoped wasn’t a vast black hole of nothingness.
Instead, I imagined his soul easing gently from its broken confines and escaping the cold, brightly lit hospital room for the dark, clear skies stretching over the Long Island Sound.
I remember what I said to my mother as we walked from the room and looked at his body for the last time: “It’s just a shell.” For his body was now empty. In an instant, void of laughter, love, feeling. Those traits, so deeply interwoven in my father’s personality, I desperately hoped had flown away with his spirit.
It wasn’t until four years later that I discovered this was true.
It was May 2014, about two weeks after the fourth anniversary of his death, that my two brothers, mother and I visited a medium. I’ve always been a “believer” in the paranormal: relishing a good ghost story, trying to uncover hidden ESP talents with my best childhood friend, combing through horoscopes with my grandmother, but trying to contact the dead was certainly a new endeavor. Among the four of us attending the session (which was with four mediums), I’d call two of us believers and the other two healthy skeptics. So we had a nice balance of predilection and preconception with eight of us in the room that night.
Our session was two hours long, and I recorded every minute. Thankfully so, because it’s quite easy to forget details, what with trying to discern the validations and messages that each of us privately sought. My maternal grandmother and grandfather were there, albeit briefly (my mom outrightly asked them to “Step aside!”), but Dad definitely took center stage.
When I reviewed the recording again yesterday, I realized that every mention of my father in some way related exactly to his experience and personality. One of the younger mediums in particular seemed to connect to me right away. Within the first five minutes, she was feeling an older male energy, seeing siblings, and a hand writing furiously and with great emotion.
She described the man as being a sharp dresser and concerned about his appearance, in particular his hair. She saw thinning hair on top and a tendency to try to divert attention from it. Suddenly she saw Mr. Drummond, from the old 80s TV show Different Strokes, and immediately I laughed in acknowledgement. For this was a show I watched often with Dad and it spawned one of his popular sayings (of which he had many): “Whatchyou talkin’ about, Willis?”
She went on about his need to feel well appointed, or put together before leaving the house… always making sure, “I look good.” Verbatim, this is another playful saying we attribute to Dad, teasing him about his vanity.
After a few minutes, she turned to me again and said she had a special message for me, but that because it was so filled with emotion, she couldn’t look at me while delivering it as she felt she might cry. She elaborated: “He said, ‘I hear you.’ And I don’t know if you continuously say when things are down, ‘Why did you have to leave?’ And he’s making me feel like you are very broken-hearted still and he wants to acknowledge the struggles you’re going through… he wants to recognize your strength, that you just keep going… And he wanted to make it clear that he heard you when you questioned if he could. He heard everything you said. ‘I heard her. Let her know that I heard her when she thought that I couldn’t hear and everybody else thought I was not there. I heard her.’ ”
Well of course this personal message caused me to cry immediately but I also smiled because I felt he was speaking directly to me, bearing witness not only to my heartbreak but also to my spiritual awakening… the seismic shift in my perception of life and after-life.
Yes, I sat by his bed in ICU for over six hours talking to his unconscious body both verbally and in my mind when I could no longer find my voice. I even held my cell phone to his ear so my youngest brother, who was out of town, could say his good-byes. Because I felt even then, from the core of my being, that he could hear us.
I didn’t know, however, that he could hear me six months later in New Orleans. We were asked to attend his company’s annual conference (a tradition in my family for over 30 years) to participate in a memorial tribute. Needless to say, it was a difficult experience, and I had a breakdown the first night. Alone in my hotel room, I found myself silently screaming at my tear-streaked, swollen-faced reflection in the bathroom mirror: “Why? Why did you have to leave? Why?”
He hears me.
So Dad, I’ll keep talking, and writing furiously, to you and about you to keep up the conversation. Thanks for listening.