In the Beginning ...
I started this book many times over the years, but each time I stopped before I completed even the first chapter. The truth is, I was afraid to tackle it. When I asked myself why, I knew the answer, but I hated to admit it: I didn't want to be labeled a kook. There, I said it. I don't go to seances. I don't read paranormal magazines. I do believe there are ghosts among us, but I don't care to read ghost stories. Gauzy figures materializing out of the dark, on the side of the road, bore me. I also don't read science fiction. I have enormous interest in galaxies and the incredible mystery of it all, but none in battling spaceships and pointy-eared aliens. I think it's only logical to accept that we are not the only intelligent life among trillions of planets. So there's no one on the few closest to us. So what:? Have you never seen a block with seven empty houses on it? It doesn't man that no one lives in the city.
When my son Dean died, I was torn every way a human can be torn, despite the fact I believe—no, I’m certain—that life goes on, with hardly an interruption, on the Other Side. Knowing that did little or nothing to ease the pain. But then unusual things began to happen. And one day it all came together…
Sentimental Journey was the name of a Sunday afternoon radio program I hosted when I lived in Florida
not so long ago. One of my guests, Bill Guggenheim, and his former wife, Judy, had written a book, Hello From Heaven, that was seven years in the making. Over lunch after the show Bill told me that initially he had been skeptical about life-after-life. Judy, however, was insistent that in order to write the kind of book she envisioned, they interview everyone they could find who had communicated with a deceased love one without the aid of a psychic or sėance. After that lunch I never saw, or heard from, Bill again. Yet, eight years later, his and Judy’s book would play a critical role in the healing of a man so deep into the pain of losing his son
that he was nearly suicidal…and I would be the one chosen to deliver a message that would cause him to
look at the entire experience in a new and positive light.
But let me start at what I think may be a beginning for this telling of Dean’s tale.
Up until I was thirteen years old my parents traveled a great deal. Daddy liked to drive while it was still cool, so by sun-up we would be well on our way to wherever it was we were going. When I was little more than a toddler, I’d fill the back seat with storybooks and crayons in preparation for our journey. Momma made me a bed up on that shelf under the rear window. It was wonderful to snuggle into a fresh-scented sheet, cuddle
into a soft blanket, and look up at the purpling sky. The air still smelled of night, still hinted of cricket clicks
and stillness. As we drove along, Daddy would whistle. Funny how people used to whistle. I wonder why they don’t anymore.
Going across the miles, I’d stare into the heavens as the brightest star lost itself in an island of lavender
that soon smudged into pinks and shades of orange. My first clear memories are of those times when I must have been no more than three or four. I can still feel how my throat clogged with tears that I kept choking back. The sky was so beautiful! I felt something that I wouldn’t be able to name for many years to come. I know now it was homesickness. I’d whisper, so my parents couldn’t hear, “Why can’t I be with You?” Odd
that I never questioned who “You” might be. I didn’t realize at the time that it was God. I just knew it was “You” and I missed “You” terribly.
When I outgrew the back ledge of the car, I graduated to a bed made up on the backseat, but I could still see up through the rear window. I still marveled at the breaking of dawn; my heart continued to ache with longing.
There was no one I could talk to about it. It didn’t even cross my mind to discuss it with anyone. I had no questions. I was comfortable in my aloneness. I can remember Mother turning in the passenger seat and, seeing my tears, groan to my father, “Oh my Lord, Les. She’s back there squalling again. I don’t know what
in the world is wrong with that child.”
Her comments never bothered me. I didn’t really know her all that well, and neither of us ever took the time
or trouble to know one another any better. As for my dad, he’d glance into the rearview mirror, give me a knowing grin, and wink. Then he’d go back to his lovely whistling.
I remember, in particular, when we stayed the night in a motel across from a southern beach. I crept out
of bed around dawn and hurried across a deserted two-lane highway, to a sea wall. I was about five. A
storm was brewing. The sky was gray and filled with churning clouds. A gale whipped across sawgrass and sand dunes. I saw an opening in the wall and slipped behind it, to sit on stone steps that led down into the Atlantic. I huddled on that top step, shivering in the delicious salt sprays. I wanted to stay there forever.
Then I heard my mother’s voice calling me over the sound of the wind. Oh so reluctantly I got to my feet and went to her. She grabbed me around the shoulders and hustled my little buns back across the road, to the motel, and there the memory ends. Looking back, I’m amazed the water didn’t pull me into the ocean, but I was never afraid, never gave it a thought. I felt protected, as if I were wrapped in loving, invisible, arms. That feeling has stayed with me throughout my life.
I didn’t attend Sunday school and my parents never went to church. I think, looking back on them, that
they were probably good people, if I can be sure what “good” means. Nobody hit me. Nobody yelled at me
or at each other. Nobody even talked to me very much, but that was fine. They did, however, seem to care
for each other to an extraordinary degree. I adored the man I called Daddy. He had the best smile in the world. But I was mainly alone. Happily alone. And, religion or no religion, I knew there was a God even if I didn’t know His name. My question now is—how did I know?
We lived for a time in Tampa, Florida where my favorite grandmother, Grandma Delamater, lived with Grandpa in a lovely old home off Bayshore Boulevard. How I looked forward to going across the wide porch, through the front door, and diving into a featherbed that was so high—or maybe Grandma was so small—
that a three-step stool was needed for her to climb into it. The front room had a sofa along the left wall
where Mom and Grandma sat and talked. The featherbed was along the opposite wall, under a tall window.
At the foot of the bed, angled toward the sofa, was a rocking chair. This is where Grandpa always sat smoking his pipe, rocking gently, a twinkle in his dark eyes. He was fairly tall, mustached and distinguished looking. Very regal. I don’t recall him ever wearing anything but neatly pressed black trousers, white dress shirt, black bow tie, and a dark sweater.
Occupied with the treasures inside Grandma’s button box, every now and then, from my place in the center
of that wonderful feather bed, I’d glance at Grandpa who would give me a little nod. A smile would flicker at the corners of his mouth, but he never spoke. It was comforting just to know he was there.
The bathroom in my grandparent’s home had been added long after the house was built. It was in what
had once been a broom closet on the back porch. To get there, I had to go through the kitchen, which was
a small room with a tiny table for two along the left wall, across the threshold from the living room sofa. One day Grandma was preparing lunch at the sink. The little table had a tiny vase filled with fresh flowers in front
of the one place setting. Grandpa sat there, facing the living room door, as I came through. I had to brush
past him to get to the back porch, on my way to use the facilities. He glanced at me with that dear half-smile.
I lowered my eyes shyly.
Why do I consider these rather mundane stories about my Grandpa interesting?
Fifty-eight years later I’m in my Aunt Betty’s California mountain cabin and we’re talking about our relatives. Grandma Delamater was actually my great-grandmother. She was Betty’s grandmother. Somewhere in our conversation, I mentioned to Betty how much I loved Grandpa, too, but that I could never remember having heard him speak. My aunt said, just as cool as you please, “Well, I guess not. He died years before you
were even born.”
Now, let me tell you, this is not what you expect to hear fifty-eight years after the fact. I was stunned. I simply couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. What if you had a favorite teacher or a best friend in your childhood, one that certainly seemed to be as much flesh and bones as anybody else you knew, and you
went through your entire life thinking of that person as one of your best memories, only to learn that the teacher or best friend never existed? It’s incredible. I still have trouble with the notion Grandpa was never there.
Looking back on it, I can see that all through my life God has been trying to tell me something. I think the messages that Dean has sent from The Other Side are a continuation of that effort…and that I have finally, finally, gotten it.
My challenge now is to see that you get it, too.
In 1994, Dean was twenty-eight years old, though I could never comprehend that he was over nineteen.
Never too old to be told when he needed to brush his teeth or put on a better shirt. My kid. My friend. My darling Deano.
When he died, I was with him. I whispered through my tears, “Go on, honey. Run along. Go home to your real Father. You were only on loan to me anyway, you were never mine. Soar, precious. I’ll be along soon enough.” And he went—but not before I sensed him standing in a tiny space between the hospital bed and
the wall. His eyes were closed. The monitor sent out nothing but a flat line. I leaned to him. “I know they think you can’t hear me, but you and I know you have never heard me more clearly, or understood me better. I know you’re standing right there, in the little spot at the head of the bed, and I’m all right. So are you. I love you, Deano. Bye for now…but only for now, sweetheart.”
Husband Larry, daughter Brooke, and I drove back home later that evening, just as the sun was setting. I leaned back in the passenger seat and watched the stars twinkle on, one at a time it seemed, and I thought Where are you, precious? I thought I knew. I thought I understood about death…but now I wonder if it’s only
a Hallmark concept designed to sell sympathy cards… Are you really flying among those stars? Are you
here? Are you there? Is there a heaven? Did someone come to meet you? Are you afraid? Are you really all right? If only I knew…if only I could be sure…
In the few days Dean had been in the hospital, I never left his side. Brooke and I slept on our coats on the floor, at the foot of his bed. I didn’t eat. I don’t even remember drinking anything, though I guess I must have. Finally, the doctor pronounced him well enough to go home. Oh what a sigh of relief! For the first time, as Larry was packing Dean’s few things into an overnight bag, I decided to go down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. Brooke joined me. I kissed Dean on the cheek and told him that I’d only be gone for a few minutes.
The doctor had said they would like to keep him on a ventilator until the last moment before he was released.
“Pneumonia leaves debris in the lungs,” he explained. “I want to make sure we’ve sucked it all out before
we unplug him.”
Sure, I agreed. No problem.
Dean nodded his consent and winked at me. I never thought about it until now. He winked at me the way Daddy used to wink at me.
And so Brooke and I went downstairs, breathing easy for the first time since he entered the hospital. We
no sooner settled at the table with our drinks than I heard the call for Code Blue over the intercom. I
remember thinking, Thank God it isn’t about Dean. God bless the family it is for… About then a nurse came running into the room. Spotting us, she blurted out, “Hurry! Dean’s leaving!”
I jumped up and ran behind Brooke to the elevator, but
nothing was making sense. Why would Dean leave without me? Larry had his things nearly all packed. Why would Dean just go? The elevator flew up on snail’s wings; it took forever to get to the right floor. When the doors opened, I raced out and was met by yet another nurse who reached for my hand and pulled me along, saying breathlessly, “Hurry! Hurry!”
My goodness, all this to-do over a grown man checking out of the hospital. My head was reeling, my thoughts were a jumble.
And then we were in ICU room 3. Nurses were gathered around the bed. Bill, who operated the ventilator, was standing there, looking confused and forlorn. Larry was white and stricken—and Dean was lying on the hospital bed, perfectly still. The room was absolutely hushed. Everyone moved aside so that I could get to
him. I leaned over to kiss his forehead. His hands were already turning a mottled blue. I covered them with
the sheet as I whispered for him to run along.
Two hours later we were driving away from the hospital. It was sunset and there was no Dean on the
He was here a while ago.
Now he’s gone.
If only I could know he wasn’t alone…that he wasn’t frightened. That he still was!
That night, at home, Larry explained to me that right after I left the room, Dean motioned for the yellow
pad he had been using to communicate since being put on the ventilator. Larry handed it to him. Dean wrote something and then, as Larry told it, Dean glanced at him with the merriest twinkle in his eye. “As if he had a terrific secret,” Larry said. At that point, the ventilator bell began to ring, as it did whenever there was a problem. Bill or the nurse would often come running, only to find it had simply malfunctioned. They would hit
the OFF button and everything would be fine again. Dean sometimes reached over and clicked it off himself before the others could arrive. This time though, Dean couldn’t get it to turn off. Larry tried his hand at getting the bell to stop ringing, but had no luck either. A nurse came in and hit the OFF button over and over, to no avail. Then Bill arrived, but even he couldn’t get the thing to shut off. When it did stop, it did so of its own accord. Everyone grinned at one another and shrugged. The nurse and Bill left.
And that’s when it happened.
Larry said that Dean closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he grinned broadly at Larry, wrote something else on the yellow pad—two words, it turned out to be—and closed his eyes again. This
At first, Larry was too stunned to move then the ventilator bell sounded again. A nurse saw immediately
that Dean was slipping away. She ran down to get us. At the same time, another nurse and Bill were working with the ventilator, but it was, of course, too late.
In the commotion and aftermath of all that happened that day, Larry gave no more thought to the yellow pad, nor did I. Several days went by before I could bring myself to take his things from the overnight bag and a
box the hospital had provided. Larry was downstairs reading the newspaper. I was upstairs in my art studio where, for some reason, I had chosen to go through Dean’s belongings. His slippers…deodorant…his comb with fine blond hair tangled in its teeth…a box of tissues… a couple of stubby pencils…and the yellow pad.
In the middle of the top page was the penciled word in Dean’s writing: “Angel”—it was what he wrote first. Under that, the message he wrote after he closed his eyes and opened them again: “Am eager”.
“Larry!” I screeched, racing for the stairs. “Larry!”
I slammed the pad under his nose, pointing at the three words written there; the last words Dean would leave on this earth: Angel. Am eager.
“Is this the yellow pad you were talking about? Is this what he wrote?” I could hardly catch my breath.
Larry studied the page for a moment, his eyes nearly overflowing. “My God,” he said, his voice heavy
with emotion. “The most important thing the kid ever wrote and I didn’t even read it.”
I bit back a smile. “It wasn’t for you, honey. It was for me.”
I sank down in a chair, clutching the precious yellow pad to me. Dean had left me a note. He said, “It’s
okay, Mom. I’m not alone. Somebody came for me.”