“When I write, I listen to music. I try to drown out the sounds that surround me. Right now, it’s the wind. The dogs coming in and out of the doggy door. Beeping sounds from the kitchen; I’m just trying to ignore it and hope nothing is actually on fire. I sat down in front of the computer and it happened. ‘Right Down The Line’ by Gerry Rafferty popped up on my playlist. I can’t imagine any other song coming on right now because when Chad and I got married, he made me a mix CD (yes, we still did that), and this was the first song on it. And here it is, coming up again when I need it the most.
I look for signs. I look for winks. I look for anything to show me he’s around. I had known Chad for almost my whole life, and having him gone for eternity just is impossible to comprehend. I hear people say, ‘He’s watching over you,’ or ‘He’s still here,’ but how do we really know that?
For me, I’ve been lucky. I don’t know what other word to use, except lucky. The signs he has sent me have been comforting. Funny. Everything I expect from him. Now, in saying all of that, can I reach for signs sometimes? Yes. Can I see something and try to make it a wink from him? Yes. But most of the time, it hits out of nowhere and actually takes my breath away.
Chad was charged with taking care of me, and he did it well. When he died, I had to figure out things like who our mortgage was through. Credit card debt. How to pay the cell phone bill. It’s not that I’m incompetent, it’s just that he did all those things. He was so good at being organized, responsible and grounded. It wasn’t easy.
Before he got sick, we used to joke about ghosts and spirits and stuff and he didn’t believe in it. I did. He would make fun of me and taunt me with things like Ouija boards. He knew I was scared of them, so every now and then one would show up. And it wasn’t just me he terrorized them with. There was an officer at work who was as scared of them as I was, and Chad would make them out of paper and leave them on his computer. One night, he brought a Ouija board home and dangled it in front of me like somebody would a mouse or something, and I demanded he keep it in the garage or throw it away. He laughed, and I don’t know what he did with it, but I eventually threw it away later that night and told him never to bring one of those things back into my house. The next day, I was sitting outside on the back patio and what do you think I found when I looked up at the back side of the patio table umbrella? Yep. The Ouija board nestled into the wires that held up the umbrella, in such a way it was staring back at me. After I threatened to burn the house down, he took it and I never saw it again. I don’t know what he did with it, but I’m sure hoping it ended up in a landfill instead of on his partner’s desk. Anyway, this prompted a whole conversation about the afterlife, and I told him that if anything ever happened to me, I was going to come back and prove to him that spirits can come around. He laughed and finally agreed to do the same. He said, ‘Okay, Okay, If it’s really true, I’ll come back and show you, too.’
And boy, has he been showing me. It started with the dreams, but then it got real. No matter how much I believed in it, I was still hesitant. But it got to a point where I couldn’t deny it anymore. There was no explanation to what was happening.
The first big one happened after I had a date. Because, yes, that happens. Even the grieving date. I was very nervous about going on a date after some 16 years of not dating, but there was something inside of me that decided I needed to try. Maybe I wouldn’t fall in love or be whisked off my feet but I needed to see what was out there. I was married to a man who was perfect for me in every way and I wanted to see if there was anybody out there who I could even have a conversation with. After the date, he walked me to my car, which was parked in front of his house, in a circular driveway. The driveway was very long, and spanned quite a distance. In my purse, I had five wristbands that I got from Chad’s work, that were part of a fundraiser for his medical care. They are black, with blue writing, reading, ‘One Forty Nine’ on one side, and ‘CPD Calvary’ on the other. 149 was Chad’s police badge number, and ‘CPD’ was short for Caldwell Police Department, where he spent his police career. The interesting thing about this was that those bands had fallen out of my purse a few days prior, so I tied them together and put them in the center pouch and zipped it shut. The next day, my date texted me and asked me if I wanted to know what he found that next morning on his driveway. Of course I did, but I was a little nervous. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a tampon because I had a hysterectomy the year prior, so I was safe there. But, what was it? My ID? Credit Card? Some personal note?
I had to do a double take, and of course my first thought was that it fell out of my purse. Or off my wrist. I immediately checked. The one on my wrist – still there. The five in my purse? Still zipped up and tied together. Maybe I had a random one in my car that fell out when I opened the door? I asked him where he found it. He told me. In a spot I never was. Even then, I had trouble believing it. Was it really possible? Could it really be? And if it was true, what was he trying to say? I remember the conversation with the date when he asked me if he could wear it to show his respect. I told him he could. He asked me if he thought it was safe. I quipped, ‘Well, I guess if you put it on and burn up, you’ll know.’ He didn’t burn up. But he did get his first ticket in twenty years a couple of weeks later. I guess Chad wanted him to know he was watching. Ha!
After that, we started working on the ‘#iam149’ foundation. It all revolves around pancreatic cancer research and awareness and giving back to patients in honor of Chad’s generosity. We created a video for pancreatic cancer awareness month and titled it, ‘I am 149,’ which basically showed how we were all in this together. We’re all fighting a battle, and we’re all going to survive in some way. That movement was born, and while people will tell you Chad was very private, which he was, he also told me that after he died, I could do whatever I wanted to use his story to help other people. So, I am. Because he deserved it. The hashtag, ‘iam149’ started showing up everywhere and it became synonymous with Chad and strength, and being a true warrior. Once it started moving around the country, I started getting the signs. Right when I needed them.
Our daughter, Kaitlyn, recently retired from competitive gymnastics. It’s expensive. Like, really expensive. Tuition alone is equivalent to a car payment, then add in competition fees, leotards, warmups, travel expenses and so on. Every year, I was easily into it for at least $10,000 and the year after he died, she got invited to a competition that was going to cost roughly $400. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like much, but it was another $400. I didn’t know how I was going to swing it, but when we found out, we happened to be in Las Vegas for another meet. Jokingly, I said I was going to throw down $20 on a slot machine and keep my fingers crossed. Just before that, though, we were walking through the hotel and the song ‘Rise Up’ by Andra Day came on the overhead speakers and believe it or not, that was another special song for him that became important to me after he died. I knew it was him. Just as much as I knew that the guy we ran into carrying a Shih-Tzu in the casino after the meet was meant to cross my path. Why? Because two weeks before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we were in Vegas for a gymnastics meet, and Chad told Kaitlyn that if she won, he would buy her a Shih-Tzu. And guess what? She did. And now, we have Karl, the black and white eternal puppy.
I took my $20 dollars and went on a mission to find the perfect machine. Chad was ‘old school,’ so I had to find an old school machine. Not a new computer animated one, but a real old school style Vegas one, complete with a pull down handle and everything. I searched and searched and then there it was. Smack dab in the middle of the casino. I fed my $20 into it, closed my eyes and told Chad I needed his help with this one. We had to get Kaitlyn to Seattle to compete.
Pull one – nothing. Pull two – nothing. Pull three – nothing. Pull four, I finally hit something. It was small but I clapped for myself anyway.
And then, I noticed this:
Ok, so I blinked a few times to make sure I was seeing it right. I really, suddenly, had 149 credits? Really? Yes. Yes, I did. So, I pulled it again, and won. One thousand credits. A few more pulls and I decided to cash out. How much did I win?
Exactly the amount I needed to pay for Kaitlyn’s competition. Coincidence? No. From that point on, Chad started showing up on money. I don’t know why. Maybe he’s trying to tell me something, but it’s easy to find. You can’t give me a dollar bill without causing me to flip it over and check it fully, because if I didn’t, I might miss this:
But one of my favorites was when he showed up for my other daughter, Savanna. Savanna is one of those kids who everybody wishes they had. She is smart, determined, dedicated and passionate about what she believes in. Sometimes, our views don’t align. However, Chad and I wanted to raise her to be her own person, independent of us and we did our best to support her no matter if we agreed or not. We tried and tried to show her that, but I’m not sure if she totally believed it all the time. Until recently. She recently started attending USC and decided to participate in the Woman’s March in Los Angeles. I don’t know how Chad would have felt about it, but he showed up anyway. She was selling merchandise and taking money, and of course, he had to offer his support. Because it’s what he would have done. He would have wanted her to know that even if he didn’t understand or believe in the same things, it didn’t matter. He believed in her. So, what did she find on one of the bills she took in for payment?
Yes. He was there. As clear, and as wondrous as ever.
There have been more. So many more.
Last year, I was on my way to teach a class in Northern Idaho. The class revolves around him in some ways. As I was driving six hours to my destination, I thought about him. At one point, I started crying, wishing I was home with him instead and started questioning how I was going to do ‘this’ without him. And by ‘this,’ I meant everything. Life. I turned the corner, saw it, passed it, then turned around and went back to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.
I wasn’t. I was going to Lewiston. He was with me. I don’t know how else to explain it.
And sometimes, he’s just being funny. Because he was so funny. He was a cop, so what was the meaning of this?
149 on a firetruck. Clever.
Remember the date? He was at the gym recently and sent me this picture. He said that for as long as he can remember, this number has been missing. It took me a minute, but then I saw it. Even as bad as I am at math, I figured it out.
Just this week, I have thought a lot about writing a larger book on grief. I wasn’t sure if it would be good enough, or eloquent enough or what people needed to hear. I sat down with a friend of mine for a cup of coffee, and we talked about it. She has a beautiful soul and her words resonated with me. The power of that conversation prompted me to get motivated to write. To share. To tell this story of grief and survival and everything that happens in between. And, as I drove away with this new found passion and commitment to this project, I thought to myself, ‘I really hope Chad is proud of me. Of us. I really hope this is what we’re supposed to be doing.’ At the next red light, it became crystal clear. I pulled up behind this, saw it, and I knew I was on the right path. He might not be here to tell me with his words, but he certainly tells me with his signs.
I am forever thankful that I opened myself to receive the winks and that he sends them to me. I know a lot of people who will challenge this, who will say it’s not real and it’s all happenstance. They will say I was just in the right place at the right time, or that I’m just looking for them so I have manifested it. The naysayers can say what they like, I honestly don’t care. Because real or not, it brings me peace. It brings me comfort. And in the end, that’s all that matters. How we find ‘answers’ is not for somebody else to judge. It’s for us to enjoy. And boy, do I enjoy them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register, 45, of Meridian, Idaho. She is in the process of writing of a book about her larger journey with grief after her husband’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:
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