When I was a kid, I overheard my mother and aunt talking about seeing ghosts and other strange phenomenon they had experienced. At first, I didn't really understand it, but as the years went by, I began to sense things whether it be a flash out of the corner of my eye, hearing footsteps on the porch, or seeing my two-year-old daughter talking to "a woman in a long black dress with lots of buttons" that wasn't there. But nothing prepared me for what happened when my father-in-law, Dean, suddenly suffered a heart attack at his home in Piedmont, Ohio in 1981.
Dean's wife, four sons, daughter and their families couldn't see the world without this vibrant man, always the life of the party, always telling jokes, always pulling pranks and just being plain ornery. He made each of us feel special. My husband, Denny, the oldest son, desperately wanted to spend time with his father in the hospital. Unfortunately, he had a bad cold and couldn't see his Dad for a week. When I followed Denny into his hospital room, Dean greeted us with jokes about the cute nurses. Maybe he would be alright, I thought.
I didn't look at Dean as I sat down in the chair at the foot of the bed. It was only after I looked up did I see the purple cross on his forehead. I sat transfixed staring at it while he laughed and talked to Denny. Suddenly, this irrepressible feeling of grief engulfed me. I knew he was going to die. I could no longer hold back the tears and lowered my eyes. When I finally looked up again, it was gone.
The next few days passed quickly and the rest of family watched as Dean got better. There was even talk of him coming home from the hospital. Then it happened. The fatal heart attack hit Dean around 2 A.M. On a cold January night. I got the call before Denny got home from his afternoon shift at the local coal company. I hated to tell him the awful news and I watched as the color drained out of his face while he got ready to go to the hospital with his family. I stayed home with our 4-month-old daughter, Faith, and asked myself over and over - why me? Why did I have to know?
But I knew the answer to that question. I felt guilty for not being able to share what I knew with my husband and his family, but they didn't believe in that sort of thing. Then the unexpected happened again. One evening, after the funeral, around 9 P.M., Denny said he was going up to bed. As I sat in the chair watching television holding Faith, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head, I saw Dean, wearing his familiar plaid short-sleeved shirt, standing at the foot of the stairs in the other room.
I stared and for a minute my heart burst with joy - he's back! But I knew better and grief washed over me in waves. As quickly as the grief came a tremendous feeling of peace took its place. I felt no fear at all. He stood with his hand on the banister and smiled at me. Then in my head, I heard him say, "I'm just going to say good-bye..." Then he started to walk up the stairs and out of sight. I sat there for a good while unable to move holding my daughter close to my heart. I could feel love all around me.
Time seemed to stop for a while. When I finally got up, I put Faith to bed and went to check on Denny. He looked so peaceful. After I came back down stairs, I sat down in the chair, trying to make sense of what had just happened. I kept looking in the other room at the stairs, hoping to see him again. I never did.
Twenty years later, I once again experienced an unexplained phenomenon. My mother and I received word from the hospital that my father had suffered a debilitating stroke that morning in February 2001. We rushed to the hospital to find Dad unresponsive and dying. As we sat in silence, heads lowered in prayer beside him, he suddenly sat up in bed, holding out his arms, as if reaching for someone. His eyes reflected the sheer joy of seeing someone he longed to see. At that moment I wished I could see who it was. Then he began calling my dead brother's name, Tim.
I knew he had come to take Dad to heaven. He would suffer no more. I told Dad to lie down and as quickly as it happened, it was over. Mom said she heard me tell him to lie down, but wondered what I was talking about. She didn't see it, but she felt strange none the less.
"I believe you, honey," Mom said sadly. "I just wish I could have seen Tim, too..."