After her son passed, these mysterious experiences showed that their love could never be broken.
Posted in , Mar 25, 2021
When my son James died of a drug overdose at 43 years old, my world collapsed. He was my firstborn of six children, a gentle and sensitive soul who saw the good in everyone. At 19, he’d enlisted in the U.S. Army and quickly climbed the ranks to become a sergeant and medical specialist. While he was stationed in Alabama, a fellow soldier was fatally injured in a parachuting accident, and James—the responding medic—blamed himself for not being able to save him. After James was discharged, he struggled with PTSD and turned to drugs to block out the scenes that haunted him.
In the weeks and months following James’s death, I went through the motions. It felt as if part of me had died along with him. I took solace in the knowledge that he was in a perfect place, free from burdens he’d carried so long. But I also felt deserted, spiritually disconnected from my son. While he had moved on and was at peace, I was left alone to deal with my grief. I believed that those who pass on don’t concern themselves with the living. I was about to find out just how wrong I was…
James was wearing a puffer jacket when he died. His favorite. I hung it from a rack in the basement, and whenever I went downstairs, I would wrap my arms gently around it.
One day, a few weeks after James’s funeral, I was overcome with sadness. I went downstairs and embraced the jacket. I miss you, James, I thought. Suddenly the jacket freed itself from the overhead rod and fell into my arms. I held onto it with my eyes closed. For a moment, I could feel his presence. As if James was actually hugging me back. Was it just wishful thinking?
I went to hang the jacket back up. I saw that the hook of the plastic hanger had snapped. I hadn’t pulled on the jacket when I hugged it. I was always careful with it, so respectful. Yet the hook had inexplicably broken, delivering a return embrace right when I needed it most.
Two months after James’s death, I had a dream.
James stood next to a wingback chair, facing away from me. Then he turned. The scene was so real, I thought maybe it had all been a terrible mistake, that my son was alive after all. I ran up to him, throwing my arms around him and saying, “James, James, James…” He didn’t say anything in return, just smiled sheepishly, seemingly surprised at all the fuss. He held me in his arms, the hug so real I could still feel it when I awoke.
I sat up in bed and looked around the room. A dream, I realized. But deep down, I knew there was something more to it. It was different from anything I’d ever experienced. It felt like a divine gift.
On the one-year anniversary of James’s passing, I woke up early. It was still dark outside as I sat at the dining room table, going over the graveside service we’d have later that day. My whole family was asleep upstairs. The house was quiet.
Then I heard something. The soft strum of an acoustic guitar drifted down the stairs. I assumed it was our daughter, Lauren, practicing. Why is she playing so early in the morning? I wondered. I waited for my husband to get up and tell her to quiet down, but no one stirred. I leaned back and listened to the music. It reminded me of James. He’d played guitar too. I remembered hearing him practice in his room, plucking out notes and strumming beautiful chords. It was a comforting sound, much like this...
The music faded, and I went back to organizing the memorial service.
A few hours later, Lauren came downstairs, looking groggy.
“Why were you playing guitar so early this morning?” I asked. “Your father and brother were trying to sleep.”
Lauren stared at me, bewildered. “What are you talking about?” she said. “I just woke up.”
Lauren hadn’t heard the guitar. No one in the house had. No one, that is, except me.
The License Plates
Over the two years since James’s death, I’ve noticed his initials—JCU—popping up on license plates. I seem to spot one whenever I go out, sometimes as many as three times. It happens so often, it hardly shocks me anymore. It’s like a humorous wink from heaven, letting me know he’s there. But one occurrence in particular stands out.
It was my second Mother’s Day without James. That first had passed in a blur, with me reading his old cards over and over, but this one was especially poignant. In the afternoon, our family visited James’s grave. We gathered around and talked about him, what we loved and missed about him most... He loved writing and playing guitar. He loved his two cats. And he loved the Incredible Hulk.
When James was growing up, The Incredible Hulk was his favorite TV show. He would get so excited watching the powerful green hero smash walls and save the day. The show’s theme song always made him cry. As an adult, he once told me that the haunting melody still moved him to tears.
On the drive home from the cemetery, a car approached with JCU on its license plate. But this time, as it passed in front of us, I spotted something else that made me catch my breath.
There was an image painted on the car’s side. The Incredible Hulk.
The Hibiscus Bloom
In my garden, I have two hibiscus plants—one burgundy, the other white. About seven years ago, I lost the white one. It was overpowered by gladioli and never grew back. I was crushed because it had been my favorite flower in the garden. I searched for a replacement at garden centers and in catalogs, but I could never find the exact variety that I’d lost: one with large pure white blossoms and a red center. I finally gave up.
This past spring, I noticed a new plant growing in one of my flower beds. As it got larger, I recognized it. A hibiscus. How is that possible? I thought. I’d never planted hibiscus there, and my other hibiscus plant was far from this bed. When the blossoms finally opened, they were large and white, with a red center. The new plant had appeared right next to the memorial I’d placed in the garden shortly after James had passed—a wind-chime heart inscribed with “Those that we love remain with us…”
Indeed, the bonds of love can never be broken, even by death. And we are never alone in our grief. James taught me that.
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