- Religion and Philosophy
David's Promise: Life After Death
David in Uniform
November 1, 1979 started out like any other fall day. The air was crisp, not quite chilly. The sun was peeking through a few left over clouds from the night before. It looked like it was going to be a great day. I was up early as usual. My 18 month old daughter was a late sleeper but I liked to take the early morning hours to get a jump on household chores. My second daughter was due to arrive in three weeks and I wanted to make sure I'd have as little as possible to do after the birth. As it was, I expected to be a bit tired for the Christmas season.
In the early afternoon, I received an unexpected visit from my grandmother. Nana was on her way home from work and wondered if I could help her sort through a legal matter concerning some real estate she was contemplating buying. We sat down and soon lost track of time. In a startled rush, Nana jumped up to gather her belongings. Her bowling team had a match that night and she still needed to make a stop at the store for dinner supplies. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but my Nana was used to following a routine. Though it had been almost a year and a half since my grandfather had passed on, she couldn't bring herself to break the habit of having supper on the table by 5:00 pm.
At the time, I didn't understand an overwhelming need I felt for her to stay. I sort of laughed about it, but I told her I just didn't want her to go. I didn't know why. I asked her to stay for dinner. I figured it would allow her plenty of time to stop at home to change for her bowling match. In the mean time, I would have her company until this awful feeling passed.
We sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee before I turned to preparing dinner. It was only a little after three when the telephone rang. I was confused about the conversation. The girl on the other end stated that she was at the Hershey Medical Center with my mother who was asking for me. She identified herself as a childhood friend and offered to come and get me. It took a bit of time to sort out the confusion. The voice on the phone was Leslie, my friend from childhood. Her family had been very important to me during my grief over the loss of my father as a nine year old daddy's girl. Five years later, I would be there for Leslie when her own father unexpectantly died. In the previous few years both our younger brothers had forged a friendship through their love of football. My brother David was a starting offense player, while her brother contented himself with being the team manager of the local high school team.
Now it seemed on this fine fall afternoon, my brother had been taken to the emergency room and my mother was asking for me. Leslie quickly informed me that she was on her way to pick me up. Having no answers as to the nature of David's illness, I could only ask Nana to stay with my daughter until I found out what was going on. I ran down my apartment steps as fast as my pregnant body would move and settled on the front porch to wait for Leslie's arrival.
The previous Friday night, David had been taken down during the third quarter. The tackle wasn't any different than a hundred others he had recovered from, but I was terrified when the words “heart attack” flashed in front of my eyes. Our father had dropped over of a heart attack while walking to work ten years before. I jumped from my seat and waited for David to stand up. The whole stadium had become quiet as David remained face down on the turf. I ran and informed my mother that I was going down onto that field if she didn't go. Then after a few more tense moments, my brother was helped up. He leaned heavily on the two players helping him off the field.
Though he was obviously alive and walking off the field, I wasn't mollified. I had seen those words as clearly as if they had been painted on a blackboard. And I was afraid. I knew there was something wrong with his heart; I just didn't know what. At the time, I was convinced he had suffered a mild heart attack on the field. I was upset that the team doctor seemed content to let David just sit on the sidelines without further examination. I had begged David to go to the hospital when he arrived home that night. He refused. He was a senior with only two more games to play. He was not about to risk missing them.
I didn't tell anyone what I had seen that night. I didn't know how to explain it. From the time I was small, I experienced moments of knowingness. I saw things I couldn't explain, knew things I shouldn't know, but these things were very minor, insignificant events. I don't even think I realized it wasn't a normal occurrence that everyone experienced until I was much older. At the age of 19, I was aware of how people might respond to any revelation I might make.
That early November day I sat on the porch waiting for Leslie to appear. My thoughts were on my brother. I swear I could hear the words “heart attack” swooshing by every time a car passed. It was like a cadence in rhythm with the turning of the wheels. I started crying, speaking out loud to David to please wait until I got there. I was actually begging him not to die before I had a chance to say my goodbyes. You might find it curious that I was begging him to delay death rather than to not die at all, but I already knew his fate was sealed. Now I understood why I couldn't let my Nana leave.
The heavy feeling of dread I had felt at the thought of her leaving was the very same mixture of fear and dread I had experienced at the football game. Now I understood what it all meant. I had been given a warning six days before and I had misinterpreted it. The guilt and grief were unbearable.
Leslie never came that day. After waiting far longer than it would take for her to make the trip to my home, I turned to go back inside, still clinging to a thread of hope that I was wrong; that emotional extremes caused by advanced pregnancy were playing cruel tricks on me. I turned the house corner and almost ran into my grandmother who had come to get me. They tell me I howled like a wounded animal in the middle of the yard when my fears were confirmed. I don't remember making any sounds. All I remember is the feeling of being dragged into a very dark place and not wanting to come out again.
I don't remember much of the days that followed. There are some very sad little snippets of remembrance here and there, but nothing worth keeping. My grief was so great that I didn't know how I would be able to go on.
The morning of the funeral, my little girl came into my room and stood looking at her sad, sad mommy. She deserved so much more than I felt capable of handling that morning. She spoke very well for a child her age and so made the obvious statement. “Mommy's sad.”
I attempted to make excuses for my lack of mothering by explaining that Mommy missed Uncle David so much I couldn't stop crying. She looked at me for several moments, turned and left the room, returning a few seconds later with her coat. She pushed it at me. “We go see Uncle Dabid.” I explained that Uncle David was now far away in Heaven. She walked to the window and looked up at the sky as if calculating the distance. She came back to the bed and pushed her coat at me again. “We go Heabin, Mommy don't be sad,” she said matter of factly.
It was the first time I smiled in four days. This dear, sweet child was willing to travel a tremendous distance to bring happiness back to me. I don't remember much more of that day. I don't even remember who took care of my daughter while my husband and I went through the motions of bearing our grief. It is said that the mind has a way of protecting us from our most painful memories by allowing us to forget. I wonder why it is the actual events we forget rather than the pain that makes a home with us forever. I look at my mother and wonder, “How does she bear it? To lose first a husband, followed by the a son who was the very image of his father less than ten years later?” My Nana had to deal with the loss of her only son, her husband of 39 years, and a grandson with in the same ten year span.
Tribute to those gone, by my older brother
That night I dropped into bed fully expecting another sleepless night spent in tossing and turning, being awakened by my own crying and tears. To this day, I don't know what time of night it happened. All I know is that I was asleep and then I was fully awake, but there were no tears in my wakefulness.
There in front of me was my brother looking very much alive. I was startled and questioning his ability to be present. Looking back, I find humor in the fact that I didn't question the idea that he was truly there, but more the idea that he could be there. I wanted to know how it was possible. He told me he could go anywhere he wished to be. I was really puzzled. I knew I was talking to David but no words were being spoken.
I looked around me and discovered we were in a room with no walls. The floor was wood. The ceiling, so high I couldn't even see it, was supported by wooden supports. It almost looked like an attic, but there were no walls, just endless floor and supports. David stood in the center of this great room. He was bathed in a bright white light, but I couldn't see the source of the light. It simply shone down on him from above.
David told me many things that night. He told me death is not as most people are taught to believe. When I asked him, he admitted that sometimes it hurt, but not in a physical way as humans understand, more in an emotional way. Those kinds of pains don't disappear with death, though they recede with time, as knowledge and understanding are gained.
David asked me to not be sad anymore, because it hurt him. When I cried that his death was too painful to bear because I missed him so much, he told me he could be with me any time he wished. He said it was all just a matter of him wanting it to be so, and just like that, he was there. I told him I was really unhappy with the knowledge that my children would never know him; that they would not have a chance to understand how wonderful he really had been. He was persistent, insisting that my children would know him.
Much like the Ghosts of Christmas, he took me to places in the blink of an eye, hoping to convince me of the truth of his words. One moment I was standing in the walless room, and then I wasn't. We stopped in his coach's yard where he was doing some gardening. David walked over to stand next to the coach. I couldn't hear what David was saying into the man's ear, but I noticed how the coach stood a little taller, staring into space as though listening. Later, he explained why he had gone there. He felt a need to check on his coach's welfare. He was worried about his need to blame himself. And so, David claimed to visit those he loved, often.
With his last words before leaving, he told me, “I promise I've given you the truth. And I promise with all my heart that you will be able to see me again. And your children will know me. I promise.”
When I woke in the morning, I knew he had really been with me. The overwhelming sorrow was gone. My spirit felt light, as though a boulder had been lifted from me, but I couldn't understand or believe his promise. As the years went by and my children grew older, I realized that the promise had only been my own mind making peace with my heart.
David's Senior Picture
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Many years later, the daughter which ended up being born six weeks after David's death, asked to be taken to his grave. She had heard all the stories about her wonderful uncle who died so young. She wanted to see where he was buried. Lindsay had never shared much about her beliefs regarding life after death until she was the mother of two of her own daughters. Mostly we agreed on our beliefs, though I had never shoved my own ideals down her throat. In fact, I had never told her about my visit from her Uncle David so many years before. Now, unbeknownst to me, Lindsay was seeking answers regarding some strange happenings in her life, She hoped visiting the grave would help her sort it out.
It was the 4th of July when we made the trip. Lindsay asked if we could come back in September to plant some fall flowers. I thought it was a great idea, so I retrieved my camera from the car with the intentions of taking pictures in order to plan out the flower beds. After snapping a dozen different views, we headed for home.
We loaded the images into the computer the next day. We oohed and aahhed over how cute the two girls looked in the holiday photos. We got silly and started morphing some of the other relatives who had been at the family picnic. I stopped laughing when the first of the grave photos appeared on screen. Off to the left of the headstone was a very clear outline of a person. I magnified the image, searching for a natural explanation.
There in front of me, staring out from the computer screen was the very image of David. He was in his football uniform, as he had been on the day he died. The dark royal blue of his jersey and the bright yellow-gold of his pants were obvious. His shoulders were exaggerated because of the shoulder pads he was wearing, making his head look too small. His white socks and most of his cleats were visible.
Lindsay noticed that his stance was identical to another older photo in which he was posing with my mother. That picture had been taken exactly 12 days before his death and now sat safely inside a glass cabinet at my mother's house. She seemed hesitant to speak what was on her mind, and then decided to just spit it out. There had been some mysterious things going on in her house. Someone or something kept tapping lightly on the wall above her head whenever she started to go to sleep. She said it was annoying, but it stopped when she asked it to do so. It didn't matter which wall she moved her bed to, it always happened. Many times when she was watching television, or reading a book, she felt her hair being touched, almost like someone was teasingly tugging on it. She would smooth it down and then it would happen again. The large apple-shaped jingle bell she had tied to the knob of the deadbolt lock on her door was constantly being moved. She would find it in the bathroom, or on the kitchen counter, or even on the floor beside her bed. Her children were much too small to reach the deadbolt, let along untie the bell.
And the babies were talking and laughing at empty air, pointing and calling out. In the middle of the night Lindsay would hear one or the other carrying on whole conversations. She could make out some of the baby words her children spoke, followed by long silences, and then more baby words. All of those thing were Lindsay's explanation for needing to see her Uncle's grave. She claimed to “just know” it was him somehow.
I had never told either of my daughters about David's visit to me after his death. For many years I hadn't even given it a thought beyond the brief thought of “Wouldn't it be wonderful if...” Hearing Lindsay's explanation for her need to see the grave, followed by getting a snapshot of him as clear as the sunny day it was taken, allowed me to finally embrace the ideas that had been swirling inside my head since I had been a child. Because of my brother's untimely death, I am able to recognize that death isn't the end, but only the beginning of another phase of our life.
So I told my daughter of David's Promise.....