Death. It shakes our reality. It tests our courage. It tests our heart. For some, because of the circumstances surrounding it, it tests their faith.
It was my strength that was tested when my magnificent younger brother Brett passed away far too soon, in March of 2012, after struggling through years of alcohol addiction and mental illness. I have worked very hard to eliminate any negative feelings of regret, anger, and shame, instead turning my story (a memoir actually) into hope, change, inspiration, eternal love and forgiveness.
His loss had left me struggling to breathe, though it was never my faith that was challenged, but my deep desire to know that he was alright. That he was at peace. I know I am not the only one who cries herself to sleep at night, asking for a sign, a miracle to help ease the pain.
“Miracle—a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”
I have been blessed to have received an answer to my prayers, twice. The first, from my brother, is documented on page 246 at the end of my book, The Sun Is Gone.
What I wasn’t expecting is that it would happen to me a second time.
Some things happen in this life that can’t be explained. That are so far past just mere coincidence. You know, most say they believe in God or a higher power. Or they are like me, someone who doesn’t have a religious connection but does believe with all her heart that there is something beautiful when you die. I am open-minded enough to say that I have no idea what that is or what that looks like. But the ones I love are there. I am sure of it.
I wonder though, while so many say they believe in an afterlife, including most churchgoers, when they are challenged to explain things that are unexplainable, why can’t they find it in their heart or mind to believe it could be a sign from beyond? Isn’t that what faith is, to believe?
My strength was recently tested again, but this time it was through the love and loss of a dog. For those who have never experienced this kind of connection with a pet, it might hard to understand. The pain at the death of a dog can feel the same as the loss of anyone else in the family. A pet is there on your good days, and making you feel so much better on the bad ones. With absolute unconditional love. They are there, by your side, no matter what.
I am proud to say that since my book launch I have been on about 25 podcast radio interviews, talking about my book, and touching on my journey through my brother’s addiction. But this particular interview I’m describing was slightly different than the rest—it wasn’t just voice, but rather a “video” interview. I got all settled with my fluffy best friend Chevy sitting quietly on my lap. Never knowing what questions I will be asked in a live recording, this one went flawlessly. My thirty-minute discussion with Paula was one of the best I have ever done, like two girlfriends having a chat about life, loss, and the lessons along the way.
Two hours later I received an email from her telling me, “Sorry, there was something wrong with the voice recorder. We need to redo the interview.” I was disappointed for a mere second, my positive nature accepted that, for whatever reason, it was meant to be. Who knows, maybe the next conversation would be even better.
Our dog Chev had been sick for months, having survived heart failure in January. My husband and I doted on his every need, spending hundreds on medication and ointments, and nurturing him back to health. He was getting better in some ways—his hair stopped falling out, his cracked dry paws, ears, and eyes were getting better, he was happy. Really happy. Maybe it was just that I wanted him to return to health so badly, that I saw these positive changes. Maybe it was just my imagination, when others did not and they didn’t want to tell me that “it was his time” for fear of breaking my heart. What I did see was that he was losing weight, had diarrhea and vomiting, was sleeping most of the day, and could barely find the strength to walk. But what remained the same was he was happy. Still happy. And he filled that empty hole my brother had left in my heart. That little guy and I had been through so much together over the course of these last eleven years.
I was watering the flowers one afternoon, and instead of following me around the planters as he always did, Chevy sat still on the lawn and watched. I knew he was tired. I knew he was ready. The truth is, it was I who wasn’t ready. I gathered all my strength as I knew what needed to be done; I’d known it for a while. I bent down beside him on the green grass, looked deep into his dark brown eyes and said, “I love you, little man. But you are going to need to go find Uncle Brett, okay? Go find Uncle Brett.”
And so, within a couple of hours, on the early evening of Tuesday, August 29, 2017 I sat in a quiet room with tears rolling down my cheeks. With Chevy held close to my chest, I whispered, “I love you, I love you,” over and over again, in his ear and said goodbye.
This pain was so familiar, this time with an added element of guilt. Once again, I had a deep desire to know he was alright. That he understood. That I made the decision.
A couple of days later, on Friday morning, I prepared myself for the second interview with Paula. I wanted to cancel. I started to cry. In all my interviews, Chevy had sat on my knee, absolutely silent for thirty to sixty minutes. That day, he wasn’t there.
Let’s face it, I have years of experience at hiding my feelings. At times, I think I am an expert at it. Putting on a brave smile. Pretending I am fine (when I am so far from fine.)
I had had a shower, curled my hair, put on my lipstick, put a “quiet zone/do not disturb” sticky note on the front door, and walked down the stairs to my interview room. The little voice in my head said, “You got this, Jode.” And I did have it. I was happy and bubbly, even though at times it’s a hard and painful topic. But pride propelled me and gave me strength.
I put my blanket on my knee, turned on my computer, logged in to my Zoom link, and I was ready to go! I saw Paula’s beautiful smile, just as I had the previous week. She sat on a couch, with a display of a plant and a bouquet of flowers on a small table at her side.
Hanging directly above her, I noticed, was a framed picture of a dog. I said nothing and we began taping, but that picture threw me off. It rattled me. I was going to break down and cry. Silently in my head, I said, “CHEVY, WE GOT THIS.”
And so, as I always do, I began sharing openly and honestly about my book. My brother. Me.
As you watch the video we recorded that day, please keep your eye on the dog picture. And, as an FYI, it is better on a laptop with a big screen.
I don’t know Paula. The interview was supposed to be done and finished last week. We were not supposed to reschedule. She had no idea I had just put Chev down 48 hours earlier. And it shouldn’t go unnoticed, that I too am skeptical, logical. Things need to make sense to me or I just don’t believe them. Had that been a picture of her family, of a mountain, or of some obscure art print, I would not have even noticed it. I didn’t notice it was there last week. My silent voice, wouldn’t have spoken to my dog that was always by my side.
After Paula stopped taping, she said that her dog, Shotzy, had passed away about eight years ago. That picture has been hanging there for two years. And what happened could have happened ten minutes before, an hour later, in someone else’s interview, or not at all. But it didn’t. It happened during my interview, at a moment I was struggling and needed a sign.
Many will say this is just a coincidence. That it is not possible. That it defies the voice of reason. That there is some other logical explanation.
Coincidence? I can’t answer for you.
But for me, I have no doubt that my white fluffy, happy, best friend of mine had found my brother. And someday, they will be there waiting for me.
Once again Chevy found a way to fill that empty hole left in my heart.
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