A COUPLE OF months ago, a friend recommended an interesting book that she had just finished titled Signs. It’s a collection of stories that speak to the universe’s capacity for magical moments and how to recognize the life-changing messages from the Other Side. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, I would tend to refer to that other side as Heaven.
The book reveals stories of uncanny revelations or inexplicable experiences that have brought inspiration and comfort to those who have lost a loved one. And the author suggests that if you open yourself up to signs, you will start to find meaning where there was confusion, or see light where there was only darkness.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving.
After a glorious day spent with my family — eating, drinking, singing, teasing and doing what we do when we are all together, loving each other like crazy and having the most fun we possibly can — my 76-year-old father laid down to sleep and never woke up.
To say that we have been devastated is a monumental understatement. He passed away completely unexpectedly — although I do realize now he went in the most joyous way that anyone could dream of going. He went to sleep after having his “last supper,” prepared by his loving wife of 55 years, my mother, and he woke up in heaven.
It’s a dream-come-true passing for the deceased. But it’s always a bitter heartbreak for those left behind. And everyone grieves in different ways, yelling out to their creator, their God, wondering what happened. In my particular case, all I wanted to know from Jesus, my Lord, was if he had my dad with him. I wanted to know, dammit. I walked around that whole week, from the Thursday of Thanksgiving late in the night through the following Thursday of his funeral, begging for a sign from God that my dad was safe in heaven with Him.
It’s funny when you walk around looking for a sign. You wonder at every little moment, is this it? Is this my sign? For example, during that very long week my family had dinner together each night, usually at my home. The lights were dim, candles were lit, probably more so than usual, even though I typically prefer it that way.
One of the evenings we dined at my sister’s, and the lights were bright, too bright for my taste. Operating room lights, as I teased her while begging to turn the lights down. As we went to make our plates at the kitchen counter, the lights went off. Completely off, for absolutely no reason. The weather was lovely. The rest of the homes in the neighborhood had their lights on. But ours went off, which of course forced my sister to light candles and proceed with a dinner just the way I was asking in the first place.
Was this my sign? Was Dad looking down on us trying to give me my ambience? I suppose people can create all sorts of rationale for unusual moments that come just at the right time. And I suppose faith is what makes one lean toward a divine intervention. But as we close in on the coming days of Christmas, I want to share with you an incredible sign that came to me on Friday, the morning after my father’s funeral.
In general as Christmastime rolls around, we get so lost in the hype — the decorations a month out, the excessive amount of gifts that we stockpile, the parties and the fanfare. But after losing a loved one — after losing my loved one — it’s remarkable how none of that matters, and the only real solace that can be found is in faith. As such, rolling into Christ’s birthday, I can’t think of anything that helps me find peace other than the birth and subsequent death of Christ on the cross.
The day following the funeral, I was walking through my backyard, melancholic and meditative, in an offbeat area where I was contemplating adding a lighted Christmas tree. The grass had recently been mowed and I was off to the left of a path where most would never walk. I looked down in the grass and there was a crucifix. It was large, maybe six or eight inches long, made of olive wood. Having been to Israel earlier this year, I know firsthand how most of their carved items are made of olive wood, so I thought it curious. I picked it up, and on the back was carved Jerusalem.
I stopped in my tracks, and tears filled my eyes. This was my sign, without a doubt. There was no way to rationalize any other way for this to be in my path the day following my father’s funeral. It didn’t belong to us. I have never seen it before. And it was too large to just fall out of a landscaper’s pocket. (Believe me, I tried every rationale in the moment.)
For Holthouse, stumbling across this cross in her yard — she has no idea where it came from — was a sign from God that her father is at peace, and a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
I have come to learn from our priest that “heaven has been considered the eternal Jerusalem since Christ’s days.” And he believes that I have been intimately blessed by God with this marvelous sign that my dad is in the eternal Jerusalem with Him.
So as I roll into the holidays with a heavy sadness in my heart, fewer gifts under the tree, and a worry that Christmas Eve will be nothing but tears, I am reminded of the only thing that matters to us Christians that celebrate the birth of Christ. He came to save us through His life and His death on the cross. And I have my very own heaven-sent crucifix to prove it.
God bless you all as He has blessed me. Merry Christmas.
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