When a loved one passes away, some feel their relationship with the person they have lost still lives on. Sometimes, inexplicably, they may even feel their presence at any given moment.
Perhaps it has happened to you when you see a particular bird outside your window. Or hear a song on the radio at a certain moment. Or notice pattern of numbers appears multiple times in the same day.
“They’re not figments of your imagination,” says Bettina Brothers. “Everything has a significance.”
Bettina is a HopeHealth grief counselor who leads Soulful Signs, a support group for those who feel comfortable exploring ways to stay connected to loved ones who have died. In a non-judgmental setting, participants share their experiences of witnessing signs that have meaning to them.
“We’re not just focusing on loss. We’re focusing on living and on meaning.”
Soulful Signs is one of over a dozen support groups HopeHealth offers to help the grieving process their emotions and adjust to new circumstances after the death of a loved one. Seeing signs is one way of perceiving the grief process for those who are open to the idea of signs connected the living to the deceased. Experts say acknowledging signs can bring comfort and relief.
Participants in Soulful Signs learn to notice what they notice. When signs happen, Bettina encourages participants to write down what they observe in a journal and note what their thoughts and feelings were before the sign appeared.
“Grief is about self-discovery,” Bettina says. “It forces you to look inside. We’re not just focusing on loss. We’re focusing on living and on meaning.”
Here are five stories of encounters with signs from participants who agreed to share them:
1. Fly like an eagle
Ed Richard saw a raccoon walking on the frozen pond behind his house one day in December 2013. The next day, he saw a bald eagle feasting on the carcass of a raccoon in the middle of the pond and did what any nature lover would do: He grabbed his camera.
“It got tired of me taking all these pictures and decided to fly away,” Ed recalls. “It had a very spiritual meaning for me.”
At the time, he was participating in a loss of spouse support group after losing his wife Beverly the previous March. She was 66 and they had been married for 26 years. Now Ed is a co-facilitator for a support group to help others grieving the loss of a spouse, He is a believer in life after death and says Beverly is with him every day. “She’s poking at me all day long,” he adds.
Watching the eagle take flight that winter day, Ed felt Beverly’s presence. “It reminded me of my wife’s spirit being free of her ailing body. It was the only way I could look at it. It validated my feelings about the afterlife.”
2. Seeing a light
It was round. It was white. And it wasn’t coming from the window.
“I thought it was a reflection from my sunroom so I closed the blinds,” says Carol Belanger of the orb of light she saw moving back and forth on the wall of her dining room last February.
The orb hovered on the wall over the green granite urn containing the ashes of her late husband Joseph. He passed away on Aug. 25, 2020, at the age of 76. The couple were married for 48 years.
“I felt this chill,” Carol says. But as she kept staring at the ball of light, she started talking to her husband, telling him she missed him and that she was going to be OK. She felt calm and peaceful. “I said to myself, ‘This has to be Joe.’”
Carol also decided to take a picture “because no one’s ever going to believe me.”
The orb lasted several minutes and went across her wall one last time before growing smaller and disappearing.
“If you’re open, it just helps you,” Carol says. “I can’t even tell you the comfort it brings.”
3. Everything is illuminated
The staff at the adult day care center Josephine “Josie” Chapran attended called her a “little ray of sunshine” when she came into the room, says her daughter Leslee Barbosa.
Dementia took away so much from Josie, but not her wit and sense of humor. She lived with Leslee for the last 11 years of her life and passed away at age 88 in February 2020.
A few months after her mom’s death, Leslee was messaging back and forth with participants in a Facebook support group for caregivers she administers while finishing laundry. She was writing about her mother in exchanges for several minutes, during which she went into the bathroom to put towels away.
“Suddenly the light starts going on and off,” Leslee says. “It took a few seconds for my brain to understand what was happening.”
Leslee had her phone in her hand and hit record. The flickering lasted for about 45 seconds. Says Leslee: “I just kind of acknowledged her and said, ‘Thanks Mom for letting me know you’re here!’”
Her husband, an electrical contractor, was at work. “He checked the light when he got home,” Leslee says. “He said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with it.’”
4. See clouds from both sides now
Jennifer Brown and her wife Sue Hickey were in luck when they fell in love with a black schnauzer with a green collar on a Texas breeder’s website in 2005. The dog they named Trevor arrived on a flight at T.F. Green Airport when he was 10 weeks old.
“He was like our child,” Jennifer says. “We didn’t take vacations without him.”
Docile and loving, Trevor was devoted to Jennifer’s mother, Anita Brown, who passed away at 88 in 2018. “My mom loved him,” Jennifer recalls. “As soon as she came over, she wanted him to be sitting with her.”
Trevor developed a bump on his back as he grew older. Jennifer and Sue finally lost him in February 2020.
In July 2016, Jennifer photographed Trevor in the window of a house in Friendship, Maine, she and Sue were renting. An artist like her mom had been, Jennifer added purple fields behind Trevor while editing the digital image.
Jennifer thought of this photo while looking at the sky in front of her house one afternoon in July 2020. She saw the color contrast and texture in the view down her street where she used to walk Trevor and took a photo. The tree’s silhouette even resembled the shape of Trevor’s back against the purple clouds. A few days later, she and Sue were scheduled to leave for a vacation in Maine.
“It blew my mind,” Jennifer says. “I knew it was Trevor, telling me he is good.”
5. On the radio
If she had given a eulogy for her father, Kristen Angela would have described him as the strongest man she’s ever known. She would have talked about his work ethic, his love for his family and his generous heart.
But the funeral for her dad, Jose Araujo, had to be small because of restrictions to protect people from the same virus that took his life. Jose died of COVID-19 in the middle of the night on May 24, 2020, hours after being admitted to the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center and before his family could visit. He was 83 and had contracted the virus at the nursing home where he was living.
“When my mother died, the priest knew her very well and was able to give a very personalized eulogy,” Kristen says. “With dad, there was none of that. We couldn’t even get up and speak about him.”
The priest from Kristen’s parish delivered a brief eulogy for her dad. She had to remind him how to pronounce her dad’s name. “It’s Jo-say,” Kristen says. “My father would get really mad if you called him José because he’s Portuguese.”
When Kristen visited her father’s grave on the one-year anniversary of his death, she felt sadness about not getting to see her father before he died and not being able to give him the sendoff he deserved. She promised him she would honor him by making sure people knew who he was, serving as his living eulogy.
Kristen was emotional as she got into her SUV and waited until she exited the cemetery before turning on the radio. The riff at the beginning of the song playing on the hard rock station was familiar. The song was “Eulogy” by Tool.
“I literally had to pull over and look at it,” Kristen said. “I took a picture because I didn’t believe it. I just felt an overwhelming sense of comfort. To me it felt like him saying, ‘Yes, I heard you.’”