She sat quietly on my bed, trying to calm my tears, as I wept into the pillow. We barely knew each other, but as my new roommate she was aware that my dad had recently died. She had heard me crying and came to check on me. I finally felt myself calming down and as my breathing returned to normal and I shut my eyes to rest, she quietly tiptoed out of the room.
Little did I know what she had seen.
A few days later both of my new roommates, Caryn and Tessa, sat me down and said they needed to talk. Wondering what roommate offense I had committed, I sat there waiting for the lecture. Had I left dishes in the sink? Lost the tv remote? We were all in graduate school or working our first post college jobs and we were rarely home at the same time.
“We saw your dad,” they blurted out. I stared at them. “Ummm, what?” I replied in confusion. “He comes at night to check on you,” Tessa began. “The other day when I was in your room when you were crying, I saw his picture, for the first time, on your dresser.”
“I never knew what your dad looked like before that day. A few days later I was up late writing a paper and I heard footsteps on the stairs. Initially, I thought you were coming down for a glass of water, but when I turned and looked at the stairwell I saw him. A figure of a tall man, dressed in a suit, exactly like your dad was dressed in the picture and when I saw his face – I just froze; it was definitely him, but before I could say or do anything, he was gone.”
Before I could even respond, Caryn jumped in. “The same thing happened to me,” she began. “It was early in the morning and I woke up and saw a shadowy figure that looked exactly like your dad in the doorway.”
At first, I was incredulous. Their words barely registered until they repeated it several times. The pain of his death was still so raw and I was tormented by the finality of knowing that I would never see him again. Could he really be watching over me?
A few weeks before my father died I had a dream where he told me that he was going to pass away. He said, “I have to go now, but don’t be afraid, I will always be with you.” I woke up in a panic – gasping for air, tears stinging my eyes as I tried to convince myself it was just a nightmare.
But it wasn’t just a nightmare. He died three weeks later, two months after I graduated from college. He had seen me walk across that stage that warm spring day. Everything after that beautiful afternoon felt like borrowed time.
“Are you afraid to die?” I asked him one night during one of our late night talks before he passed away. “Death doesn’t scare me, but not being there for you and your brother does. I am worried that I will no longer be here to make sure that you are both ok,” he shared with me.
After he died, I felt frozen in time, unable to imagine life without him. My dad always planned adventures for us – the city was our magical playground. Whether it was baseball games, broadway shows, obscure restaurant openings, festivals, the day always felt full of excitement.
After his death nothing felt the same. Then things started to happen. I would feel his presence, like a tidal wave, crash over me in times of distress or danger.
First, it started out small. My stepmother and I were sitting on a park bench at the dog run with our new puppy one day shortly after his death. An older dog suddenly came over and sat with us and when we heard his owner call out to him, he had the same unusual name as my father. Another time we were talking about my dad and all of a sudden the lights started to maniacally flicker and go off and on all over the living room.
But these things were still subtle enough that you could dismiss them as coincidence, but soon that would change.
The next time came a month after his death during a potentially fatal near miss in the car. I was driving on the highway and all of a sudden the steering wheel just locked. I couldn’t steer, turn the wheel in any direction or do anything. It was frozen and I had no way to keep the car in my lane as I sped down a major highway.
With no control over the car, I started swerving in between lanes. Other cars were whizzing past me, honking, cursing at me and changing lanes to get out of my path, but I could not get the car under control. Terror ripped through me as I saw my car about to collide with the others and I desperately tried to pull over to the side of the road, but the steering wheel would not budge.
Suddenly, it was as if someone else took over; an inexplicable force just seemed to sweep in, guiding my hands as if they were steering the car for me and all of a sudden I felt the wheel finally turn and I was able to pull over. As I sat there, my heart still racing, trying to catch my breath after what had just happened, I felt my father’s presence come over me and I knew he had somehow been there.
He protected me again a few years later when a man tried to abduct me in his car after a party. I saw my life flash before me as I tried to escape from this menace with a gun, but there was no way out. Then, as if out of nowhere, I had an improbable chance to break free and run away. After I was safely out of this madman’s reach I felt my dad’s presence again and I knew I wasn’t alone in that car – he had been there trying to help.
“You’re not supposed to believe in this stuff,” people would tell me. “It’s probably a figment of your imagination. We make meaning and inferences when there is none, we add significance to things, it’s not real.” But I knew, like others who may have experienced this, that it wasn’t imaginary. In those times of great distress he was close by. I didn’t feel it all the time, or even most of the time, but when it took over it was all-consuming and there was no doubt that it was him.
A few years later, after my stepmother had remarried, she and some friends went to a psychic one day while vacationing at the beach. Mostly just for fun; my stepmother had no real belief in the supernatural. However, as soon as she sat down, before she even said her name, that she had lost her first husband or even that she was remarried, the psychic said to her, “Your first husband brought your second husband to you. He was making sure that you were ok and that you were not alone.” Apparently, dad was playing matchmaker as well.
This pattern continued off and on for years, my dad’s presence popping up in hard times and then one day these things started to happen less frequently. Maybe because I was in a different place, more grown up, finished with graduate school, married, a mother, but in some way, even from the grave, he had helped get me there.
He had guided me through those tumultuous years, as if to help me drift into better times, less choppy water – my life jacket of sorts.
I think back to that warm summer night when he passed away, with all of us by his side, telling him that we loved him, and after he took his last breath I had whispered to him, “I will love you forever; have a safe journey to wherever your next adventure is.”
And maybe, for a while, watching over us was his next adventure.