By Lisa LaBrake
About a year ago, a good friend and colleague of mine passed away. After teaching with him and having both of his daughters in my classes, I grew very close to him and his family. Attending his wake was unavoidable. This particular one would be the hardest – it was the first one since my mother died a mere four months prior. The first day, the first month, the first year after someone leaves you – for a while or forever – is jolting, heartbreaking and emotional.
These feelings made my stomach turn, my brain scatter, and tears well in my eyes repeatedly on the day of my friend’s wake. I drove almost an hour, parked in the lot far from other cars and wept, praying for the strength from my mother to gain composure in front of his family. I pled for her support and guidance.
As I approached the door to the funeral parlor, I took a breath, and as my mom would say “put one foot in front of the other”. The line was long to pay respects. I sighed heavily as I looked down, hoping that no one would recognize me, while I gathered my thoughts and emotions. It was suddenly my turn to sign the remembrance book for the family, and something drew my eye to the name previous to my signature. It was my mom’s name - Nola. I gasped audibly. I couldn’t believe that someone with my mom’s first name, which is incredibly rare, signed her name above mine. To some, that would be a coincidence. To me, it was a sign.
Since mom passed away, I have received many signs of her angelic presence – whether it was the scent of her favorite perfume, or melodic notes from a Dean Martin song playing at a department store or in a soundtrack to a movie. She is ever present and I realize that these signs are reminders to embrace her values, morals and relentless spirit.
One such reminder occurred just several months after my friend’s wake. Our young son required a critical medical procedure at a local hospital. I never felt more helpless on the day of the procedure. This time, I asked for a sign from mom to strengthen my son through the day. Before surgery, our son waited in the recovery area where the doctors and nurses spoke to us. Then it was time to wheel our son to surgery and I accompanied them to the surgical room, following behind the gurney. As we were about to transfer from one room into the surgical hallway, a stranger, obviously lost, but resembling an older Larry the Cable Guy, wandered into the doorway we were exiting. As the nurses attempted to shoo him, he waved at our son and yelled out, “There HE is! You are going to be ok, son”. I whispered, “Thank you mom. You’re here”. You see, mom’s favorite comedian was Larry the Cable Guy – we watched his comedy routines when she was feeling her worst. Coincidence? To some, yes. But to me: no, it was another sign.
These interactions with her and her spirit don’t remind me of what we lost, they remind me of our life with her, and how much she is still with us. For those who have suffered a loss like mine, and even though it is a year and a half since she passed, look for the signs from your loved ones. It has helped me cope and “put one foot in front of the other.”
Lisa LaBrake sees signs of her late mother all around her.