by Hilary Faktor
The first time it happens I’m in bed. It’s the flickering of my bedside touch lamp, which gently pulls me from a mother’s exhausted sleep. How strange, I think, and tap the base, attempting to turn off the light. Instead, it begins rotating through its three levels of light, startling me into alertness.
I tell myself it’s not a ghost. That would be silly. But then the touch lamp in my daughter’s room across the hall begins to turn on and off. Suddenly both rooms are plunged into darkness and I’m alone with my thoughts. Daddy, is that you?
Gone these past two years, my heart knows it isn’t him. As much as I would love an otherworldly visit from my father, there isn’t that feeling in the air.
I feel nothing. Not that I know what one senses in the presence of a deceased loved one, but I expect it’s something more than a cold emptiness. I lie back against my pillow. It’s strange enough to make me wonder what, after more than ten years of owning that lamp, would make it suddenly turn on. A quick internet search confirms that the lamp must have been switched on by my new neighbor, a radio enthusiast with a huge antenna in his yard.
In spite of myself, I’m disappointed with the logical explanation. If there had been no reason for the lamp to suddenly turn on, I would have had proof that my dad’s consciousness is out there, somewhere. And that he is trying to say hello.
When you lose someone beloved, you can’t help looking for signs from them: little messages that mean they’re still around. It’s a bit of a lifeline to go about my day and wonder whether my dad’s checking in. Is he watching me prepare lunch in my kitchen, the place where we often chatted about things happening in the world? He was a political junkie. We spent many happy hours solving the world’s problems while debating the day’s headlines or watching election results roll in. The thought that he is entirely gone is too much to bear. So I watch for signs of life from my dad.
In the months after he died, I’d look for him everywhere, but especially in nature. Not just because he was an avid outdoorsman, always planning canoe trips with a band of friends, or slipping silently through the trees on cross- country skis, but because he was his truest, happiest self in the woods.
I’d deeply inhale the smell of grass and flowers, drink in super moons that filled the sky, and study the mountains like one of the Group of Seven. But, I wasn’t planning on painting a masterpiece, just looking for the missing piece of my soul, painfully carved away by the death of my father. I was desperate to understand the enormity of the universe, to bathe in bounteous nature and the awesome wonders I no longer take for granted. The night sky drew me outside and I’d find myself gazing up into the atmosphere, counting stars and marveling at humankind’s limited knowledge of the universe. So many puzzles to solve. But most of all,where did you go, Dad?
A few months after he died, my daughters found two dimes in his garden, placed so carefully among the brass and copper treasures he’d loved. These simple coins have long held the reputation of being signs from the spirit world. To find a dime is to know a loved one is reaching out to you, or so the story goes. I clutched the tiny coins tightly in my hand, desperate to feel his presence. A few weeks later, my sister divulged that, right before he died, Dad had asked her to go out and hide two dimes in the garden, “For the little girls to find.” She felt conflicted about whether to tell me or not. But now I feel the true impact of those symbols. He wanted to let us know he loves us. He knew they’d be found after he died, when we needed to hear from him again.
A few weeks before Christmas, I was cleaning out the basement with my husband and daughters, preparing the overflow bedroom—just an extra bed in our unfinished basement. My dad used to sleep down there when he visited in the summer, because the heat on the upper floors was stifling. I pulled the bed away from the wall, and lying there in a neat pile was an assortment of flyers and a few clipped tags from the thrift store, Value Village. “Oh look,” I said to my girls. “Grandpa must have dropped these behind the bed when he stayed here.”
The flyers were dated May 2016. He must have set them aside, years ago, and not given them a second thought. My hands were holding something he had held. In a strange way, it seemed he and I were reaching through the void to touch one another. His love of Value Village was well known among his friends and family. If there was ever a sign that he was thinking of me, this was it. And yet, like the dimes, it was a sign rom the time before he died, when we breathed the same air and walked the same streets, enjoying the friendship that had grown from the strong roots of our father- daughter relationship.
Today, I stand under his favorite maple tree, just below his bedroom window. I place my hand on the gnarled trunk. My dad and his father had planted that tree in the backyard of our family home decades ago. Touching it is like connecting with the past. I long to feel their presence so strongly that I breathe in deeply. The soft wind tussles my hair. I pause and wait, wrapped in warmth. Daddy, is that you?