Happy Birthday – Love, Grandma.

It is never easy losing a loved one. Grief hits us all in different ways, but for most of us the concept of continuing life without that person and achieving milestones in your life that they will not be there to witness if often the hardest pill to swallow. None of us would be alone when it comes to that time in the grieving process where we call out to the universe or call out to our passed loved ones – whether it’s in our heads or out loud, asking for a sign or some sort of indication that they’re watching over, from wherever they are in the afterlife.

We often accept things like finding random feathers, hearing familiar music, or reading a particular phrase, or seeing birds land on windowsills as these signs – things that we normally wouldn’t even take notice of or think logically about suddenly become relevant to us as a coping mechanism to get though the grief – And if that helps…then that’s totally ok.

But what if we end up getting a message from the “other side”, that we don’t particularly expect but is specific enough that it really couldn’t be much else other than your loved one communicating with you from beyond the veil?

Grandma was very doting to her five grandchildren and even though she lived in Timaru in the South Island and our side of the family lived in Auckland, we were regularly treated with flights to go down and see her (and vice versa) in the school holidays and even if we couldn’t see each other, we could always look forward to weekly phone calls or the occasional letter in the mail. She would always take a keen interest in what we were doing and was always full of praise for even the smallest achievements – which is what all Grandmas do best really.

As I reached my late teens, visits to Timaru became less frequent and she herself was no longer fit to fly up to Auckland by herself. We continued contact over the phone and through letter writing right up until the inevitable, when her health deteriorated, and she was placed into hospital care. Due to work and financial commitments I was unable to fly down to be with her at her bedside, however my Dad passed on my gifts and get-well cards on my behalf to which he relayed that she really appreciated the kind words and will always remember and look out for me……..and the girls – a comment that didn’t make much sense at the time as I only had one female cousin and the rest of us were boys so the plural “girls” was unusual, but we accepted it due to the fact that she’d also eventually referred to my Dad (Her Son – born in the UK and lived in NZ most of his life) as “The nice South African man”.

It was a similar conversation that Dad relayed back to me which has also stuck with me after all these years. He mentioned that during a conversation one afternoon before she passed, that she mentioned seeing people in her room and that she’d had an appointment at three in the afternoon the following day and that she’ll be going “through the gates”: Again, it wasn’t unusual to think that it was just ramblings due to her deteriorating mind and the topic of conversation turned to something else.

Sadly, Grandma passed the following day, allegedly around the same time that she had mentioned having an appointment. Coincidence maybe, but It did make me think of similarly related stories of those in their final moments being guided by family already on the “other side” into the afterlife. And as for the gates? Well even my non-religious mind wandered to the idea that maybe it was a reference to the entrance of Heaven – Who knows??

I remember the last conversation that I’d had over the phone with Grandma before she was placed in hospital. She was excited and proud at the same time, that that year would be my 21st birthday, she expressed that she was amazed at how quickly her grandchildren were growing and that we were quickly becoming adults rather than the children that she so fondly remembered. When I think back to it now, there are so many things I would have said differently, made the conversation last longer – expressed my appreciation and love a little more, instead of keeping the conversation focused on my party and how I was doing.

I was unable to attend Grandmas funeral, it was a hard decision to make.

A week or so had passed since the funeral and it was the day of my 21st birthday. I remember the moment well as I made my bed, gathered my clothes for the day and showered. As I walked back into my bedroom, I noticed an envelope sitting nicely placed against the pillow on my bed – not an uncommon sight to see if Mum or Dad had been to the letterbox and I’d received mail. However, this envelope was unstamped and blank other than my name “Samuel” handwritten in the top right-hand corner. Unmistakably, it was a letter from Grandma. Thinking that it was a birthday surprise from Grandma made in advance that had been placed there from Mum or Dad. I opened it and instantly there was no mistaking who it was from, a hand-crafted Birthday card with stamped flowers on the front which Grandma would make from carving potatoes and dipping them in paint.

I opened the card, and a tear came to my eye as I read her words. It began with “Dear Samuel” (she was one of the last people to still refer to me by my full name). The letter went on to express how proud she was of me and how grateful she was of me writing letters to her whilst she was unwell. It was rather non-specific but mimicked similar topics that we’d talked about with regards to me getting older and growing up. She spoke of how I’d find a girlfriend and one day become a great Father and that she “really approves of the name” which didn’t make any sense at the time what-so-ever. She signed off with:

“I’ll always be looking out for you – Happy Birthday, Love Grandma”.

“P.S – look after the girls”.

Again, the same comment and equally as confusing.

I took the letter to Mum and Dad who were sitting in the lounge, I handed the letter to Dad and asked if he had put it there. He and Mum both had confused looks on their face “what is it?” they asked as Dad opened the envelope. I could see Dad well up a bit as he read the letter, a token from his Mum, word written in ink by her very hand. He silently nodded in approval as he finished reading.

“No” he answered,

“I have no idea where this letter came from and we certainly didn’t place it in your room, but did you notice this?”

Grandma would always be formal and date every letter. The date was for the 9th, the day before – as in the day before my birthday – as in many days after she’d passed.

How could that be possible I thought to myself?

The who’s, how’s and why’s flooded my head. There were plenty of possible logical explanations but none that seemed fair to the family, or any that actually seemed possible.

Was it a letter from beyond? An apport of some kind? A physical manifestation from the afterlife?

I kept the letter on a shelf above my bed from there on in, a nod to having Grandma look over me.

It was less than a year later that I finally met Jo – the woman that would eventually become my wife and eventually we packed up our stuff and moved in together. Despite cherishing the letter, it made it’s way into storage and for a couple of years it’s whereabouts became unknown.

It wasn’t until the night my Daughter Sophie had been born, coming home alone after leaving both Jo and Sophie in the maternity unit. In my tired stupor, I opened the bedroom wardrobe to pack a few clothes to take to Jo in the morning. As I opened the wardrobe door, I felt something fall to my feet.

It was an envelope – with “Samuel” handwritten in the top right-hand corner.

I opened it up. It was the same letter that I’d received on my 21st birthday roughly four years earlier. I sat on the edge of the bed and read the letter again.

“P.S – look after the girls”.

Intentional or not, those words made sense – I now had even more purpose to get up each day and be a good Father (and eventually a Husband).

“I approve of the name”.

Whilst we revealed Sophie’s gender to the family as soon as we found out, it was her name that we kept secret until the day she was born.

Was this just me finding sense in something that previously hadn’t made any before? Perhaps, but why of all days did the letter that I believed was boxed and put into storage suddenly fall at my feet on a very significant day?

Either way, I’m at peace. I can believe what is and isn’t to be real and still keep my mind open enough to not ignore the small coincidences that could very well be significant and meaningful messages from those that we have loved and now lost.

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