Tomorrow is January 11th, 2017, the ninth anniversary of my son Brandon’s death. I would love to tell you that it gets easier and in a way it has. I no longer feel the shattering grief I felt nine years ago tomorrow and for a long time--years—after that. I don’t wake up in pain every morning. I can laugh, smile, enjoy life. But I haven’t gotten over the loss of Brandon, walking around in a body, an ordinary part of our lives, and I never will. What I wouldn’t give to see that ornery grin again. Yet I feel grateful and know that I’ve been blessed. I got the privilege of being his mother for twenty-seven years. I have the memory of rocking that sweet little roly-poly toddler to sleep. I remember him in the front yard as a little boy, hitting rocks across the road into the field with his yellow plastic baseball bat for hours. I remember his sweet smile, curly chestnut brown moptop, his wonderful big true heart, and his neverending sense of humor. His laugh…oh that laugh. I still can hear it echoing inside my head.
Brandon would say he hasn’t gone anywhere and I know that in a way that’s true. I still feel his presence, his spirit, around me. And a few times a year I talk to him with the help of a world-class medium. I know that it’s truly him, talking to me through Jamie, because of the things she passes along from him. Once when I met with her, for example, Brandon said, “There goes my mother, Miss Positive.” Another time he said, when I had commented on something he’d said that was less than angelic, during one of those meetings with Jamie, “If I was angel boy you’d say, where’s my son?”
Brandon has said some interesting things about death. He calls the anniversary of his passing his death day, and once he said, “A lot of people [here in the afterlife] see their death day as a celebration, sort of like a graduation.” At the time I thought of how different that was from what most people in the everyday world feel about the anniversary of their loved one’s passing, which seems like a dark day, not only for them but for the person who died. It makes me think of how we only see part of the picture, here in this life. I know my mind has been opened and my perspective on death and everything else has completely shifted since Brandon died, or rather since I started talking to him through Jamie Butler after he died. Brandon commented on that once too: “My passing has given you a new awareness that you don’t have to know everything or have all the answers and now can be your new normal.”
In the early years, the anniversary of Brandon’s death was horrible for me and my family. But since I’ve been talking to him so regularly, and since I’ve come to truly believe that he’s still with us—just not in a form we can see or hug or talk to in the ordinary way, without an intermediary—the dark cloud above his death has lifted a bit, for me and the rest of my family.
Throughout the last nine years we’ve discovered a number of different ways to deal with Brandon’s death day. We celebrate his life by going out to dinner with family and reminiscing about him, often having a round table discussion to see who can tell the funniest story about Brandon when he was here. There are some really funny stories told by his brother and sister, like the time Brandon and Cody came over to our house in the middle of the night when they were in their twenties and Brandon was living on his own. Cody was staying the night with Brandon, and they snuck into my and Kenny’s house, avoiding the motion sensor light (“Don’t go in front of that light,” Brandon told Cody, “because it’ll go on and it will wake up Mom, the gestapo, and then we’ll have to explain.”) I didn’t wake up, and they stole our hotdog buns and ketchup so they could have a cookout at two in the morning. Kenny and I didn’t find out we had no buns or ketchup till Kenny made brats for lunch the next day. Or the time Jessica, Brandon, and Jessica’s boyfriend at the time Johnny were driving from Phoenix to Iowa, stopped at a Quick Trip when they got relatively close to our house, and Brandon bought a toothbrush because he’d just remembered he’d forgotten his and hadn’t brushed his teeth during the 26 hours they’d been driving back. Johnny told that story, about six years ago now on Brandon’s death day, and we all laughed uproariously, partly at the look of his disgust on Johnny’s face.
Tomorrow my husband Kenny and I are going to take off the afternoon and go to a movie, and then we’re going over to my son Cody and his wife Britni’s house and have dinner with them and their two little kids, my two grandchildren, McKinli and Calvin.I know we’ll talk and laugh and reminisce about Brandon and that Brandon will be with us. We won’t be able to see him as we look around the table, we might not be able to feel that he’s there. But he will be. That much I know for sure.
Five days before Christmas. I was up in the garage taking the price tags off of the flowers I bought to decorate Brandon’s grave for Christmas. I was unusually late in doing this, for me anyway. Anyone that knows me well knows I take this decorating for any season or holiday to a whole new level. It makes me feel sort of a sense of accomplishment. It is my way of honoring the place where my son was buried. Kenny was home for lunch and was on his way back to work when he found me in the garage. He had this wide-eyed surprised look on his face and proceeded to try and explain this phone conversation with this man named Angelo. “You are not going to believe this story,” he said. He went on to explain that some man he didn’t know just called his cell phone and was telling a story of how he found my book in the trash.
Angelo went on to tell Kenny how we seemed to have a lot of things in common, he told him his wife was a nurse also and that he and his wife had lost a son to a gunshot wound. He told Kenny he was reading my book and was very anxious to talk to me. Kenny agreed to relay the message and took his phone number and told Angelo that I would be happy to call him back. Angelo thanked Kenny for taking his call and for listening to his unusual story of how he came to get a copy of Beautiful Gift.
I put the number in my phone, as I was very curious to learn what the rest of Angelo’s story was. As I was traveling to the cemetery I rang the number. Angelo thanked me for calling him back then went on to tell his story. It seems Angelo was working his second job and this was picking up trash from different companies. On his route that day there was a pick-up at the same printing company that had printed my book. He went on to explain something about running a forklift and emptying cardboard boxes. He said he had no explanation as to why he got off the forklift that day, but he did. That’s when he noticed the book lying on the floor. He picked it up, looked at the cover, read the title. He then went on to read the first two pages. “ I started crying because your story was just like reading my story,” he said. “I put the book in a place where I could pick it up later, as I was working, “ he said.
I just listened to him as he went on to explain. “ My wife and I lost a son eleven years ago to a gunshot wound. We are having a very difficult time right now due to the fact that we are reopening the case and trying to hold the person responsible for the shooting,” he said. He went on to explain, “With the Christmas holiday and reliving the tragedy, it has been very hard on my family.” I could only agree with him and told him how sorry I was. “ I can’t believe I found your book and I have no idea how you wrote what you did,” he said.“ I’m on the last chapter of the book and it has really helped me.” By this time my eyes were welling up with tears. “ You know Angelo, I don’t think you finding this book was a mistake, I believe whole-heartedly that you were meant to find it,” I said. He agreed and thanked me for calling him back. I thanked him for reading my book and that perhaps after the holidays, Kenny and I would be happy to meet with he and his wife. “ Have a blessed Christmas Angelo,” I said. Then I hung up. By this time I had made it to the cemetery. As I sat there tears rolling down my face, and going over what just had happened, I shouted, “ See Brandon, We are making a difference!” I said to myself (and Brandon) “ That my dear sweet son was nothing short of a Christmas Blessing.” Love Mom xox
I know my son Brandon would be extremely happy for two reasons. Number one, my book, Beautiful Gift: How I Found My Son in the Afterlife, came out last Wednesday. The book tells the story of Brandon’s passing on January 11, 2008; of how I found him in the afterlife with the help of Jamie Butler, a world-class medium; of how Brandon and I have talked to each other, using Jamie as a go-between, four times a year for the last eight years; and, most of all, what Brandon has told and taught me since his passing. The response to the book has been overwhelming and very positive. I would like to thank everyone who purchased one and for all my friends’ and loved ones’ love and support. I’m quite sure Brandon is beaming with pride, since he played an important part in helping me write this story with its message of hope.
But to me all that pales in comparison to the second reason I know Brandon would be happy right now: This week Brandon’s beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series, which hasn’t happened since 1908. And, even better, Brandon’s father and his brother Cody—and Brandon too, let’s face it—were there at Progressive Field in Cleveland, watching the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in game 7. I can just hear Brandon’s overjoyed whoops, can imagine the ways he would still be celebrating.
Cody’s birthday is November 2nd, the day game 7 fell on. After the Cubs won game 5 on Sunday, October 30 (a big relief because the Indians had won three games to the Cubs’ two up till this point and the Indians were one game away from winning the Series), Cody decided that for his birthday present he wanted to go to game 7 with his dad. He really wanted to do that for his dad, and his wife Britni was happy to go along with the plan. So they purchased two (very expensive) tickets for the game, but the Cubs would have to win game 6 on Tuesday night for them to be able to use them.
As everybody knows now, the Cubs won on Tuesday night. Cody called his dad after that game and they made arrangements to leave at six-thirty the next morning in order to make it to Cleveland in time. We decided I’d stay with Cody and Britni’s kids at Cody and Britni’s house the next night, the night of game 7. Kenny had a difficult time finding a hotel room where they could stay overnight in Cleveland after the game, as most hotels were filled. Finally he found a room out by the airport.
We were all filled with excitement and anticipation and my heart was full of gratitude that Cody and his dad were about to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Kenny has loved the Cubs since he was a little boy and getting to see them play now when he was sixty—play on this momentous occasion—seemed like a dream come true. Cody was so excited he could hardly contain himself—could it be possible that he and his dad might actually watch the Chicago Cubs win the World Series?
It turned out the game was a long-fought battle, with the Indians rallying late in the game and tying the score. A seventeen-minute rain delay stole their momentum, and the Cubs came back with an epic conclusion, winning the World Series in the tenth inning, eight to seven. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I watched this all unfold on Cody and Britni’s television. Brandon loved the Cubs at least as much as Kenny and Cody, and I couldn’t help but think of him being right there in the ballpark with his dad and brother. I was also overwhelmed by the fact that the game went ten rather than nine innings. I texted Kenny and Cody: “Of course it’s the tenth inning!” Brandon’s birthday was June 10th and his way of letting us know he’s still around is always leaving a dime.
The day after the game, texting me while his dad was driving them home, Cody pointed out that all three of my children’s birth dates were involved in the World Series historical win. My daughter Jessica’s birthday is November 7, lining up with game seven; the Cubs won in the tenth inning (Brandon’s birth date, June 10), and Cody went to game 7 on his birthday, November 2. (Technically, the game ended on November 3rd, shortly after midnight, but who’s splitting hairs?)
I like to think Brandon had something to do with it all.
Dimes started turning up almost immediately after Brandon passed in January 2008. We noticed them in all sorts of places—single dimes showing up in strange places, like the floor of some random restaurant, and in familiar places, like on the arm of our living room recliner, where we knew there hadn’t been a dime before. My sister-in-law Cheryl found the first one on the frozen snow- and ice-covered sidewalk when we were on our way to the funeral home for the visitation. Both Cheryl and I had heard stories about people finding coins, particularly dimes, as signs from loved ones after they passed, but I was quite skeptical at first and didn’t give much thought to the idea. But there were so many dimes at the beginning it was hard to ignore and write them off. I began journaling about it every time someone in our family found a dime. That was really the catalyst that started my book.
The dimes were always shiny, not because they were new but because they seemed to give off a little extra light of their own. It was as if Brandon wanted to make sure we didn’t miss them, as if he was trying to get us to pay attention to his attempts to communicate with us and and would not give up until everyone in the family became believers. That’s always the way he did things when he was here on earth, hard and fast, with emotion and conviction.
My skepticism about the dimes ended in April of 2008 when I was on vacation in Florida. My friend Kathy was collecting seashells at the water’s edge and saw something wash up onto the beach out of the ocean. A wave took it back into the water before she could pick it up, then it washed up again and she grabbed it. It turned out to be a very corroded coin. She knew about the dime stories and immediately brought the coin from the ocean over to me; I was lying on the beach reading a magazine.
My friend Debbie had begged me to come on this vacation with her and Kathy, to get out of the Iowa cold and relax. At first I didn’t want to; I couldn’t even leave the house during those first months after Brandon died. But then Debbie and Kathy convinced me to meet them there and spend a week going to the beach and eating out in restaurants. Now that I was here I was glad I had come. It felt good to lie in the sun, and the ocean always relaxes me.
Kathy was shaking with excitement when she handed me the corroded coin that had washed up out of the ocean. “I can’t tell if it is a penny or a dime,” she said. I took a close look at it and determined it was a dime. A dime out of the ocean, I thought. Wow. I felt a shiver go up my spine. I put the coin inside the zipper pocket in my purse so I wouldn’t lose it and when I got home I showed it to Kenny and told him where it came from. He held it in his hand and stared at me, looking a little shocked. We looked closely at it in the lamplight but we couldn’t see the date on it. In August, four months later, we took the dime to a coin collector at the Iowa State Fair because we were curious about what year was on it.
I’d been protecting that dime with my life; I put it in a jewelry box in my bedroom and if I was going somewhere for more than a couple of hours I took the dime with me. At one point I thought I had misplaced it and I felt sick, then I found it among some of the other dimes we’d found and saved in a teacup. I carried it to the fair in my purse, zipped into the inside pocket of my purse. The coin collector in Pioneer Hall took a close look at it under a giant magnifying glass and told us the year on the dime was 1984. Kenny, Cody, Britni, and I all looked at each other with wide eyes. 1984 is the year Cody, Brandon’s younger brother, was born. We all stared at each other silently. Finally, I said, “This has to be from Brandon.” Kenny, Cody, and Britni all nodded. I felt as if Brandon was saying to me, “What are the chances, Mom, of finding a dime washed up from the ocean, in Florida, with my brother’s year of birth on it?” And I also felt as if he was trying to tell me to please focus on Cody.
That dime—along with the countless others we found during that year and in the years that followed—brought us a sense that Brandon is still part of us and our everyday lives. Every single time a dime showed up it gave us a feeling that Brandon was in the room.
Everyone in my family and our immediate group of friends started commenting and sharing our stories with each other. Everyone who found a dime—often when they were having a tough time or there was a significant event going on in their lives—would give me a call and share the story with me. “Guess what I found today?” they would always start off by saying, and I would always say, “Where did you find it?”
We learned that sometimes the year on the dime would have a significant meaning. Not just the year of Cody’s birth on the dime that came out of the ocean, but at other times too: On my fifty-fifth birthday I found a dime in the parking lot where I worked that had Brandon’s year of birth on it. And once when my friend Debbie’s daughter, Ashley, visited—her first time ever to come to our house—Debbie found a dime in her car that had the year Ashley and Brandon graduated from high school.
And the dimes keep on coming. Today my daughter, Brandon’s sister, Jessica, found a dime on the floor in a laundry room in Phoenix where there hadn’t been one before. She says that every time she finds a dime it brings her peace. She knows that Brandon is nearby and watching over her. I feel the same way. Everyone in my family does.
After my son died in 2008 I started one of the most important journeys of my life. I was devastated and I knew right away that I wanted to try to find him if I could.
In 1979, a few days after my father died, the night before his funeral, he came to me in a dream: It was unmistakably him. He told me he was okay and that I was not to worry; I asked him if his parents, who had been dead for many years, were happy to see him and he said, "Oh yes! They were." His main message, the reason he had come to see me, was to let me know he was fine and I was not to worry. I didn't know it at the time but I was pregnant with Brandon, and later I thought maybe he was worried that my grief might have a negative impact on my pregnancy. And many years after that, after Brandon died, I thought of how amazing it was that my dad was fifty-one when he died and I was fifty-one when I lost Brandon. At the end of the dream dad said he had to go, then walked down a hallway and disappeared through a door into the brightest light I've ever seen. It was the most vivid dream I've ever had, either before then or after then, and it brought me lasting relief and lasting peace around my father's death. I knew as soon as I had that dream there is more to life and death than we usually think, that the afterlife is real and everyone ends up there eventually.
I kept thinking of that dream after Brandon died. I searched for someone who would help me find him, and after about a year I found that person in Jamie Butler, a clairvoyant and clairaudient medium who lives in Atlanta. The conversations I had with Brandon, as well as the story of his passing and my search for him afterwards, grew into my book, Beautiful Gift: How I Found My Son In The Afterlife. One of the many things I learned along the way is that death doesn't have to be about saying goodbye to your loved one; it can be about learning how to say hello, coming to truly believe that your loved ones who have passed are still with you and are even part of the family.
Any child is a beautiful gift that we are given in our lives, but sometimes things beyond our control happen and we have to give that beautiful gift back. But it doesn't end there. I'm so grateful to have found my son and to have the opportunity to communicate with him even though he lives on the other side now. I know that he continues to be a part of our family, just in a different way. His personality remains the same as it was when he was here and his humor remains unchanged. He makes me laugh and cry all at the same time and takes me to places that we as humans can only imagine. These days I know Brandon is here even though I can't see him. I feel his presence every day, and I know he is by my side every step of the way in this most important journey of my life. I invite you to join me in this story of my awakening and my continuing relationship with Brandon.