A week or so after Danny passed, I was lying in bed, unable to bring myself to get up and get dressed. My heart was heavy and I could think of no way to lighten it. For lack of anything else to do, I opened my computer and began to look at the music that was listed in my iTunes library. My eyes immediately locked on a song by the name of “Free Bird”.
I had never listened to the song or had any interest in it before. It was included in a movie sound tract that I had previously imported into my computer but now, for some unknown reason, I felt drawn to the song. As a matter of fact, I felt as if I had to hear the song. I hit play and proceeded to be astounded by the lyrics, because to me, the words could have been coming right out of Danny’s mouth! Following are the lyrics to “Free Bird”:
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
I must be traveling on
Cause there’s too many places I’ve yet to see
But if I stay here with you now
Things just couldn’t be the same
Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Whoa and this bird you cannot change
Lord knows I can’t change
Lord knows I can’t change
I sat in wonder. Could Dan possibly be sending me a message through this song? It certainly felt that way, but of course, I couldn’t know. The fact that I was drawn to listen to lyrics that touched me so profoundly, gave me cause to ponder.
I decided to nickname Dan “Free Bird” for no other reason then it felt right. I knew that as a bereaved parent, my own imagination could be weaving the entire scenario to distract me from my pain. Every mother wants to believe that she is receiving messages from her child, however, six weeks, later the plot thickened.
It was a warm, late afternoon in August when Jerry decided to play golf at the country club near our home in Ardsley that we had recently vacated. Feeling out of sorts and wanting to stay close to Jerry, I decided to accompany him to the club and ride around in the golf cart with him while he played. Now that we lived in the city, the golf course seemed very peaceful and serene, like a respite in the country. I have always found dusk an enchanting time of day, and so I accompanied my husband that day as he drove up to Westchester.
As soon as Jerry pulled off the highway, I was hit with a wave of sorrow. The familiar streets and stores where Dan and I had been together so many times were all around me and my heart began to ache. The pain literally felt like a knife in my chest, making me gasp for air. All I could think of was Danny and how much I missed him and how unbearable it was to accept the fact that he would never drive his car through these familiar streets again, or cook dinner for me the in Ardsley house kitchen.
I began to regret that I had come up to Westchester in the first place. My heart, like a heavy weight, was pulling me down into deep despair when I felt this huge, warm, presence surround me. Thoughts entered into my mind so quickly that I could hardly keep up with them. This is what I heard:
Mom, stop idealizing me. It was not a bed of roses and it was never going to be. And whether you realize it or not, I am with you more now than I ever was then. Think about it, Mom. I didn’t usually get up before 3. When I did, I could be very grouchy. Later in the day, I would often go out with my friends and then stay up way late. Now I am with you all the time. Think of it this way: You used to worry about me all the time. Now you just miss me. That’s not so bad. There are things worse than death, like incarceration, Mom. Things were not going to be easy with me. I’m better now, and that should make you feel better too. You don’t have to be so sad. I’m okay, I still love you and I know that you still love me so feel better…please. When you are so sad, it makes me feel so guilty for screwing up. You have to try to feel better if you want to help me.
I was blown away because it all made sense and it sounded so much like my boy. It comforted me enormously and the pain in my chest began to ease. As we pulled into the parking lot of the country club, I blew my nose and wiped my face dry from the torrential flood of tears that soaked my cheeks. Jerry took off to the locker room while I began to make my way to the path that leads to the first tee, where I meet him.
As I was walking along the tree-lined path, I spotted a group of men approaching me with their golf carts. Always the vain female my thoughts turned to all the crying that went on in the car. “Oh my God,” I thought, “I must be a mess” and as I was fumbling in my purse for my pocket mirror, I heard, “They are probably all assholes Mom, why do you care?”
Now, I can’t even begin to tell you how much more that sounds like Danny than me. I started to laugh out loud and mentally I answered him back by saying, “Well Danny, they might not all be assholes but you’re right, why do I care?” and I left the pocket mirror in my purse and met Jerry at the first tee, feeling very much better than I had in the car. Jerry played for a couple of hours as the sun set and the birds chirped and my heart felt a great deal lighter than it had in a long time.
However, as any bereaved person will tell you, the highs are short lived and as soon as we began driving back to the city, nagging doubts surfaced. “How do I know that was Danny speaking? It’s probably just my imagination” and I persisted in this line of reasoning as we drove south on the Henry Hudson Parkway. I was beginning to lose heart when I got an idea. I would ask Danny to give me a sign.
As we continued to drive south on the parkway with the Hudson River just to our right, I mentally said, “Danny, if this is really you and not just my imagination, give me a sign.” As soon as the words passed through my mind I had the impulse to look over at the river. To my astonishment, sitting right there, in plain view, was a beautiful white sailboat with the name FREE BIRD written across the side in big bold royal blue letters!
“Oh my God,” I thought, and I shouted out for Jerry to look quickly! Fortunately he caught a glimpse of the Free Bird before pulling the car off the highway. “Okay my boy,” I said to Dan mentally, “You’re on. From now on I will take you at your word and I won’t doubt you ever!”
I can’t say that I have always been able to live up to that kind of promise. Doubts do surface from time to time, but if what I hear in my mind sounds more like Dan than me, makes good sense and brings me comfort, I take it on faith that it is coming from him! After a sign like that, what would you do?
Sheri Perl 2011