Back in 1997, my husband Mark and I had been married for almost 12 years and had been trying to get pregnant for the last six when we stared at the positive results from the home pregnancy test. To say we were thrilled was an understatement.
Sixteen weeks into our pregnancy we had a routine ultrasound that showed our baby had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. This would prevent the lungs from developing and growing properly during pregnancy and our baby would have a 50% survival rate when born.
We learned we were going to have a boy and named him Dylan. One objective during our pregnancy was to bond with Dylan. We wanted him to know and feel that we loved him, we wanted him and we would do everything we could to help him live. So we constantly talked to Dylan. We told him about his Dad running every morning and collecting pennies and other coins he would find on the street. All the coins were being dropped into a piggy bank for Dylan. We read to Dylan every night. We played music, especially classical as it was soothing for us. Our favorite was Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
Dylan was born full-term and lived for two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. We continued to shower him with love, stories and music. As we cradled him and he died peacefully in our arms, we asked Dylan if he might at some point send us a sign to let us know that he was OK.
The day after Dylan died Mark and I wanted to be outside to get some fresh air since we had been living in the hospital for two weeks. We listened to our local classical radio station as we drove twenty minutes to our favorite forest preserve. We started walking but quickly both felt uncomfortable. Although we couldn’t figure out why, we decided to leave.
Driving back we noticed a path through another wooded area near our home. We decided to stop and give this one a try. After walking for a while, we came upon some boulders in a creek and sat down on one. As we stood up to return to the path, there was a bright, shiny, new penny lying on the boulder we just stepped on. We picked it up and immediately thought of Dylan. Both of us commented on how interesting it was to find a penny way out here.
We walked back to our car and when Mark turned on the ignition, Pachelbel’s Canon in D was playing on the radio. We burst into tears – we knew that Dylan had sent us these signs that we would easily recognize. And now we understood why we had felt uncomfortable at the first forest preserve — that was not where we supposed to be. The place and timing had to be perfect to find the penny and hear Pachelbel.
We thanked Dylan and were very grateful he sent us the signs so quickly. From that point, while our grieving was just beginning, we no longer worried about Dylan. We knew he was in a Heavenly place. As we slowly healed from the loss of our son, it was comforting to know there was still a connection with him and that he could let us know that he was around.
That was the first of many penny and Pachelbel stories that continue to this day. Early on it seemed like when we were having a particularly bad day, Mark or I would find a penny. It would lift our spirits and remind us of our bond with Dylan that started in the womb.
One of the more remarkable penny and Pachelbel stories happened just a few years ago. Dylan inspired me to create a non-profit organization, Compassionate Passages, which improves pediatric end-of-life care. We had been successful supporting families and educating healthcare professionals locally and nationally.
I then began getting signs about Africa—being attracted to African art, attending an African drum concert, and receiving an African postcard. One day it occurred to me that maybe we would take our work internationally, and specifically to Africa. That same day I was doing some errands, going to the bank and post office. While walking along I found a penny on the sidewalk and just put it in my pocket. I noticed the penny was smaller than usual, and I remember thinking that it must be foreign.
Later that day, I finally looked at my newfound penny. It was foreign and from “Afrika”. I cried happy tears; Dylan had once again sent a sign and confirmed that Africa was in my future. Within a year I made my first trip to South Africa, presenting at an international pediatric hospice conference. I have since been back three more times to help develop pediatric palliative care programs at Cape Town hospitals and hospices. One evening having dinner at a restaurant with a physician there, Pachelbel’s Canon in D quietly played in the background and I shared the story with her.
How the heck did an African penny come to be on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and me be the one to find it? I’ve given up trying to figure out how these pennies and Pachelbel appear exactly when they’re suppose to. But all the signs from Dylan have confirmed for us that there is an afterlife and that love never dies.