Soon after my beloved son Richard died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism at age 46 in September of 2014, my family and I began experiencing what we call ‘Richard Sightings’. For us, a ‘sighting’ is a coincidence or synchronicity that reminds us of him or causes us to feel his presence.
Richard was my only child. His death was my worst nightmare. It hasn’t been easy to move from my worst fear, heart-break, pain, suffering, and anger, to feelings of love, support and connection. Twenty years prior, I experienced another sudden tragedy when my stepson Logan was killed in a head-on train collision in Gary, Indiana. While that experience did not prepare me for this one, it did prepare me to move toward what feels better and away from what doesn’t.
When my stepson Logan died, I began a journey of grief through very painful multiple losses. Within a-year-and-a-half of his death, my marriage also died. This meant that I lost my husband, my home, my neighborhood, and in many ways, my identity. I was in graduate school when Logan died. When I completed school with an MFA, I was really lost. Not much mattered to me, except survival. Sometimes that was even in question.
Positive memories of Logan and shared ‘sightings’ or mysteries surrounding his death seemed to grab my attention. Some experiences felt so incredibly profound, like Logan asking his mother before he boarded the train that day, if trains run on the same track. She replied that they didn’t. Logan and six others died on the only part of shared track on the South Shore line called the gauntlet bridge.
Occurrences such the sudden extinction of a candle flame, or a hovering butterfly helped us to feel Logan’s presence. The ‘sightings’ felt positive and somehow temporarily free of grief. In addition to ‘sightings’ I was struck by uncanny ‘knowing’, like Logan asking if trains run on the same track. Why would Logan ask such a question on the very day that he died?
Healing took a very long time, for me. Years of art making and years of grieving. Eventually the grief and losses became woven into the fabric of my life. What surfaced in me was a calling to help others. I knew that if I could come through such tragedy and grief and reinvent myself, I could possibly help others to find their way. I wanted to legitimize what I knew about healing and returned to school for second masters’ degree in art therapy. My specialty became grief, loss and trauma. Over time, I became the assistant director of mental health at a large non profit organization in NYC, while maintaining a private practice. I became busy. ‘Sightings’ gave way to a ‘normal’ life of schedules, pressures, stresses and happiness.
Then, my family was stuck by lightening again. Richard died suddenly and unexpectedly, 20 years after Logan. Within days of Richard’s death, ‘sightings’ began. This time with texting and the ease of taking photos, which was non existent when Logan died, three of my nieces, and one of my sisters and I now share ‘sightings’ when they occur.
I have found that the ‘sightings’ improve the quality of our lives by keeping us in a close loop, even though we are spread throughout the country. We all feel more connected to Richard’s energy, when ‘sightings’ like today happen. After my morning meditation where I have a dialogue with Richard, I decided to take a bike ride to the Back Bay, here in Newport Beach, a ride that Richard and I shared many times. It was a great ride on the Back Bay. The stormy sky let out a brief downpour of rain early on my ride. Richard loved a dramatic sky. The rain made the Back Bay the most beautiful that I’ve seen since moving here a year and a half ago. As I took in the beauty, I felt Richard’s love for this place. I saw the start of a rainbow in a dark cloud mass. I thought to myself, that’s no sign. That’s too easy. Of course, there’s going to be a rainbow in these conditions.
I rode on. Then, a Southwest Airlines jet crossed the sky. Richard died on a Southwest jet on the last leg of a trip back from Chicago to Newport Beach last September. I told myself that it’s not unusual, living this close to John Wayne Airport to see a Southwest jet in the sky. I took note but didn’t consider this a ‘sighting’.
Then I saw a young man about Richard’s age walking a beautiful Husky, who looked like our family dog Zeppelin. A psychic said that she saw Richard walking with a dog in the forest. As I passed the young man and the dog, I decided to allow myself to feel a stronger connection to Richard because it felt better than the doubt and helped to not feel so sad about riding alone.
Still riding, I noticed a fish jump out of the water. That really got my attention. After Richard’s funeral some family members and I went down to the nearby beach to drop roses into the ocean. At a meaningful moment, a fish jumped out of the water and grabbed all of our attention. It was stunning.
Toward the end of the trail today, there was one last hill to conquer before getting home. It’s slow going but not too grueling when using the lowest gears. I visually imagined Richard in front of me, as he was so often on our bike rides. At this point on the trail, he sort of wagged his front fork so that he wouldn’t just topple over because he was moving so slow. I have adopted his technique. As I was maneuvering up the hill, wagging my front fork, a black crow landed on a perch near me and squawked several time. I burst out laughing. A black crow has been a ‘Richard sighting’ for sometime now. This one sounded like he was taunting me, making me laugh and lose concentration. Richard had a taunting humor. I was glad to feel him today. The ‘sightings’ are one part of what helps me to feel connected to life.