Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way With Kathy

We met her as My Kateness, our very first follower. We were delighted to discover her own wonderful blog, Stubblejumpin’ Gal (formerly Life on Golden Grain Farm), even as we got to know her better through her funny, insightful, and endearing comments over here. Welcome, Kathy, to our latest 3-way!

Kathy: I knew only one thing: it was a sign.

The house was closely surrounded by trees, and although the wind swayed their highest leaves, in our tiny yard the air was calm. So it was a shock when, as I stood washing dishes in front of the kitchen window, the top half of a young poplar tree snapped off and leapt toward me.

Could the forest be irked? The day before, I’d brutally pruned back the wild raspberry bushes along the narrow path between house and garden. It was the only explanation I could come up with.

My mother was 63 years old and, aside from the all-day “morning” sickness that lasted right up until she went into labour on the day of my birth, had hardly been sick a day in her life. Lately she’d found her bra too tight and, when undoing the clasps provided no relief, had gone to see her family doctor. He’d found a growth on her kidney; surgery and follow-up treatment would resolve the issue and the prognosis was good, he said. I’d received that news, gone out for my usual walk around the farm and found myself weeping. Why? I wondered. Mom would be okay. She had an MRI scheduled, but didn’t seem worried. When the tree snapped in half, I didn’t connect it to her.

The following afternoon here in Saskatchewan it was mild and sunny. I had been over to our neighbour’s country greenhouse, loading up trays full of leafy green nurslings for my flowerbeds, visualizing the beautiful blooms that would grace our yard over the summer months. I’d been smiling all day. When the phone rang, it was my dad with Mom’s test results.

“It’s terminal cancer,” he said immediately, bluntly. “There’s nothing they can do for her. She could last three months; she could live for a year.”

“Fuck off!” I said; then hopefully, though it would have been the most despicable humour ever, “You’re not joking, are you.”

“No. Can you handle it?”

“I’ll have to. I’ll call back later.”

I hung up the phone and dropped to my knees on the carpet, arms across my belly. Not wanting to scare my young son in the next room, I made my way outside where, again, my legs went out from under me. On the grass, I rocked back and forth, groaned; but nothing could alleviate the intensity of this unbearable news. I stood and, tears running down my face, headed for the trees as if some comfort might be found there. Now I knew what they had been trying to prepare me for.

My sister’s omens of death came via birds. After Mom’s diagnosis, a robin persistently pecked at her kitchen window for several days as if trying to get into the house. When our uncle went into the hospital several days before his death, a white dove—something she’d never seen around here before— flew past her windshield when she was on her way to visit him.

Has Nature ever spoken to you?

Deb: Kate, I felt your devastation in my gut as I read this. It’s those moments in life that we are sure will kill us, but don’t. What they do however is weave their way into the fabric of our soul and protect us and remind us to prepare for the next gut-wrenching moment life will dole out. For those of us who have lived long enough, we know this to be all too true. But we survive, don’t we?

Nature has spoken to me in this fashion only once, but it has stayed with me like a comforting friend all my life.

My Auntie Isabel was only 52 when she died of breast cancer. Her doctor misdiagnosed her, telling her that because the lump in her breast was painful, it was not cancer.

Her four grown children struggle with this still, knowing she might have lived otherwise. I loved my aunt very much. She was my Mom’s only sister in a family of six kids and we grew up very close to her family, geographically and emotionally. We lived down the street from one another, went to the same schools, spent all holidays together. Basically her four children grew up to feel like siblings rather than cousins and we are lovingly close to this day.

My Auntie Isabel was one of the great lovers of life. Nothing was too small to miss her loving attention. One of her great passions was birds, and in particular cardinals with their fiery red coats and curious demeanor. She always had her binoculars on the back window ledge and lived for sightings. I was never much of a birdwatcher at all. Took them for granted.  My Auntie Isabel died when I was 21. That winter, I noticed my first cardinal. Mainly because it seemed to take up residence outside my window. Even if I moved toward the window, it remained unflappable. The bird would sit, staring at me and me at it, then fly off after it had enjoyed my company to its satisfaction. There was nothing subtle about this cardinal stalking and I knew in my heart right away that it was Auntie Isabel visiting me. At that point, so soon after her death, I needed it to be true. And it was painful. Every time I saw the cardinal it would break my heart a little. 

Since then, wherever I have lived, I have become a cardinal magnet. I am lousy with cardinals. I could have a cardinal habitat and charge admission. We had two young lovers nesting in our cedars this past spring and it was glorious. I cannot begin to tell you the joy these little birds bring me. Over the years my pain has turned to joy when I see them. I don’t need a sighting to prompt my memories of her, but their visits sure give me hope that I will see her again some day.

Barbara: Wow, these stories are killer. Kate, you brought me to tears. Deb, you brought me to beautiful memories of my own. Like being surrounded by birds after Phil’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My father-in-law was a retired architect for whom any surface was ripe for sketching. A little black bird was one of his signatures. Seeing birds after he died gave all of us comfort, however brief.

One of the most memorable stories like this that I’ve ever heard––although it didn’t happen to me––was told to me by an acquaintance at a funeral while we both mourned the death of one of our best friends. Our friend had just died of cervical cancer … she was only 39. We were all devastated, as you can imagine. She had been beyond beautiful. And brave and gentle and wise. It didn’t seem possible that she was gone.

As we exchanged stories of our friend’s life, the woman I was speaking with suddenly became quiet and introspective. When she spoke again, it was to describe an incredible experience––an experience she could barely understand––that she’d just had. Before she found out that our friend had died, she’d been walking with her husband through the remote woods where they live. They got caught in a bit of a snow squall and were trying to make their way back home. They rounded a bend where the woods opened up to a clearing. Just then the sun broke through the clouds. Up ahead in the clearing on a small swell of a hill were some letters carved into the snow surrounded by hearts. As the couple drew nearer, they saw that the letters spelled out the name of our friend. At first they smiled, remembering their own friend with this same name––and then it hit them: who would have spent time in a snow squall carving a name into a hill when one’s only thought would normally be to get home as soon as possible? And how recently could the name have been carved if it wasn’t yet obscured with snow from the storm? And who was the mysterious name-carver if they hadn’t seen a soul in the woods? And then it struck them how odd it was that this snow-graffiti would be the exact same (moderately unusual) name as their dear sick friend. They raced home through the woods … and found out our beloved friend had died.

I didn’t get a nature call-out from this dear friend, but I did receive what I consider another little sign. My friend’s ex-husband gave me a piece of her jewelry as a keepsake inside a small cloth bag on which he’d penned my initials. The letters BR soon melted into … a heart.

On another day, I’ll tell you the story of another of the mysterious gifts my father-in-law left us after he died…

Kathy Johnson lives in the Saskatchewan countryside, freelances from her home office as an editor in the subjects of architecture, dance, film and theatre, and has replaced her life-long letter-writing habit with a personal blog, Stubblejumpin' Gal, at


  1. *deep breath* OK, wow. Heavy stuff to start my Wednesday with. *hugs Kathy, Deb, and Barbara* OK, wow.

    Nature doesn't warn me of things. But, sometimes I dream about things before they happen. And, it's not a case of my mind putting together subtle clues and figuring out something that's likely coming. I've dreamt of stuff I had no way of knowing and no reason to believe but then had it happen in real life within the next 2 or 3 weeks. It doesn't happen as much now that I'm aging well into adulthood as it did when I was a kid and a teen. I think the world and expectations of normality kinda beat mystical stuff out of folks to a certain extent.

    This summer, someone I love very, very much died. *oh crap, now I'm crying* And, a few days later, something happened that showed me that he was still looking after me and my son --- to quit crying because he was fine and happy in the next place and still up to loving mischief. I can easily imagine him in Heaven chuckling with his late brother and getting upto God-sanctioned sweet mischief.

    I saw his widow at my cousin's wedding last month and told her the story. She smiled so radiantly and then explained that she had no doubt of what I had told her because she'd received multiple signs that he was still looking out for her and took daily comfort in it.

  2. OK, my computer just flung bad attitude at me. It locked up, and then when it unlocked, the page refreshed and that comment posted before I'd clicked submit. Weird.

    Anyway, here's the story of the wonderful Heavenly hug I got:

    When he died:
    (If you read the comments on this one, you'll see that his grandson had an unusual death visitation experience that night.)

    I had also posted this around the same time on a different subject:

    Then, a few days later I got an email from someone I didn't know, his great niece in Pennsylvania, and this happened:

    The Christmas surprise has been hidden in my underwear drawer for months and will soon appear wrapped up and under the tree.

  3. ARGH! Sorry for the 3rd comment! *glares angrily at computer*


    Just wanted to say how big I smiled when I saw that the Stubblejumpin' Gal is the 3-way this month. *HUGS, HUGS, HUGS* She's awesomely kind. She used her blog to help with my Christmas Elf Conspiracy. Kathy's really a go-the-extra-mile kinda person, y'all. *hugs, hugs, hugs* So, I want to publicly thank Kathy for her superduperness.

  4. So sorry to hear about all the death's let me just say that right off the bat. It is always hard to lose someone and when it's a family member it's even harder. We lost my great grandmother on feb 9 of 2009. She was such a sweet lady and even know she didn't know alot of people half of the time because of her mind she was still made you feel so warm and special inside. To this day I still miss her like crazy. And even know I miss her like crazy and want her back so badly I am glad she is in no more pain. After her death we had two things that started happing to not only me but my family. The first thing that we found was a rabbit. She use to love them and treasure them. She even had little figures of rabbits in her bedroom. And even now when we go outside it seems like there is always a rabbit sitting on the grass somewhere in the yard. Weird right. The last thing that was weird,well still is weird is on the day we laid her down to rest, it started to rain,now everytime we try to go to her grave it seems to rain.It's not just one time it's everytime,weird I know but still.

  5. Just one more thing about my grandmother. Another reason that I believe she was so special is because she gave me my name. I guess that's why after she passed away I felt her so much because she gave me the name that I have today. I feel very honored that she named me Lyndsie Nicole.Maby that's why I still have dreams about her. Sometimes it even feels like she is right here. Just thought it would be cool to tell you all.

  6. Rigel and Lyndsie, thanks for sharing your stories. I was so looking forward to hearing about people's experiences. It's both private and bigger-than-us, isn't it?

  7. Your so right it is much bigger than us,and something that we can't explain.

  8. On the day of my friend's husband's funeral (at age 34)the heavens opened up and rain poured down at the funeral. I immediately knew that the heavens were weeping for Jason as we all were rained on. He died 2 years ago yesterday. I lost an internet friend just this morning. I was fortunate enough to meet up with her twice. With Elizabeth Edwards death I feel like I am mourning a lot of people today. Thanks for the sweet blog this morning. It makes me actually happy on a day of loss.

  9. These stories are all incredible. I have goose bumps reading each and every one.

  10. Definately stuff we can't know yet, but comforting all the same. Love these stories, glad you can share.

  11. Some of your responses that both excite and move me:
    Deb~Over the years my pain has turned to joy when I see them.
    Barb~Like being surrounded by birds after Phil’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly… Seeing birds after he died gave all of us comfort… Up ahead in the clearing on a small swell of a hill were some letters carved into the snow surrounded by hearts.
    Rigel~she'd received multiple signs that he was still looking out for her and took daily comfort in it.
    Lyndsie~And even now when we go outside it seems like there is always a rabbit sitting on the grass somewhere in the yard… Sometimes it even feels like she is right here.
    Madgew~It makes me actually happy on a day of loss.
    And since we're not only talking about pre-death omens but after-death signs, check this one out from my old blog (Orishia was a friend of my sister's):
    Orishia’s Daisies:

    Thanks Barbara and Deb for the opportunity to share my little story with you and your readers, who are all such a lovely bunch.

  12. Kate,
    What a tribute to all the wonderful people we have met through this blog and what an exquisite way to put it. And I am amazed by the symmetry of it this whole thing because when I watched Orishia's Daisies I was awestruck. When I was in my mid twenties, my dear darling Sue Allan Brown, my theatre school mate and dear friend died most unexpectedly. She was expecting her first born, he was born premmie. He lived and Sue died. She adored daisies, her favourite flower. Her parents owned a few flower shops in Edmonton so she said "I'm around fancy flowers so much." She, like Orisha loved the daisies and Sue and I, as her maid of honour carried daisies. Since that day, I have planted daisies for her. For some awful reason, I have tried everything and each year they die. Kills me.

  13. Deb,
    Next year plant those daisies in a sunny spot and then ignore them! You probably have been giving them the attention you might have given your friendship with Sue had she lived. Daisies are like weeds; tough and they don't like to be coddled. Or that's my guess. (And boy does my garden, which barely has four inches of top soil, have daisies...)
    That is a sad story about Sue. Must have been very hard on everyone.

  14. Kate, wow, what a fantastically beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    Deb, I always knew you loved daisies, but only now realized why so much.

    Beautiful. <3

  15. You guys are giving me chills! I had an encounter with a coyote that seemed significant, but it didn't involve death.

  16. Kate thanks for the advise, but it's the damn slugs that get them. I have tried everything from pennies, to dried pine needles. Any advise (non-toxic) I will try everything. This summer was the worst.

  17. Okay, I'm sitting at my desk crying my eyes out... thank goodness I'm alone at the mo. I think there is definitely some universal connection--I hear stories all the time, though I haven't experienced one.

    In India (I believe for the Hindu) there is a feast when someone dies, but nobody eats until the birds begin, as that is a sign that the spirit has departed. A coworker of mine told me about one such feast where the dead man's brother had been delayed by weather for two days and those birds waited all that time. When the brother finally arrived to pay his respects, finally the birds began to eat.

  18. Hart, now you have ME crying! That is a beautiful beautiful story.

  19. Deb,
    I've read that crushed egg shells around the base of your plants will keep slugs from them, because the sharp edges keep them from crossing. You'll have to let me know if you try it and it works. I did it around the base of my ferns, though I'm not sure it was slugs that were the problem. The egg shells become smelly though if you don't rinse and dry them well before crushing and applying.

  20. Thank you for the stories. They are heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.

    A family friend lost her husband in his 40s. A few years before, she had lost her wedding ring. After she mourned his death, she decided to purchase a new wedding ring - she had felt horrible for not replacing it before. A few days after she put the new one on her finger, the old one was sitting in the middle of the carpetting on her steps leading to the bedroom. She believes it was her husband's way of telling her it's okay to move on, but to also remember.

  21. Beautiful stories, ladies.
    Whenever I am deeply troubled in my life, when things seem hopeless, suddenly flocks of tiny finches will appear around me, no matter where I am. Even if I'm inside my house, they'll be at the window. Then I know everything is going to be okay.

  22. Thanks for this Kathie. These speak well to another dimension we can access at our most vulnerable place, the death of a loved one. I believe!



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