The message

Wednesday May 8, 2013

Last Friday I spent my monthly hour with Steve West on his WKVT radio show. We talked about the life, near death and resurrection of Robert Pillsbury that I had written about in my column for that week. As we digressed into a variety of related areas, I told Steve that I was still waiting for a sign from the other side.

I am not a religious or spiritual person and I certainly do not seek out experiences from those realms. On the other hand, I have always been fascinated by death and I have a curiosity to know if there really is something happening after our bodies become lifeless.

On more than one occasion I have asked terminally ill people to send me a message from the other side to let me know that there may be more to death than silence and nothingness. I remember one person in particular who was an accomplished painter. He took to bed to die and, after many months, he did die.

Jokingly, I asked him to send me a postcard. In retrospect I should have been more sensitive to the medium of the message because I never did notice any message from him. I suspect that my radar was not refined enough to notice messages that may have come my way.

When my wife, Susan, died in October of 2011 I was sure that she would send me some sort of message. Friends of hers told me they had dreams in which she spoke to them, but that never happened to me. I now believe I was most likely inattentive to any messages that may have come, that I just was not receptive enough or sensitive enough to receive the messages.

After the radio show I went over to the cemetery where there is a headstone with Susan's name and dates as well as my name and date of birth. Some of her ashes are buried next to the stone. It is a barren gravesite so I decided to plant a small lilac bush.

I brought some compost and water and I dug a hole for the bush and placed it with care next to the grave. After all, the bush may outlive me and it might still be next to me years after I am gone.

Then it happened. The message came. Thankfully, it was not subtle because I might have missed it. A man a few years younger than me, stopped to spend some time at the grave next to Susan's. It was his wife's grave and he pointed out to me that his wife died on Oct. 26, 2010, exactly one year before Susan died.

He then showed me that a number of the graves around his wife's were other family members. One of those graves was that of a woman whom I had worked with many years ago, someone whom I had developed a great deal of respect for and someone who made other's lives better just because they knew her. It was his mother.

We talked a bit about our plans for eternity and I told him that I had put my name on the stone. He said he had been reluctant to do so because he was not sure if he would marry again and he didn't want to make a commitment that would literally be written in stone. He did say that, at least for now, he had plans to be buried there.

So here I was meeting a man who I might share a plot of land with for as long as the earth supports graves. We did not tell each other our names, although he could easily see mine, and we did not talk for very long.

He left and I finished planting the lilac bush. Susan spent her life looking out for others and that is one of the reasons that she suffered so much. I realized that her message would only come in relation to someone else, that it would never just be about her.

I may never know what the message really was meant to convey, but I am sure the message was delivered.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at


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