top of page

Feeling the Loss of a Loved One? This small thing may help...

Updated: Jan 11

“Their absence is like the sky. Spread over everything.”

-C.S. Lewis

I accidentally FaceTime called my dad the other day.

I was walking into the kitchen and heard my phone spontaneously dialing someone. I quickly pulled it out of my pocket and there it was: “FaceTiming Dad.”

I felt a bitter-sweet stab as I tapped the red X.

My father passed away last June.

My FaceTime calls to my Dad were a nightly ritual, one that we both looked forward to. It was always a bit risky because Dad picked up FaceTime no matter where he was. More often than I would have liked, I’d get a view of his bathroom ceiling and hear his voice (thankfully) off screen say, “I can’t talk right now, honey. Can I call you back?”

I still haven’t had the heart to delete him from my phone. Perhaps I never will, despite the fact that he’s been gone for several months now. Despite knowing that his phone number has long since been disconnected and probably belongs to someone else.

There is a practice used in Grief Therapy called Continuing Bonds theory that says that death may end a life, but not a relationship. By fostering a sense of connection with a deceased loved one, it’s possible to continue the bond with them, even after death.

All I know is that these small rituals and remembrances keep our loved ones alive in our minds and in our hearts, and remind us of what matters most.

  • My brother keeps a happy birthday voicemail from my Dad on his phone and plays it when he wants to hear his voice. He chuckles every time at Dad’s slightly off key singing. And his salutation is Epic Dad: “Hi Steve, this is your Dad. (Song song song) Okay, bye. I love you. This is your Dad.”

  • My colleague, Andrea, makes her Mother-in-law’s famous Christmas cut-out cookies in the massive Kitchen-Aid mixer she gave to her before she died. She savors every excuse she has to use that mixer, and makes sure the family keeps alive the tradition her mother-in-law started of baking, decorating, and enjoying those cookies every Christmas.

  • My neighbor, Bill, talks to his older brother, long since passed, when he needs his advice. He hears his voice and knows his counsel.

  • My husband,Tim, has kept a 20-year old voicemail recording of his Mom, joy in her voice, thanking us for the flowers we sent on Mother’s day and describing each blossom in vivid, loving detail.

  • My friend, Josie, sips her latte every morning as she toasts her dear friend and neighbor who left her his special coffee maker.

These small rituals, symbols, and remembrances bring our loved ones back to our memories and our hearts, and they are with us again, even for the moment.

They say that cardinals and butterflies mean a loved one’s spirit is near.

My mom went big. She was a red-tailed hawk. She felt a special affinity for the bird, and always thrilled at the sight of one. “Look!” she’d exclaim excitedly while we walked through the park together, or from over her shoulder from the passenger seat, pointing them out to my brothers and me.

A few years ago, I was driving to Johns Hopkins hospital for my annual chordoma follow up, feeling anxious about my scan results and looking for a positive sign from the universe. Now, I am the daughter of a scientist. I'm not a superstitious person - except maybe around scan time. If you’ve ever experienced a life-threatening illness - or your home team playing in the Super Bowl - you know that there are certain times when it is A-O-K to be a little irrational about luck.

“Okay, Mom,” I said out loud. “I’m nervous about these scans. Send me a sign. A hawk, a butterfly, a wayward pigeon. Anything.”

I searched the skies ahead of me for a cosmic signal that all would be well.


I knew, of course, that a random bird couldn’t magically make my scans clear. It was more about needing the comfort of my mother close by, reminding me that, no matter what the result- I am strong enough to decide how I handle what happens in my life.

I took a few deep breaths to calm my nerves and continued driving, carefully glancing up now and then to check out the light poles over the highway. Surely there had to be hawk or two hanging out. I looked up again, just in case.

Still nothing.


And so, I decided to resign myself to faith, and reminded myself that I have the strength and resilience and courage to handle whatever happens with grace.

And just like that, there it was: A dark chevron winging across the sky.

Then… closer….closer… but it couldn’t be...

Not one hawk.…not two….. but three beautiful red tail hawks, soaring majestically over I-95, like avian smoke signals from beyond.

“All will be well, my darling daughter,” I heard my mother’s voice in my ear. “All will be well.”

Whether or not those hawks were a sign from my mom, providence, or just a serendipitous moment of grace- it doesn’t matter. I felt her there for me in that moment when I needed her.

And I will hold these moments, just like the impromptu butt-dials to Dad across the universe, very close to my heart.

What rituals, habits, remembrances keep your loved ones close?

How can you savor these moments even more in the moment?

“If you think about someone you’ve loved and lost, you’re already with them.

The rest is just details.”

-Jodi Picoult Leaving Time

To enjoy A Little Bit of Happy in you inbox just once or twice a month,

subscribe to the Decide Happy blog.

Know someone who could use a lift? Please share!

Decide Happy is now available wherever books are sold, including Amazon.

To Learn how you can bring Susan and Decide Happy to your organization, click here.

387 views0 comments


Ready to tap into more joy?
Read the first chapter of Decide Happy for free!

Click here to download

bottom of page