I only met him once.
It was late morning, on a hot Spring day. We were at a small theater in Elton to see “The Little Prince”. He was there with his three children and wife- a family outing. She looked beautiful- out of her daily school attire and into a flowing, flowery spring dress. Her hair was up, and she had makeup on. For him.
He looked strong, commanding, and cool. He was quiet, but welcomed us near. He was relaxed, and fully involved with the children. He seemed to be their anchor. After the play, I invited them to join us for lunch. But they had other plans. It was family outing day, they were going to spend it together, and I got the feeling that nothing could have changed a moment’s plan in their fortress of love. It was fine with me, I marveled in the sacredness of their time together.
On September 7, my daughter and I were at school. My daughter was there for orientation, and she found them. She loudly announced to me “I am supposed to go home with this family today.” I thought it an interesting remark, but let her go. I went to their house later to pick her up. Annie and I chatted. She told me that in 14 years, they’d never had a fight. I saw his pictures all over the house.
On September 11, I was consumed with the safety and condition of the children at our school, and tried to comfort and calm. Minutes after the attack, I heard a voice, strong and deliberate in my head. “Annie. Call Annie.” When I reached her, she had been trying to reach me on my cell phone. I told her the children were OK, I would watch them.
After school that day, I could not be distracted from that singular thought. “Annie. See Annie.” Of all the people I know that could have been in harm’s way on that tragic day, Annie was my utmost concern. So I went over, and found her and his father waiting and watching. They were as dignified and rational as any human beings could be in the face of such evil. She had everything under control- the children cared for at her neighbor’s and the phone calls in place. So we waited together.
I left hours later, with another singular, strong thought in my head. “Tell her that she can do this, whatever it is, she can do this.”
Days later, she called. She asked me for a book to help her children. I stopped everything I was doing on that busy Saturday afternoon, and spent six hours at the computer. I felt a presence pushing me, refusing to let me stop, and urging me on. I felt like looking over my shoulder and yelling “OK! OK! I’ll do it!” The words flew out of my fingers. I couldn’t believe how easy it was.
At his memorial, I saw the butterfly- the symbol chosen by the children to remember their father. I also saw the hawk, hovering protectively overhead. Birds are a clear connection between the spirit world, and us. At his memorial they spoke of a purposeful, strong man. They described a first immigrant child, American dream, who rose from nothing to conquer his world. They said he was quiet. I laughed, for his love for his wife yells volumes to me even 10 years after he is gone.
Almost immediately, my daughter never left his child’s side. She is a beautiful, calming presence. They played together. On September 12, the girls found and hid a brown feather on their school playground. They hid it under the rocks and mulch. They didn’t know why. Every day at playtime, their secret task was to unearth and check on the feather. It was still there. Their daily ritual of feather-love was endearing. I realized days later that if you take the “e” out of feather, you have evidence of their true mission.
One day, they found a white feather. They added it to the pile. Next,came a small, multicolored baby feather. His daughter brought three beads to school to put on the feathers. They were crowns, and the feathers were to be married and have their baby. It was a happy family, and the daily feather checking went on.
The day after his memorial, the dad feather was stolen. Both girls were very upset, and so was I. I called Annie and also told his sister the news. A beautiful way for our children to process a loss was disturbed.
The lines and world between life and death are vague. The space between wakefulness and dreams is unclear. Somewhere within them, he watched.
In the morning, the message came again. Loud, clear, and strong. “Go look- go look, you can find it. It is not gone.” I took my daughter out of her class and we went together to the playground. She showed me the spot where the feather family had lived. It was a well-protected corner of the play area, between boards and chain link fence. We easily unearthed the mom feather. Then we found the baby. It had its bead crown still in place. I was amazed at how deeply the feathers were buried.
I didn’t really know him. But he has changed my life forever. He has given me a job- to get his book to everyone, everywhere who may need its help to learn this lesson that love never dies. I will not disappoint him. And there is more.
My story is one of love, of life eternal. The worst that anyone can imagine has taught me that most that I will ever learn.
For on that day on the playground, digging deep in the mulch, rocks, and wood chips, between the board and the chain link fence, and with total belief in place, we found the brown father feather. We ran through the school in utter joy to give it back to his child.
The Book that was conceived in his honor, “My Father’s Love”, has now helped over tens of thousands of people worldwide to preserve and honor someone lost to them. It has been cherished, praised, loved, thanked. It has taken on a life of its own, and continues to grow. It will go on to help millions of people cross that bridge between loss and love.
I’ll never fully understand why I was chosen to be part of this, part of his message to her. But I am thankful, and honored. He made a place in my life for a clear understanding that there is love after death. We used The Books at my own Mother and Father’s memorials. I can give them to my friends. And now, they are my gift to you.
Love never, ever dies.
Take good care,
Kathleen and Kate