A few short years ago, my wonderful father-in-law Bill was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer.
My husband and I traveled to the Midwest to visit Bill and my mother-in-law Betty. We were happy to be able to spend a little time with him, and he knew we were there.
Sadly, he passed away the night before we left.
We believe he held on until my husband arrived; all his other children lived nearby.
Later, as my husband and I were sitting in the airport restaurant waiting for our flight home, I looked down and spotted a shiny, bright penny dated with the current year.
I lost it.
I believe I had just found a “penny from heaven.”
Here’s what I mean: I am a loyal reader of Dear Abby.
I read her words every day.
A topic that frequently comes up in her column is the phenomenon readers call pennies from heaven.
Many readers have reported they have found pennies in unusual places shortly after the death of a friend or loved one.
Abby calls these pennies from heaven. She says the pennies are messages from their departed — nothing scary or foreboding. Just a little “hello.”
I picked up the penny and shared it with my husband. He had never heard the story of pennies from heaven. As I tearfully explained it, he began to cry, too.
We sat in that rundown restaurant, holding each other and crying for what seemed like hours.
As we started to leave to make our flight, I found another penny in the same spot as the first.
No one had approached us or had been near our table the whole time we were in the restaurant.
The year on the penny? The year we were married.
More tears. More hugs.
A week later, when I spoke at Bill’s funeral, I told the story of the pennies and relayed that I thought Bill, ever the jokester, just wanted to get his two cents in.
Ever since that day in the airport restaurant, a special penny has shown up in the oddest places:
- In Bermuda, in a part of a museum where no one is allowed to walk. We were there with my mother-in-law and parents. (Bill and Betty had planned to go together before he died).
- On a coffee table when my husband and I were in the Grand Caymans (on a table that had been clear an hour before).
- On the floor of a fully cleaned operating room, after one of my scrub technicians had lost her husband to a heart attack.
Oprah recently interviewed Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun and expert on many religions. She asked Karen what she believes happens to us when we die.
Karen replied, “I have no idea. And I’m fine with that.”
When I heard that, I thought about the pennies and the hope I feel each time I find one.
That hope reminds me of the hope our patients carry when they visit our offices, afraid their illness might be serious or life threatening.
At times like these, I’m grateful for the pennies.
Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist who blogs at Love Medicine Again.