One of my personal mottos has always been: life is a gift, treat it as such.

I’ve always made it a point to show gratitude to the people, and even the objects, around me. I strongly feel that the connection among all beings is one of the most satisfying aspects of this life.

And it all starts with gratitude.

Having gratitude in the arena of life is pretty common and something I knew about myself.  What I didn’t know is that I could have gratitude in the arena of death.

I have had four separate experiences with loved ones saying goodbye to me as they were crossing over from this life to the next. Each one was an absolute gift to me.

I often wonder if my openness and ever-present feeling of gratitude helped me see the messages they were sending me when they were leaving this life and heading into the next. These gifts gave me a profound sense of comfort during my grief, and helped me through the healing process.

I feel that my attitude toward gratitude is part of why I was given these goodbye gifts, because I would appreciate them. But I’m certainly not a lone recipient — I believe anyone who practices the act of gratitude on a daily basis will be amazed at what they may receive in return.

The first time I had an experience with someone saying goodbye to me as they passed away, I thought I was reading too much into what I saw, or that it was an anomaly.

My mom’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Lucy, lived about 20 minutes from us growing up. I was their goddaughter, and basically the child they never had. Our bond was strong. My aunt passed away after a brief illness in 1993. Then, two years later, an unexpected fall landed my Uncle Joey in the hospital in a coma.

Each evening, I would drive the hour to sit with him. He was nonresponsive, but that didn’t matter to me; I was certain he could feel my presence. As this routine continued, my husband presented me with a pager in case he needed to reach me.

One evening, as I sat with my beloved uncle, holding his hand the same way I always did as a child, the machines he was hooked up to began going off. Nurses quickly ushered me out of the room. My husband then randomly paged me our secret “I love you” code. I thought he was just thinking about me.

Turns out my uncle was, too.

The doctor came and told me they worked on my uncle for 20 minutes trying to revive him.  They weren’t successful. It was exactly 20 minutes earlier that my husband paged me with “I love you.”

It was my uncle saying goodbye.

The comfort of this experience stayed with me as I grieved, and it helped me heal. It will continue to comfort me the rest of my life.

Death gave me this gift, and I’m grateful.

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Have you ever felt you were given a sign surrounding a loved one’s passing, but perhaps just shrugged it off at the time? Maybe because you had never experienced anything like it before, or because you’ve never believed in “that sort of thing” in the first place? Well, that might have been your sign, your goodbye gift.

Thank you for reading my story. Now I’d love to read yours.

Email me at seeingthesigns@yahoo.com with the goodbye gifts you’ve been given. Tell me about your experience and provide me with your contact information. Granted your permission, I would love to include your story in a book I’m writing to help others find comfort and healing in their grief.

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Debra Stella Ludwig is a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Doylestown.