A Smidgen

Here’s how it started.

Right after Philip died, I’d managed to drag my battered self into my car to drive wherever. I’m not sure how I got anywhere I was going if Natalie wasn’t driving me because I did more staring than looking – that is, when I wasn’t hunched over the steering wheel howling, my son…my son…my son… so that even the air around me reeked of grief. But I managed to stop at red and go on green and not run anyone over while I was at it, so I’d say there was an angel or two hanging around with me. Because it seemed to me that I wasn’t really in the world, but aware that I could still cause consequences in the world. Like running over a kid in the street and putting that kid’s parents in the same hell as me.

Misery loves company? Oh, I think not. Please, God, give it all to me, I’d think; I can’t feel any worse, so just give me everyone else’s grief and let them go on in peace. Arrogant, if you will, but I meant it in the best way possible.

So I was driving and thinking over and over, I want I a sign, Philip; I want a sign, I want a sign. I was desperate and crazed and when I stopped for a light and saw the license plate in front of me, the chill that blew through my body must’ve lowered my temp a degree or so and it was that that caught my attention before I really saw what I was looking at. The plate read, “PWS201T.”

Philip’s full name is Philip William Smyth. His birthday is the 20th**, and he died when he was 21. Hence, 201. And he was born on 1/20, which is 201 mixed up. I sat there in a haze of holy shit.

(“T” means nothing; I mean, Tuesday was the last day he was alive and Thursday I found out he’d died, but that seems a stretch.)

What do I make of this? Connection. My yearning for a spiritual path is about connection. And I might cry out, “God” much as the next lapsed Catholic, but I don’t call “God” what I’m looking for simply because the word’s been so personalized it’s become polarizing. My God, your God, their God, no-such-thing-as-God. Like someone knows better than the next person about this thing they call God. Whoever said man made God in his own image was right.

But there’s something I’m wanting to know, and maybe I can’t put words on it but I’ll know it when I see it. And I knew what I was seeing. Besides the fact that Philip died when he was 21, the 21st was the last day he was alive. The last text I sent him was at 11:02. My phone extension at the job I left when he died was 201. It was April 20th** when I started to work a day a week for Cindy. Her office is on the 20th floor, her suite number is 2010, her parking spot is #21 and the address of the garage she uses is 1120. I wrote my 21st post on this blog on May 21st. I found my apartment on July 21st and I got the interview for my new job on August 21st.

And I’ll be damned if I don’t get nudged by Philip every day, several times a day. I’ll be thinking of him and hitting a low, or listening to him with love and gratitude, or worried and unsure about what the fuck next and 21 or 201 will catch my eye. I don’t look for it – if I walk around looking, I don’t see, and it wouldn’t mean as much. Because I look with my mind, but I see with my heart. If nine times out of ten when something catches my eye, if when I happen to glance up or down or over or around and there it is, it means something. And the simplest thing it means is that Philip is dead but our relationship is very much alive.

So here are some of my stories:

I talked about going to Key Biscayne last year with my cousin; a gift from her, to get me away. Like I didn’t take myself with me. When we got to the airport, I looked at the flight number on the boarding pass. Four digits that meant nothing. Couldn’t you have made it some version of 201, I asked my son? Flight number on the way home:  2110.

Phil and I had a thing for David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” The night Philip was born, while I was in our bedroom with my midwife, wailing and whimpering because how the hell was I supposed to split open wide enough to push what felt like a bowling ball out between my legs, Phil was watching Agent Cooper being seduced by Audrey and dreaming of Bob and Midgets and the One-Armed Man. Thus my son was ever associated with “Twin Peaks.”

A couple months after Philip died, I was looking through Netflix Instant Watch to see what next series I could get lost in, and there it was. “Twin Peaks” is odd and bizarre and wicked and I wanted to find a world that trumped what had now become my own odd and bizarre and wicked. Of course, why I thought watching a show that starts with a guy finding a  dead teenaged girl washed up on shore would be a good thing is a question I still cannot answer.

However. Turned out Laura Palmer – said dead teenaged girl – died the same day I found out Philip died – February 23rd.  Turned out both of them had a thing for cocaine. Turned out the population of the town as written on the “Welcome To” billboard in the intro is 51,201. Turned out upon further investigation the population was originally supposed to be 5,120.

When my dad was in the hospital, the room numbers in the CICU ward went from 201 to 210. When it was time to see him, the nurse led us past 201 and headed toward the end. Maybe 210, I thought. No – he was in 209. Okay.

Once in the room, the nurse asked everyone to step back from the bed. The hospital beds had built in digital scales to weigh bedridden patients, and she didn’t want anyone touching the bed and skewing his weight. So we all backed it up and she pressed the button and the thing did its calculating and when it was done, turned out my dad’s weight was 201 lbs.

First Mother’s Day: Driving, thinking, trying not to cry because Natalie’s in the car with me. I noticed the license plate in front of me: PWS. I got a chill, and a second of clouded vision; then I noticed a car passing me on the left. Its  license plate read 2ND LIFE.

Second Mother’s Day: I went to the movies with Kirsten, before having dinner with my daughter. Halfway through the film, I thought, “Philip, it’s Mother’s Day. Can you please give me a sign?” Turned out one of the characters went to a motel. Turned out the room number she stayed in was 201.

Sitting in the waiting room while Natalie had a doctor’s appointment, I was on the brink. Tipping over, about to go down. Then I heard my son. “Mom, there are signs here,” he said. Okay. First thing I did was look to my left. There was a magazine rack. I looked up the row and at the top saw a magazine called, “201 Family.”

This is just a smidgen of all the things I wrote down until I stopped writing them all down because it’s too much and too often and I no longer have to write everything down to remind myself it really happened.

And it’s not only about numbers. More on that next.

**My birthday is April 20th; Philip’s is January 20th, Nicole’s is March 20th, and Gerard’s – who I’ve mentioned and will talk more about – is October 20th (as in, 10/20).  Three I love deeply, and who left this world just way too quickly.

10/19/13 Update – I don’t normally change a blog post after the fact, but I have to add: I was re-reading this post tonight and I realized that I posted it on September 21st. And I swear to God I didn’t know it when I did it.

Just sayin’

© 2013 Denise Smyth


26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lensgirl53
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 09:44:24

    This takes me back to those first raw days when I was not able to drive myself anywhere. It was like being immobilized but not. Hard to explain. I don’t take signs lightly. We must realize that through all of this we are only one breath away from being with our sons. I don’t know if you have read the book “The Shack” but I think in its fictional depiction of truth…it explains a lot. There are some things that cannot be denied as just mere coincidence. I believe. God bless you.


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:26:21

      And love and blessings to you. I read The Shack way long ago, and I remember right before I moved, I’d pulled it out to read again. Of course, things are still all over the place in my apartment so I’m not sure where it is. Thanks for reminding me about it. And yes, “immobilized but not.” It IS hard to explain; one of the things I talked about earlier in the blog is how terrifying it was not to be able to tell people what I was feeling. That only cut me off more; seems the language hasn’t been invented to describe what it feels like. Yeah, it’s called “grief.” But it’s so much more, so profoundly much more.

      I just want to say I’m so glad you found me, and so sorry it’s under these circumstances. But it what it is, and better together than alone.


      • lensgirl53
        Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:35:36

        Thank you, Denise. You are a good writer and adequately convey all your feelings. I, too, am glad I found you…but as you say, not under these circumstances. We are most certainly not alone, friend. Love to you.

  2. merrysusanna
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 11:43:23

    I understand this number thing. Wonderful writing and such a wonderful connection between you and your son.


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:31:02

      And what a wonderful name; “merrysusanna.” It makes me smile; I don’t think I’ve ever been merry.

      And thank you – I’ve said it already, but my son is my heart, my love, my muse.


  3. rconnectus45
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 12:49:32

    your profound grief really touches me, what a sad age to lose your child-21, I am so glad you feel connections to him!


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:39:08

      Yes, feeling connected to him helps me take the next breath. I know my grief touches you because you’re suffering, too. I’m so sorry; I know you wrote in your blog that “In every tragedy and crisis, there is considerable fresh opportunity.” I believe you; but it also scares me to think “good” can come out of this. I’m still afraid that letting go of the grief is letting go of him, and telling myself that that isn’t so doesn’t help. For now. It’s too soon, I think. It’s just too soon.


  4. behindthemaskofabuse
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 13:57:52

    Hugs friend xo


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:43:21

      Oh, so many hugs back; I’ve been following you along and I know you’re busy and have guests posting but don’t stay away too long (she said selfishly ;o). Congratulations on the book, on the website – you always lift my spirits.


  5. Rose Vidotto
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 15:26:30

    Hi Denise, beautiful words..beautiful signs! I’m not a religious person at all, so if God or something else needs to call my attention, it will be have to be through something different. I’ve recently received a beautiful sign from someone I deep loved, and passed away not long ago. It came to me on a dream, and when what she told me became reality I was more than excited and happy. I had to tell myself, ok now this is deep sh**** and there is no way I can deny what happened, because the result is something I can almost touch.So, my friend believe in your signs and you don’t have to look for them because they will find you!




    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:48:20

      Rose, so good to hear from you; I’ve been thinking of you, I have. I’m not “religious.” That implies following a particular dogma, which doesn’t work for me. But I believe life is a force and that I don’t know all that’s going on. All these signs sort of poke holes in the false world I’ve constructed – which is a realization I’m trying to work out and I do that through writing. You got a sign, Rose; it can’t be explained by your mind, but your heart recognizes it. That’s the place to live from, that’s what Philip’s been trying to teach me.

      Please let’s stay in touch…


  6. anna whiston-donaldson
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 20:02:25

    Love hearing about these signs. It took me a long time to realize that my relationship w/ Jack is ongoing.


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 21:56:21

      Someone wrote to me that people die, not relationships. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to “settle” for that – I want Philip HERE, where I can see him and touch him. But to say “settle” is crazy; my relationship with him has profoundly affected the way I am in the world. When someone we love dies, we can shut down or we can listen for them. I go back and forth, of course. Because I’d give up everything I’ve learned and every experience I’ve had to have him come home. But that’s not an option so I have to work with what is.

      You know, Jack’s face is etched in my mind. He is beautiful, Anna; just so wide open and beautiful. He’s an angel – I’ve no doubt he’s already gotten his wings.


  7. Greet Grief
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 17:43:14

    I love the post and think that most of us who have lost a loved one can identify – I am convinced that they communicate with us. I run a support group and it may take awhile (because people are worried that they might be perceived as crazy) but after awhile, they all tell me stories like the one you described. Special messages from our special people – to reassure us, to tell us they are never gone!

    I wrote a blog post entitled, The day the deer danced about my very first and very real visit from my deceased husband…thanks for sharing your experience so others will find their voice, to voice these very real experiences!!


    • Denise
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 08:01:17

      Between what’s happened since Philip died, and the way I’ve begun to connect things that went on between us while he was alive, I don’t have to question whether “life” continues. Life is; it’s birth and death that are opposites, and that have to do with the body. Still, we’re human, and the question is how to live with that. Everything dies. How to live with that? Because I miss my son terribly and for all my ongoing relationship with him, I so often feel like I can’t do this. But I do, like all the rest of us.


      • Greet Grief
        Sep 30, 2013 @ 21:42:22

        I love the resiliency of the human spirit, we have all been broken by loss and yet, even though we don’t feel like we can go on, we have chosen to – we hurt more than words can express and yet we get up, we live, we write, we find our own unique ways to live with that! Blessings on your journey

  8. Denise
    Oct 01, 2013 @ 08:13:36

    And you, on yours…


  9. jmgoyder
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 23:22:05



    • Denise
      Feb 02, 2014 @ 09:53:59

      Absolutely. And yesterday, all day – signs, over and over, including these: I went to the movies to see “Gloria.” Her apartment number? 21. Then home to watch “Love, Actually” with Natalie. The apartment number where one of the scenes took place? 21. The address of the character named Natalie? 102. Plus the scene at the airport in the end, the kid running and looking up to see the flight schedule – a big, bold 21 staring right at me.

      He’s nudging me along, asking me to have a little faith.


  10. nitasnonsense
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 17:06:30

    The same thing happens to me Denise only with the numbers 111..every time i’m thinking of my mom or a close friend who has passed and i wonder if they have heard me, the number 111 is present somehow..sometimes it’s the time, sometimes it’s an address that happens to be there…happens over and over and over…so me personally, i truly believe it is their souls giving us a sign to let us know they are there, they do hear us. I’ve heard that there are signs everywhere for all of us on earth, we just have to look for them. Keep looking and always know that Philip is right there with you, watching over you.


    • Denise
      Feb 02, 2014 @ 20:11:46

      Yes, he is; the universe is speaking to you, he says. You have to listen. That means stilling my mind, though, which is the work. And how much sense does it make about numbers? I mean, they have to have something concrete that we can see to get our attention.

      But when I think of him as he was here, my knees go wobbly. See, that’s it; it’s the THINKING that drives me crazy. If I stay in the moment, listen to my son, I can be okay. So often that’s hard to believe.


  11. nitasnonsense
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 17:06:31

    The same thing happens to me Denise only with the numbers 111..every time i’m thinking of my mom or a close friend who has passed and i wonder if they have heard me, the number 111 is present somehow..sometimes it’s the time, sometimes it’s an address that happens to be there…happens over and over and over…so me personally, i truly believe it is their souls giving us a sign to let us know they are there, they do hear us. I’ve heard that there are signs everywhere for all of us on earth, we just have to look for them. Keep looking and always know that Philip is right there with you, watching over you.


  12. bronxboy55
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 12:10:56

    A mathematician would dismiss your sightings as coincidence, and if there were just two or three, it might be easy for anyone to do so. But the sheer number of them has to stop you in your tracks — especially the license plates.

    If Philip really is sending you messages and signs, I hope he keeps it up.


    • Denise
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 12:23:35

      You know, it took me a while to write about this because I know what it can sound like. And I know this kind of thing can turn me off, too – but first off, it’s a huge part of my story, and second, well, unlike other things I’ve read, just because I get signs from Philip doesn’t make it all okay. Like, I’m not here to tell y’all – hey! It’s okay if your kid dies, because there’s no such thing as death!

      No. It hurts like hell and nothing’s going to make this okay. But that he’s around is a comfort, for sure. And I’m not sure how much of the blog you’ve read, but a couple weeks ago I wrote that I realized the last day I saw Philip was February 1st, as in 2/1 or 2/01. So yeah, so far, he’s keeping it up.


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