Winter 2016 - Volume: 22 Issue: 4
Godwinks: Special Gifts From Our Loved Ones
Bevin Landrum, MA, Surviving daughter of Army Capt. Don Rutland
Tags: Early Days of Grief, Adult Child, Parent, Widow / Widower / Widowed Significant Other, Landrum Bevin
When I first came to TAPS, I had never heard the term “Godwinks.” I remember feeling quite confused when a co-worker mentioned a Godwink story in our staff meeting. The meaning of the term was clear from her experience of a special song coming on the radio at the exact moment she was feeling alone and missing her parents. The song had always been one she listened to with her mom. It seemed a providential sign coming through her car’s speakers to touch her heart and ease her mind.
Don't we all long for a crystal clear sign that our connection with our loved one is not gone? They are still out there in whatever celestial or physical space you wish to embrace. They still love us and want us to know we are in their care.
It can seem silly at times to expect that, in the vastness of the universe, our need for affirmation will gain any traction. The expectation of waking up to a message in the snow or finding your loved one's lost keepsake after years seems, well, unrealistic. But small moments of communication and reassurance happen for many survivors, who recognize coincidences, chance encounters, miraculous interventions and other signs as flashes of certainty.
Think back to how our loved ones may have given us these same reassurances in real life before their passing. Perhaps they shared a wink with us from across a room or called on unexpected days to simply say, "I'm thinking of you." If they reached out to us in direct ways when they were living, is it really all that hard to believe they would reach out from a next place?
After learning more, I immediately realized that Godwinks were not only possible but very likely. It just hadn't happened to me, so I didn't fully understand the way it would feel. It seemed like it would be the most calming reminder that I'm not alone on this journey of life. Would my grandmother reach out? I was very young when she died and couldn't imagine how that would work.
Then my dad passed away just before Thanksgiving last year and I knew without doubt that the Godwinks would come. It took so much patience to wait for them. However, I knew from hearing stories from our survivors that it could take years to feel that moment of affirmation from a loved one. In the first few months, I felt as if I looked everywhere for some sign. Let's just say that it must be like watching a pot of water boil. It doesn't happen until you are relaxed and least expecting a sign.
Fast forward to June at the TAPS Atlanta Widows Retreat. I had the privilege of walking up Stone Mountain with some of the most fearless and wonderful women I've ever met. I was so focused on being with them, hearing their stories and supporting their grief that my own loss felt less electric and receded to the back of my mind.
Stone Mountain is a sacred spot for my heart. Before this TAPS event, I had never hiked to the top without my father - it was always something we did together. We would often make our way to the top in October for our shared birthday month. So when I set forth with my TAPS family, missing him but grateful, my heart was soft, but my mind was open. (By the way, this seems to be a perfect mental combination to invite Godwink moments.)
We had been making our way to the top of the mountain on the shady side of the trail because of the 100 degree summer weather. I wasn't in the fast group, so we had time to talk to others who were also making the climb. One man mentioned to us that if we moved over to the left side of the trail, right at the top, there was a slightly easier approach with some shade trees.
I walked ahead to check out the new path while some of the ladies rested to power up for the final part of the climb. I had taken no more than a few steps when I set my foot down beside a carving in the mountain. A date. My birthday. Not just any one of my birthdays, but my 20th birthday, after I had just returned from living on Guam. It was a special, important year because, having not celebrated with each other in a couple of years, that year we were together. Oh, how I knew in that moment that Daddy had given me a tremendously huge Godwink, letting me know that he was walking with me to the top of the mountain just like all the other times.
If you are thinking that this just can't be true, I've got the photo to prove it. But, let's talk about how many other stories there are just like this from TAPS survivors. One mom, who recently attended the National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar, said she was standing at the water's edge, feeling afraid to be there and not quite strong enough to join in the event. Asking the great beyond for an affirmation that she was where she needed to be, at that moment she felt something wash over her foot. Looking down, there was a small, green plastic toy soldier in the sand at her feet. She knew then that her son wanted her to find healing and that she was in exactly the right place, dare we say, at the right time.
Another surviving spouse says her husband, Milton, was always a procrastinator. He installed a light on their staircase but it never worked. When Kim asked him about it he would always tell her, "I will get to it one day." When his personal effects were delivered to their home, she called her brother-in-law over to be with her. As he helped her carry some of the items upstairs, he flipped that same light switch. Immediately the light came on over the staircase. It still works to this day. She guesses he finally did "get to it one day."
I talked to a surviving daughter, Vivian, who loved stargazing with her dad. He bought her first telescope for her at Christmas when she was 10. During the last meteor shower in August, she wanted to go out and watch, but had to get up super early every day for work. The last night, she went out at midnight, which is early for the peak look at falling stars. She saw one and then not any more for another half hour. Finally, knowing she had to get up early, she said to herself, "Dad, if you're up there, send one more star so I know you love me and so I can go to bed." It didn't even take a minute before another star blazed down across the sky. She says she slept better than she had in months.
All of these stories are not to convince you to believe something that you have not perhaps experienced. It's not to force faith or the miracles of the heavens on anyone. It is to remind each person in the TAPS family that they are loved and that there are signs all around us that give us this affirmation and reassurance.
We spend so much time focused on finding meaning in our grief, forgetting that sometimes meaning and connection can still reach out to find us. As you face the mix of emotions that flood our minds and hearts at the holidays, I hope you will take time to slow down your thinking and open your mind to the serendipity of the season. Whether touching, poignant, humorous or crystal clear, there are small reminders from our loved ones waiting this season to come softly and tap us on the shoulder and say, "I'm still here. I still love you. I'm still walking with you."