By Devon DiComo
DEVON 1: Going to my grandma’s house every weekend was a pivotal part of my childhood. I remember eating butter pecan ice cream from her freezer, playing cards, and helping her take the curlers out of her hair.
DENISE 1: She was the happiest when her family was around. Really, that was just what was most important to her. She wasn’t the type of person who needed to have expensive things or travel. Growing up, we just always had a nice home.
DEVON 2: That’s my mom. My grandma was also the type of person who still wanted to take care of her family even after they had passed away. She would visit her loved ones at the cemetery for every birthday, anniversary, and holiday. She’d bring flowers and leave grave blankets in the winter. Family was everything to her.
DENISE 2: She always supported us, any way she could. And mostly that was just being there.
DEVON 3: When I was 13 years old, my grandma passed away. I was young, but I’ll never forget how this rocked my whole family. She was the matriarch who took care of all of us.
So when the one-year anniversary of my grandma’s death was approaching, my mom had already made plans to visit the cemetery. But on the night before, something strange happened…
My name is Devon DiComo and this is Telling True Stories in Sound.
That night, my mom decided to play Bananagrams, a game similar to Scrabble. She dumped the bag of tiles on the ground and went to choose her letters.
DENISE 3: And after I turned them all over, I just noticed immediately that in front of me my maiden name was spelled out. It was P-A-L-E-Y.
DEVON 4: On the floor, the tiles had arranged themselves to write out her maiden name “Paley”. At that moment, she didn’t think much about it. But when she went to visit my grandma’s grave the next morning, something clicked.
DENISE 4: I looked at the headstone and of course immediately saw those same 5 letters that I saw the night before when I was playing bananagrams.
DEVON 5: To my mom, this was no coincidence.
DENISE 5: I just knew how important it was to my mom that we visited the grave and on this particular day it was exactly one year since she had passed, so when I thought about how I got that message the day before from her, I knew it was her reminding me, you better come visit me because it’s my one-year anniversary and I want to see you.
DEVON 6: I’ve heard different iterations of this “after death communication” story from many people. And I can’t help but wonder what these experiences mean. And why people associate these so-called “coincidences” with their loved ones. Could that have really been my grandma?
That’s what I want to try to understand. I’m on a mission- to figure out for myself what this all means. My family was raised Catholic, so I went to a priest, Father Dan O’Reilly, to ask him his thoughts.
O’REILLY 1: Well I think there’s a natural tendency to look for signs because we don’t see the angels in heaven. But what it could be is just that your faith is reassuring you that it doesn’t have to be from an outside source. It’s your faith saying, yes they’re still alive in God.
Even when Jesus was walking the Earth he got a little upset sometimes when people would say, “let us see a sign.” And he’d say, I just raised this guy from the dead, I turned water into wine, and then I calmed that storm, you want one more? So he’d get a little upset when people were just looking for signs.
DEVON 7: Blindly accepting faith has always been difficult for me. So, I turned to science. Next I spoke to a certified thanatologist and grief counselor, Jill Cohen.
COHEN 1: In the beginning, give me a sign that you’re still here because I don’t really know what the death means because it’s brand new. The impact of a sign coming to them, I cannot tell you how huge it is. They smile, the comfort, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I always say, grief is not just sad. There’s anger, blame, guilt, shame, lonely. Grief is an ice cream sundae of emotions all mixed up together.
DEVON 8: But grief can’t be the only answer. And I can’t accept this experience as solely a tool for comfort. So I go to the only other option I can think of — somewhere I have never, ever been before — I decide to go to a psychic medium, named Emily Grote.
I’m not sure I ever would have done this, but this is eating at me and I need to keep trying to figure out why.
GROTE 1: Oh I think your grandmother came to your mother and threw some tiles on the floor to make herself be known. Whether her spirit is fully coming in, do we have to figure all that out? I don’t know that that’s necessary.
And so I would just encourage you, ask your grandmother questions. What does she want? What is she here for?
So when you’re available for judgment but staying out of judgment for yourself, and you are available for the multiplicity and anything that could show up, really anything is possible.
DEVON 9: Speaking with the medium is the closest I’ve gotten to comfort. But something is still missing for me. There’s only one place to go from here, and that’s to the cemetery with my mom. I haven’t been there in years.
Tape from cemetery
DEVON 10: I’ve realized that what’s really bothering me is that I didn’t get as much time with my grandma as I wish I had. I wish I had appreciated the time I did have with her more. So I’m going to say it to someone I do still have time with.
DEVON 11: I feel like there are a lot of things I wish I could say to grandma now that I was too young at the time to understand. I feel like I didn’t fully know her as well as I wish I had.
DENISE 6: I have the same regrets about my grandparents. Like I was fairly young when my grandmother died and there’s so much more I would’ve loved to learn about her.
DEVON 12: As my mom and I kept talking, the tears I had been holding back caught up to me.
DEVON 13: I’m glad I’m learning it now but I just want the people in my life to know, you know, how much they mean to me. And I don’t want that to happen again. I guess when you’re a kid you don’t fully understand.
DENISE 7: It’s true. And you don’t really realize that there’s going to be an end. Or you don’t think that it’s going to happen any time soon.
That’s why it’s so hard to lose a mom. Because really the mother is like the glue that holds the family together. And, you don’t fall apart when she’s gone because she instilled in you the importance of family so you can still feel her influence when she’s gone. And you look like her a little bit too.
DEVON 14: Do I really?
DENISE 8: You really do. Yes whenever I would watch you on stage like in choir, from a distance you definitely resembled her.
DEVON 15: Regardless of if it was my grandma in the tiles that day, all I know is that I do still have time with my mom. And maybe that’s what my grandma is trying to tell me to appreciate now. I think it’s something she would’ve wanted both my mom and me to always remember. And maybe that’s the answer I can believe in.