Summer 1998 - 8 years later.
For the past 2 years a close family member had been receiving treatments for a malignant tumor. I knew the illness was serious, but I had been assured the treatments would be successful. Unfortunately, the Universe had other plans. In early August I received a call asking me to come home right away, the treatments had failed and time was fast running out.
In no time at all, I was on the road.
At 42 years old, I wasn't a stranger to the loss of loved ones, but my sadness at the passing of a friend or relative had always been tempered by the firm belief system I'd developed over many years of study and research. I had never doubted that we would meet in other times in other lives. But now, faced with the loss of an immediate family member who I loved dearly and who's time was far too soon, the doubts began to creep in.
I was experiencing a crisis of faith.
This illness and impending death was so senseless, such an unfair waste of a precious young life, that I questioned everything I'd ever believed. The world held so many people of so many faiths - could I really be sure that mine was right? Did I really know that there was an afterlife and this was not the end? In my secret heart, I knew that I didn't. My grief and disbelief were such that I could not believe on faith alone. I simply couldn't let him go because I didn't know for certain that there was anywhere to go to.
As each day brought us closer to the inevitable, my turmoil became worse. My heart was heavy and my faith was shattered, but I did what I had to do. We made sure that a family member was at the hospital 24 hours a day, and each day I took my shift, torn between my determination to be there and my need to run as far away as I could.
At the time I was still a smoker, so when the nurses needed the family out of the room for a few minutes, I would go outside to have my cigarette. It was a windy afternoon and as I struggled to light my cigarette, my mind was racing with questions and fears and doubt. I had my face to the wall as I lit a third match and tried again. "DAMMITT!" I exclaimed in frustration as a puff of wind extinguished yet another tiny flame. I threw the match on the ground impatiently and ripped another from the folding match book.
It was then that I heard a woman speaking with a strong Acadian French accent say, "You have to face into the wind".
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" I asked as I turned around to face the speaker.
The hairs on the nape of my neck stood straight up and for a moment I forgot to breathe. The elderly woman looking up at me was dwarfed by the wheel chair that held her. She had shoulder length snow white hair and her right leg was elevated and swathed in bandages. But what held my gaze and had stolen my breath was the swatch of white gauze taped tightly over her left eye.
"If you want to light your cigarette, you have to face INTO the wind", she repeated.
I started to stammer a reply, but had barely managed to say thank you when she maneuvered her wheel chair around and rolled away to join some other older ladies who were gathered together nearby.
I finally remembered to breathe again and managed to light my cigarette on the first try. My mind was racing at this impossible coincidence. The woman was not Celia, but the unique physical likeness was so compelling that I couldn't doubt who had sent her. And if Celia had sent her, then there was indeed somewhere to go when one left this world.
My sister had come looking for me and appeared at my side a few moments later. "Look over by that wall" I said quietly, motioning in the direction the woman had gone.
My sister's eyes widened in surprise, "It's Celia!".
Relief flooded over me, it wasn't my imagination, or a hallucination, someone else could see her too.
"No, not Celia", I replied, "but a message from Celia".
Then I crushed my cigarette and with quiet deliberation, opened the hospital door and walked INTO the wind.