I don’t consider myself religious, though the word “atheist” gives me the creeps. But if I believe one thing, I believe that the dead are very much alive in this world. I believe in reincarnation.
I was introduced to the notion of rebirth at a young age. I remember as a boy watching my mom stand in our backyard with open palms, while the wind caught hold of her clothes like the sail of a boat. As her shirt fluttered violently with each passing gust, she’d remain perfectly still, and perfectly peaceful. Shortly after, she’d walk back in the house, often times wiping tears from her face. I never understood why.
Years later, while going through old photo albums with her, she told the story of her wedding night. It was June 1985—nearly a decade since her parents had passed away—and after the reception my mom (still in her wedding dress) walked to the end of the dock extending into a Chesapeake Bay inlet. The night sky, she said, was eerily clear. She stood there, reflecting on the day’s events and quietly trying to elicit a response from somewhere, anywhere. All of a sudden, far out above the water, she saw a flurry of flashes. That brief spectacle of lightening spoke to her in what could have been Morse code.
My mom would’ve given anything for her parents to have been at her wedding. Though she’ll tell you to this day, they actually were there. Her parents had manifested themselves as a force of nature. And when my mom has felt ill-prepared to face the world alone during times of emotional crisis (like when her best friend Marsha died), she has stepped outside for the same wind therapy. It was only natural for me to write off her tears as tears of pain and uncertainty, but I’ve come to understand them as tears of profound comfort and reassurance.
The passing of my Grandma Gert showed me firsthand that reincarnation was real, and it allowed me to better empathize with my mom. In life, my grandma loved ladybugs. It was her thing. From the oversized ladybug pin she bore on her chest everyday to the ladybug stickers she’d give us just because. I recognized her love for ladybugs at a young age.
At her funeral in 2003 something strange happened. Standing in front of me at the cemetery were my grandma’s three closest friends all in their mid-eighties. One of the women—and I’ll never forget this—was holding a black leather purse in her hands. As Gert’s casket was being lowered into the ground, we all watched as a big ladybug descended from sky and landed in the middle of the woman’s purse. The gravediggers stopped suddenly and joined us in sheer disbelief. What was a ladybug doing in Nutley, NJ in the middle of summer?
I resolved that Grandma Gert, or part of her, had passed into that ladybug.
Time and time again I’ve seen ladybugs in unexpected places—a baseball dugout, my car windshield, my shirt, even. And my dad has a long list of similar encounters. Though it’s easy to say we were simply more aware of ladybugs after the funeral, I’m convinced that grandma knows what she’s doing and that these are planned visits.
When I think back, I see an elderly woman in black leggings and a red sweater. Now, in death, she’s become what she loved in life.
It was my grandma, after all, who reminded me to be true to myself. And while I’m a stubborn teenager and a religious cynic, reincarnation exists. This I believe.