On the fifth anniversary of Brandon's passing, I went on a hike with my older son, Steven, and Stu, Gary, and Dave, three of Brandon's closest friends who had been with him on the day of his death. The four boys and I retraced the steps they'd all made five years earlier to honor Brandon and deal with some of the lingering pain. Everyone missed my youngest son's physical presence though it was beautiful outside and the desert gave us a sense of peace, serenity, and holiness-reminding us of what drew Brandon here in the first place.
After ninety minutes of hiking we were well up the mountain. I began to feel fatigued and a bit nervous over the steep, treacherous terrain. I decided to rest and my son Steven remained with me while Stu, Gary, and Dave continued on to build a makeshift memorial at the location where Brandon had passed. While the boys were constructing the memorial up the mountain I sat below, silently perched on a rocky spot. I sat praying and thinking about Brandon as tears welled up in my eyes. I was not sad, but just taking in everything that reminded me of Brandon. I reflected on all the times of his life-first as a cute toddler, then as a gentle boy, and ultimately as a caring young man who made me proud. I also spoke to him in my mind-expressing love. A bit later Stu, Gary, and Dave returned down the mountain and they shared a photo of the memorial they had constructed for Brandon, consisting of a cross made of sticks and an arrangement of quartz stones forming his initials.
Shortly after returning home, I sent notes to friends and family telling them about the hike. I mentioned that I had paused during the climb, and that the boys had continued on to build a memorial, but did not share any details about where I was sitting, or anything about what I had been thinking while resting.
After sending my note, I received a response from Sally Owen, a friend who happens to be a medium. Sally wrote, "Brandon shows me that he stayed with you and 'heard what you said' as the others continued up."
About two hours after sending my note, I received a response from another friend, Sarah Elizabeth-also a medium. In her note, Sarah shared some insights that seemed to indicate Brandon had been with us that day.
She asked about the clothes I was wearing that day. "Were you wearing shoes with an 'N' on them? Nike or New Balance?" I was blown away. The shoes I had worn were indeed New Balance and bore an "N" on the side. She had no way of knowing. While we had developed a friendship via e-mail and telephone, Sarah had never actually met me in person, nor had she ever seen a photo of me other than a head shot. And hiking boots would have been the more obvious guess for mountain climbing, so it seemed she was dialed in.
The Coup de grāce came as she asked for confirmation on the setting that day, speaking as if she'd been afforded a supernatural periscope to view the scene, "Were you sitting on a rock and remembering his baby-hood as the boys climbed up the hill?" This was exactly what I had been doing. Sarah's response was like reading an instant replay of what I had experienced while suspended on that jagged granite-contemplating all aspects of my son's life.
Sarah then moved onto something seemingly unrelated to the hike, "What about the red jacket?" When she said this I was initially a bit confused, as I recognized the jacket but I hadn't worn it that day. This was one of those "duh" moments. It was an old, red satin Phoenix Cardinal's jacket that Brandon had borrowed from time to time. The garment was pretty dated-the team had changed their name to the "Arizona Cardinals" in the early 1990's.
Why would Brandon reference a jacket I had not worn on that day? For twenty-three years, I had been a die-hard fan of the Cardinals-a losing franchise. Although expectations were always low, later that very day, on January 10, 2009, the Cardinals pulled off an upset playoff victory over the Carolina Panthers-proceeding on to with the NFC Championship and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time ever. It seemed Brandon had been afforded a sneak peek into this future scenario and knew that I'd be happy. I felt he was saying, "Hey dad, you're going to like this!"