67. Waves from Heaven

Sometimes investigating gets frustrating. At times I feel like I am hitting walls, can’t get any traction on new leads, or sometimes am just plain exhausted from what I feel like should be such an obvious answer to the question, “Who killed Cheryll?” I sometimes feel like I could pick up the universe and aggressively shake it and demand it to just spill the secrets it’s holding onto– “Just tell us what happened!” I fantasize myself yelling as I work to jostle the answer from its clutches. But, the amazing thing is this– when I feel this way, signs seem to come my way, and I know they’re gentle nudges from Tom and Cheryll, quietly whispering, “It’s okay. Slow and steady. We’re here with you.” And while there are perfectly reasonable explanations for these occurrences that are probably not other-worldly, for me these little waves are like hellos, small gifts from above, and they keep me going.

The Cigarettes

One afternoon my phone alerted me that I had a text message. It was a message from my brother-in-law, my husband’s older brother, and the message had been sent to the whole Rowland clan– siblings, spouses, niece and nephews, and my mother-in-law. The message was brief, but the photo spoke volumes.

“Someone was saying hello today while I was working.” With the message, my brother-in-law sent a photo of a used package of cigarettes– my late father-in-law’s brand of choice, Vantage. The only times in my life I ever bought cigarettes were for my father-in-law when he was running low. Seeing the Vantage wrapper took me (and I suppose the rest of the family) right back to the time when Tom was still here with us. Obviously, other people smoke Vantage brand cigarettes and finding a wrapper in the wall of the building where my brother-in-law was working as an electrician has sensible explanations, but to the Rowland family it felt like a little wave from heaven. As a gift, my brother-in-law framed the package and gave it to my husband and me for Christmas. It now adorns a shelf in our home, yet another reminder of a man we sorely miss.

The Cardinal

Seeing cardinals is nothing new. I’m seeing them all of the time now. I think there is a nest or two on my property so I frequently see the red birds chasing each other throughout the yard and I usually smile and think to myself, “Hi Tom. Hi Cheryll.” But soon after my brother-in-law found the Vantage cigarette package, something even more incredible happened.

He texted me: “I was upstairs and heard a ruckus coming from downstairs so I went down to see what was going on and guess what I found.”

“I have no clue,” I responded, truly clueless about what the answer might be.

“This.” With this response, he sent a photo– it was a cardinal perched upon his kitchen stool.

“Omg! It was in your house?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes and I have no idea how it got in here. He was just sitting there looking at me.”

“Your dad is probably saying hello. What did you do about it?”

Again, his response was the same and included yet another photo. “This,” he wrote, as my eyes stared at a photo of him holding the cardinal in his hands.

My brother-in-law found cardinal in his house, was able to pick it up and hold it for a moment, and then walked outside and released it, watching it fly away! If the appearance of a cardinal is a sign that a loved one is near, we couldn’t help but wonder what having a cardinal in your home meant…maybe Tom was really near! In the midst of the tragedy of Cheryll’s murder and Tom’s sudden passing, finding comfort and humor in this special moment felt good and it also felt like a big, fat “hello” from the man who meant so much to his family.

The Photo

One evening Bridget and I were in a group text thread with another friend of ours, discussing the latest developments and ideas we may have for continuing to push ahead with Cheryll’s case. Our friend was watching the Netflix series “Life After Death with Tyler Henry” and suggested we write to him to ask for help with Cheryll’s case.

Me: “Bridget has texted me twice in two days telling me to watch it ASAP.”

Friend: “I’m literally binging currently. No way I sleep. It’s so good.”

Me: “We have to get him to find out about Cheryll’s case.”

Friend: “You need to write to him.”

I read that text as I was walking to my kitchen to make sure all of the school bags, lunch boxes, shoes, etc. were laid out for the kids’ school the next day. When I entered the kitchen, I noticed that my own bag had fallen over on the kitchen counter. What I saw, stopped me in my tracks…look carefully….of all the items to have fallen out of my purse, the one thing peeking out from atop the slumped over bag, was the lone photo of Cheryll that I always carry with me.

I immediately took a photo on my phone and texted it to my friends.

Me: “I just walked out into the kitchen to put my things out for school tomorrow and…my purse had fallen over and one item was falling out…”

Friend: Shocked emoji face. “It’s a sign. Need to get back to the medium.”

Is it a sign? I can’t say. Of the 15 items I keep together in the inside side pocket of my bag, only one had fallen out. Maybe Cheryll is encouraging us to keep pursuing creative angles, or maybe it’s her way of acknowledging that we’re still talking about her case. Either way, seeing her photo looking out at me, brought a slight grin to my face.

The Christmas Ornament

I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. For me, it’s the smells, the food, the decorations, the songs, the traditions, the creative gift-giving ideas, the anticipation of the birth of Christ… It all holds a special place in my heart. Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I treasure the quiet that comes at the end of the day as the house grows quiet and still, even more so at Christmastime. So one evening, as everyone in my family slept, I found that I had Cheryll heavy on my mind and I felt compelled to write the next blog entry and record the audio for it. Part of the reason Cheryll played prominently in my day is because Bridget had called me to tell me that she and her cousin had traveled to New Hope Road earlier in the day to pay their respects and reflect on a young life senselessly cut short. The energy that I sometimes feel from Cheryll was racing through me that night as I closed my MacBook and did the nightly walk-through of our house, turning out lights, checking the locks on doors, and unplugging the Christmas lights. As I started to make my way down the hall to head to bed, I noticed a glow coming from a small Christmas tree I had displayed in our front dining room. Though earlier in the evening I had turned out the lights in the room and unplugged the lights on the tree that I had adorned with angel and cardinal ornaments, there was one singular ornament still glowing on the tree. It was a gift that I had received from Bridget, a cardinal ornament in a glass globe that, when turned on, would shine a dim light. I’d never turned it on, but that night it was certainly glowing, seemingly all by itself.

I stood in the doorway and took a deep breath in as the small hairs on my arms stood up slightly. It felt as though I was standing in a current of static as I quickly took a photo of my Christmas tree. “Hi Cheryll,” I whispered quietly, almost as if she was standing there with me, because, without any doubt, I felt that Cheryll had found a way to let me know she was there. If there is a thin veil separating us from those who have passed, Cheryll had once again found a way to poke through.

All of these bring me comfort and continue to fuel the fire. The work is ongoing and we still need a big break– someone to come forward who knows what happened and to finally release the burden and tell the truth, or for physical evidence to be discovered that can substantiate previous theories as to who the killer is. As I continue to experience the waves from Heaven, I pray daily for the puzzle piece we need to finally shift into the right place.

Cheryll, to whom this blog is dedicated
Audio narration

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