To Believe or Not to believe...
Back before Hayleigh passed her and I would go walking every morning, we talked about a series of topics, one of which was what I wanted if she passed. I told her that if (God forbid) she didn't survive this horrible illness, I wanted her to come to me in some way and let me know that she was okay. She said that she would do that for me. I needed to know that she made it to a good place, and was okay. We talked about feathers, we talked about signs, and we talked about our animal spirit guides. She assured me that if she could she would visit.
As some of you may know, I have worked in Mental Health as an administrative support for many years, and if I were to tell most of my colleagues what I have felt, seen, etc., I would probably be locked up. I have also talked to many who believe what had happened to me.
In December of 2018, one year after Hayleigh had passed, I had my first "visit". This was NOT a dream! It was much more than that. I was "semi-conscious" and looked beyond the side of my bed to see a vision of a body coming close to me. The body crawled in bed with me and snuggled in next to me. I put my arms around it, and knew immediately who it was. The form was solid, but the head was behind a veil. "Hayleigh" began to communicate with me, not through words, but thoughts and she kept saying "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry" and then "It will be alright, don't worry". I thought she was letting me know that she was sorry for leaving us so abruptly. Two weeks later her dad collapsed at work and within a matter of days was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer that had progressed into a Signet-Ring Cell Carcinoma, a very rare, hard to cure form of stomach cancer. Thinking about this, I believe that Hayleigh was letting me know that something was about to happen yet again with our family. Rick was immediately booked with Oncology, started Chemotherapy (4 grueling chemo sessions were scheduled), was booked for a total Gastrectomy and then an additional series of Chemotherapy. This resulted in two "no change" scans, which, in our books, we will definitely take!
Thinking I was maybe losing my mind, I booked an appointment with a "medium" and was given the confirmation that Hayleigh had in fact visited, and was letting us know that her dad was sick but would be fine! She also sent a message that she "loved me to the moon and back", which was something we told each other regularly, and is a picture that hangs on the wall beside my bed!
Last spring, I went to see a second medium, Michelle, who first connected with our son, Michael, who said he just wanted to make sure that his dad and I had not forgotten him. He was stillborn, but we have never and would never forget him. Michelle told me that he was very happy to be with Hayleigh. I assured him of this in the session. Then Hayleigh came forward. She, through Michelle, told me that she leaves black feathers for her dad - we have three or four that have landed in our path during stressful times - one was when we were scattering her ashes in PEI, just before, Rick and I were having a moment, and I looked down at there was the most perfect black feather! (on one of our walks she told me that black feathers appear when a loved one is near, grey and white feathers and mixed feathers have other meanings). Michelle said that Hayleigh told her that she sends crows (Curly, Moe and Larry lived in the trees in her back yard from the time she moved in, but had disappeared before she passed) to let me know she is with me. The morning that I was going to see Michelle, there were two crows that cawed at me from the tree next to our house. On my way in to get my stuff together, I found a black feather laying on the front steps. Michelle also shared a message that Hayleigh was busy on the "other side" looking after six babies and all were coming to fulfil some purpose. Shortly thereafter we started hearing about pregnant relatives and all the six babies arrived...all are perfect and one in particular resembles her TiTi...Hayleigh's title from when Quinnie was born.
The second visit happened the week before Liam crossed the "Rainbow Bridge". Again, the body showed up, but the head was not visible, and there was no veil...like she was disappearing before my eyes. Again, she crawled in and cuddled me, the body still very solid, but this time it was so very cold. The message was conveyed in much the same way - no words, just thoughts, letting me know that she was there for a purpose, and that she missed me. I told her how much I loved her and missed her terrible and she acknowledged feeling much the same way. Two days later, Liam left to be with his momma. While walking in the yard that morning, Rick found the black feather left to let him know she was with him. This past weekend (September 12th), Rick and I were relaxing at the lake and a crow landed on our bunkie and sat and cawed at us for about five minutes...It showed up a couple of times over the weekend, but I will always wonder if it was sent by Hayleigh to let us know she was watching over us.
Liam has since been cremated later that week and, as per Hayleigh's wishes, his and her ashes will be scattered together, hopefully around Thanksgiving.
I will never stop missing either of them, and whether you believe or not (I would never tell anyone what to do), I feel both her and Liam's presence, and believe they leave us messages and signs to let us know they are okay and that they is with us.
September 14th, 2020
The last couple of weeks have been very hard. After Hayleigh passed, her fiancé, Keith and us were tasked with looking after her beloved lab, Liam. She had stated that she wanted Liam to remain with Keith as long as he was okay with it, and if he wanted out, Liam would then be given to us. Keith chose to hang on to the old guy and for the most part he lived with Keith and eventually Keith's new partner, Brittany. Liam was a big, sweet, kind old man of 14 when his mom became ill. He spent his time laying on the floor beside her while she tried to convalesce. He was the one who was with Hayleigh when she passed - Hayleigh sent everyone else away. When Keith found Hayleigh, Liam was sitting right beside her, leash dangling. He wasn't going to leave his momma. Liam wondered around our house and Keith's and, I would like to believe, was desperately looking for his momma. When the small neck pendants arrived to put bits of Hayleigh's ashes in, I accidently spilled a very small amount, and Liam went nuts...he was snorting in the dust and looking. I honestly didn't realize the depth of this dogs ability to smell! He did the same thing when we put a bit of her ashes in the hole while we were planting a tree for her. Liam spent the night laying by the tree. Anyhow, flash-forward to now, and it's been a week since our big old man has crossed the rainbow bridge. I like to believe I had a visit from his momma two days before his passing - she was letting me know she was coming to get him...this was more than a dream, and it was the second such visit from her. I knew at that point that Liam's time was coming to an end; we all did. He stopped eating just after her visit and within two days, he was ready to cross the bridge. I awoke suddenly at 3:13 on that day and I knew he was gone.
The next step in our journey will be to scatter the ashes for both Hayleigh and Liam. It was her wish that some of her ashes be held until he passed and that they would be scattered together. I feel his presence, and when I look out over our yard, I can see him coming from Keith's house next door, limping across the grass coming for treats from his Grammy. I miss both my sweet babies so much, but I know that they are both feeling a great deal of comfort from being together again. I will see them when I get there...till then, I will hold their memory very dear to my heart!
So, there is nothing that can compare to the gut-punch like being told that your child has something so serious that they could die...nothing! Back in October of 2016, as Hayleigh, Keith, Rick and myself sat in a hospital cubicle awaiting results from the OBGYN on call in Emerg., I think we all had some inkling of what was about to happen. While the doctor explained that they could not definitively say that the "c" word was involved, there was a concern and an urgency to deal with what we were facing. The doctor ran words and phrases such as " total hysterectomy", "radiation", "inability to have children", "your appendix looks to be involved", and my mind went somewhere, anywhere but where I was. This was not happening to my child, my baby! This was some kind of cosmic joke! It had to be, and in proper Momma Bear fashion, I went over all the things I could do to stop this nonsense! In my head, it was total nonsense...again, this could not be happening to my child. My knowledge of anatomy and physiology and cancer told me a lot of different things. While I didn't finish the nursing course I had started post high school, I still retained a lot of knowledge and what I knew scared me! I wanted to run, I wanted to grab my baby girl and take her to a place where I could protect her and stop this insanity. But, the pragmatic part of me knew we were in this for the long-haul and there would be no running - there would be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. My sweet baby girl was going to have to go through this horrific ordeal - and while we would all be there, it was happening to her, not us. Watching your child deal with this kind of news with such grace, and yet be so concerned for how it was impacting the rest of us, was painful. The lack of control I, as her mother, felt is indescribable - I have always had control over so many things, but that was taken right out of my hands. This was her fight and all we could do was become caregivers, as she tried to out-maneuver this adversary. Compound this with getting the news that your other child - my oldest daughter (I only have two) who had also gone through her own life-threatening medical incident that resulted in the birth of our grandson (1 pound 9 ounces and 28 weeks gestation, compounded with a multitude of medical issues - cardiac, neurological, you name it) was also diagnosed with her own form of cancer (thyroid) in the following summer. To say the least, this leaves a parent feeling extremely numb! Scared doesn't quite describe it, and quite frankly, I don't know what does. Stephanie told me that at some point after her sister passed, I died too. I suppose it's not quite died, but rather escaped to a protective place where I can hide and avoid anything else that might happen. Just know, that I raised two pretty spectacular human beings - They are both my heros always and forever!
Where did this all begin?
Thinking back on this whole process, I am not really sure where this cancer thing started. For me, I guess the first time I heard the word “cancer” was when I was 15 or 16 years old and was told that my beautiful Auntie Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but to be sure, back in the day, it definitely meant a “death sentence”. That beautiful angel passed away in August 1978. I was 17 years old. What stood out for me was, while walking across the Cemetery with my grandmother, she looked up at me with tears rolling down her face, she told me “No mother should ever have to bury her child”. We had never had the opportunity to have deep conversations like this in the past, and given that we were alone on this particular walk, the conversation stuck with me. I just never quite knew why. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, she was preparing me for something that I really could not imagine. Fast-forward to December 16th, 2017, and I was living that very reality. I agree with my grandmother NO MOTHER SHOULD EVER HAVE TO BURY HER CHILD.
Cancer has become a large part of our lives in the Connell household. In 1992, at age 37, my husband, Richard was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. He was told at that time that he “picked the right one” as it was being successfully treated, and life expectancy was good. It was a stressful time for our family, but we were blessed to have the support of our families and friends. Without them, this would not have been a smooth journey. After a round of radiation at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver, and one year of remission, Rick went in for a chest x-ray and lab work and was told he had something suspicious showing up on his x-ray. A biopsy of a lymph node confirmed the return of his cancer, and he began chemotherapy. As I was working to support our household, Hayleigh, who was off on summer break, offered to be her dad’s Chemo Champion for each round. The two of them would read, watch TV and keep each other and the nurses on the ward entertained. Hayleigh learned how to change bags of normal saline for her dad, and she learned a lot about the chemotherapy process. She was 9 years old.
Over the years, many of our elderly family members were diagnosed with some form of cancer or another. A paternal grandmother and mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer, father with brain cancer, maternal grandfather with prostate cancer and paternal grandfather with, I believe, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We never ever dreamt that it would affect our girls.
Holly Connell is a fierce Momma Bear, protective wife, "Grammy" and retired Admin Assistant. "Proud" is an understatement where her children and grandchildren are concerned.