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A Haunting Handprint From Heaven

My husband, Max, died at 12:44 p.m. on a sunny Saturday in May, surrounded by friends and family in the living room of our Sacramento home. His last breaths were labored. He lay on a narrow hospital bed, his emaciated body propped up to face the patio doors so he could feel the warmth of the sun.

I held his hand gently—gently because it felt like all bone, not the hand that had held mine with such strength for the past five years—and read from the Twenty-third Psalm. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters….”

A lovely melody suffused the room. Tones so resonant and deep, they could have been coming from one of Max’s classical CDs. I turned and saw the heavy wind chimes over the patio swaying. But the air was still. Not a breath of wind at all. There was no breath from Max either. His hand fell from mine. He was gone.

In late November, Max had received the diagnosis: esophageal cancer, late stage. He didn’t want to die in a hospital. We’d made him as comfortable as we could at home.

We’d sit overlooking our yard and talk. About Tanner, my son from my first marriage, whom Max treated as his own. About music, good food and wine, philosophy—his passions. About the trips we’d taken, like the one to Auberge du Soleil, a resort in Napa Valley, where he’d first told me he loved me.

These things were easier to talk about than the future. I was 53. I’d thought we’d grow old together. Now? “It’s easier for me,” Max said one day. “It will be harder for you because you are being left behind.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” I said.

“I will still be here,” he insisted. “My love will never die. It’s immutable.”

What did Max mean? He’d never talked like that. I was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, but Max was an agnostic. The Twenty-third Psalm was music to him, not Scripture. The idea that anything but a memory of someone could survive death didn’t appeal to his sense of reason. I couldn’t fault him for it. His intellectual rigor was one thing that had attracted me to him.

I’d met Max in 1999, a year and a half after I’d moved to Sacramento to become the publisher of the Sacramento Bee, one of California’s largest and most respected newspapers. I was divorced, with a nine-year-old son. I didn’t have time for love. Then Max invited me to a meet-and-greet event held by the political-consulting firm he worked for. I declined—obvious conflict of interest for the newspaper— but agreed to a friendly lunch.

He was a true Renaissance man: an Air Force vet, a mathematician, an accomplished chef, a former college weight lifter. He played trumpet and piano and had even written his own symphony. He read at least a book a week. He astonished me.

Eight months later, we were married. Max, Tanner and I built a home together, a life. Two weeks before our fourth wedding anniversary, we discovered that that life was nearing an end.

In his final months, Max spent a great deal of time with our friend and his caretaker, Helen. He’d insisted that I continue working, so Helen was there when I couldn’t be.

One day she revealed the strangest thing. The two of them were in the kitchen when there was a brief sun shower. “We both stopped and looked,” Helen said. “I told him, ‘I know you don’t believe in God, but this is something God created for us today. If you can find a way, let us know that there’s something out there, that it doesn’t just end.’”

“I will,” Max said. “But it will be up to you two to see it….”

To read the full story, check out today’s post on our Mysterious Ways Facebook page.



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