Moments of Grace: Signs and Synchronicities (#1) The Gas Station

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Image: Anna Marie January

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  ~unknown

On a Sunday afternoon in August of 2015,  I received the worst news a mother could hear. My 22 year old son Nick had taken his own life.

I could write about that phone call, about when I fell through the earth, about our handsome son’s history, that little four year old who once asked: “Daddy, what is chaos?” And after listening to his father’s explanation replied, “Yeah. That’s what I like!”

I could write about our family, what I and everyone might have done differently and I could  describe my obsessive need to piece together his final days, to understand each event that led up to that moment when he decided he could take no more.

But not today. Because at times, almost simultaneously, pushing through the haze and waves of my grief are these incredibly powerful and healing experiences that I just can’t ignore.

The Gas Station

It was a particularly difficult morning for me, less than a month after I lost my son. I was feeling weighed down by debilitating exhaustion, a common companion to the shock and disbelief one experiences in the aftermath of traumatic events, I’m told. Faced with what seemed a monumental task–I headed out to put gas in my car.

While I stood there waiting for my tank to fill, I noticed, kitty-corner to me on the other side of the island, an elderly woman sitting in an older model white sedan. Her back seat was filled to the roof. She was a large woman, her movements slow and labored as she stood up and maneuvered around and in-between the car door and island. She wore a light blue hat with a dollar bill tucked into the fold.

We greeted each other with a “Good morning.”   I then said something that surprised me, probably as much as it did her!

Me: “You know when you’re feeling really bad? Sometimes if you do something for someone else, it helps you feel a little better?”

She looked at me and nodded yes.

Woman: “Did you lose someone too?”

Me: (Wow) “Yes, my son.”

Woman: “I’m so sorry. I just lost my sister. What was your son’s name?”

We briefly exchanged the relevant information and condolences.

Me: “You may think this is strange, but the reason I said that earlier is because I’d like to fill your gas tank, if you’ll allow me to.”

Woman: “Really? Thank you! (Laughed) You must have noticed the pillows and blankets back there–I’m on dialysis and have to bring those with me to get comfortable. Are you sure?”

Me: “Yes, I’m sure. Let me finish up here and I’ll come over and put my credit card in.”

We stood by her car and talked. I learned that she had lost many of her family members, including siblings, but was particularly close to this sister. Perhaps she recognized something in me, having experienced so much loss herself?

Woman: “When did your boy pass?”

Me: “About 3 1/2 weeks ago…”

Woman: “That’s right around the time my sister passed.”

Me: “It was August 23rd.”


Woman:  (She almost whispered) “It was a Sunday.”

Me: “Yes. It was.”

Woman: “That’s the day my sister passed!”

Much longer pause…

With the tears that had been welling up in our eyes over the course of the conversation flowing freely now, we held each other. We were two perfect strangers with broken hearts, yes, but we had so much more in common. So there we stood–hugging and crying on a September morning at the Chevron Station. It was magic, really.

We said goodbye, and as she walked slowly toward the mini mart she called out “Now I can buy some food for my kitties!”

I was feeling so much more than just a little better. It’s difficult to describe. Stunned. Touched. Awed. I think the word I am looking for is LOVED. I remain grateful for our “chance” encounter.

My son, Nick.
Postscript: It's now been almost three and a half years since Nick passed. After several more of these types of experiences, (they continue to this day), and much study and exploration on my part, I now know that this incident was among the first group of signs my son Nick would send me.  He is not lost to me. He is very present in my life and the lives of those he loves.

10 thoughts on “Moments of Grace: Signs and Synchronicities (#1) The Gas Station”

  1. Anna, What a beautiful story and so beautifully and movingly written. Thank you for telling that story. I think that when someone that we love leaves this earth, we can’t help but go part of the journey with them. There, I think, is where the magic must happen. Love to you…

    1. Levonne,
      Thank you for your kind and insightful words. Yes, I have certainly found myself on a leg of our journey that I never imagined, and have been jolted into recognizing the magical and mysterious in a more immediate way. I’m realizing that many of my memories are evidence that M&M having been there all along, in ordinary clothes, especially in the dark times. As an artist and writer yourself, I know you understand how healing creative expression can be. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.

    2. Wow. A love story of pure sweet love. So glad We connected. This blog is beautiful, like you! Inside and out! Hugs Mama

      1. Suzanne, my friend, thank you. Reading your comment I am reminded of that overwhelming love, acceptance and gratitude I felt when we all connected. Hugs back to you Mama!

  2. Anna Marie, after loosing my sister August 19the of last year I fell into the pit of despair not sure how to address this tragic life changing experience. I had distanced myself from family, media etc. Not communicating with even those closest to me. How did this happen, why? I thought people don’t overdose anymore! A little bit later I tried looking at Facebook and saw that you had encountered loss, someone I didn’t know but loved and respected for their talents. It truly was at that point I realized that I am not going through this alone. This morning with the thought of your blog running through my mind I went there, heart fluttering as I started reading after all here was this subject in my hands again! I had another Monumental shedding of tears followed by an inner peace knowing I didn’t walk the path alone, but with others. Thank you for sharing this and giving me the opportunity to come to peace

    1. Rosco,
      No, you are not alone, and sharing your story the way you did reminds me, once again, that I’m not either. I cried as I read your comment. The crying is good. It’s cleansing. There is no way around this but through it, they say. When you can, try to tune into your surroundings–I promise you there are gifts for us in ordinary things. I count our communication as one of them. I am truly sorry about the loss of your sister. Wow, they passed within days of each other. You say you haven’t spent much time on social media lately? Neither have I. Perhaps it was no accident that you logged on when you did! Things are so easily lost in all the noise of Facebook, yet you saw my post. I have more stories to tell on the subject, maybe there will be something else in one of them for you. Take care of yourself Rosco Jenkins. Let the people close to you know you love them. -Anna

        1. Thank YOU for being there Rosco Jenkins! For me, knowing that I was able to touch someone “out there” with my story is a wonderful gift and a part of my own healing as well. Much love and light to you.

    1. Hi Levonne! Happy New Year. I hope you are well, creating, and back in the beautiful natural surroundings you love so much. I’ve been on quite a journey. Maybe it’s time to start writing again.

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