Coincidence or Connection – How Grief Can Awaken Our Capacity to Notice Connections Between Seemingly Unrelated Events
“And don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Have you ever experienced an event that struck you as just a bit odd at the time – and then something else happens later and you look back on that original event and can’t help but wonder if it was connected in some way?
Some call it coincidence. But I’m really starting to wonder if these seemingly random events are connected in some way – and if so, perhaps it might be in our best interest to slow down and start paying attention?
In my case, it was grief that awakened in me the possibility that seemingly random events just might be more connected than our rational minds would care to admit.
On Friday September 22nd, 2000, my husband, John, and I were spending the day at Disneyland. We’d attended a friend’s wedding in the morning and then had the rest of the day to run around Disneyland like a couple of over-sized kids. We had a hoot!
When the time came to watch the fireworks, though, John and I were standing on a curb, waiting for the show to begin and we happen to notice an entire family – Mom, Dad, two kids and Grandma – all wearing matching yellow Winnie the Pooh jackets.
Just before the fireworks started, Pooh Grandma suddenly decided to walk right in front of me and John – and promptly collapsed, landing on her back. John, being a police officer, immediately kneeled down to help her as I ran off into the crowd calling for help.
When I returned, John was still kneeling beside her, holding her hand and comforting her. She was breathing but not conscious. The paramedics arrived and as we were walking away, John looked at me said, “Wow, did that lady ever hit the back of her head hard.”
“Things like that,” I said, “aren’t supposed to happen at the Happiest Place on Earth.”
Then, exactly one week later – September 29th, 2000 – back home again in Canada, John responded to a suspected break and enter call at a warehouse with his partner, Lil. They waited for the K-9 unit to arrive. When the K-9 officer, Darren, and his dog arrived on scene, John went into the building with them to clear it.
But since the dog couldn’t climb the ladder to check out the mezzanine level, John did. At the top of the ladder, he stepped onto the landing and then, flashlight in hand, he stepped from that safe surface onto an unsafe surface – an unmarked false ceiling – and fell through into the lunchroom below. There was no safety railing to warn him, or anyone else, of the danger.
Although it was only a nine foot fall, the back of John’s head struck the concrete with enough force that he stopped breathing. Darren found him in the lunchroom and immediately started CPR. Lil, John’s Sergeant and several other officers found them in the lunchroom and stayed with John, comforting him until EMS arrived.
Several hours later, John was announced legally brain dead. We were both 32. There ended up being no intruder in the warehouse; it was a false alarm.
A few days later, while doing yet another devastatingly difficult task – choosing John’s burial spot at the cemetery – I found a place I thought was suitable and then closed my eyes a moment, just to get a feel for it. When I opened my eyes again, I turned my head to the right and there, four plots over, was a yellow Winnie the Pooh carved into a young woman’s headstone. I breathed in sharply – and I knew I’d found John’s final resting place.
Two months later, Lil and I went for lunch and she shared with me the details of John’s last shift. When she got to John’s fall and how all the officers had been with him in the lunchroom, comforting him as best they could, she reached over and took my hand.
“You need to know,” she said quietly, “that he was with people who loved him.”
I thought back again to Pooh Grandma at Disneyland and how John, a stranger, had been there to comfort her.
Then, on the third anniversary of John’s death – September 29th, 2003 – Lil was working and she went into a flower shop to buy flowers for John’s grave. Noticing Lil’s uniform, the woman behind the till commented, “My daughter is buried near a police officer.”
“Oh?” said Lil.
“I’m not sure if it’s the same officer,” said the woman, “but my daughter’s gravestone is the one with Winnie the Pooh on it.”
And that is in a city of more than a million people. If it’s just a coincidence, it’s a dandy.
In the summer of 2008, I finally finished the manuscript for my book, A Widow’s Awakening. After dozens of rewrites and an ocean of tears, I felt the manuscript was where it needed to be…almost. Just before going to publication, I happen to be reading Jack Kerouac’s classic, On the Road, and came across the line: “And don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”
I breathed in sharply. I knew I’d found the quote for the beginning of the book.
“Meaning is always in reference to something bigger than you.”
Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the executive producer of the documentary, Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here.