Conversations with Don from Beyond the Grave

By Bobby

As told to Cliff Williams

“Even when someone crosses over, they’re not really gone. . . . They’re still with us, still involved in our lives, and still able to communicate with us.”

Edited by Cliff Williams from a recorded and transcribed conversation with Bobby on October 16, 2023. Bobby’s husband, Don, died on May 5, 2022, after a long bout with Parkinson’s disease.

Don’s Death

For Bobby, the beginning of his “second” journey with Don was the night Don died. “We were in Michigan at a ski resort way out in the middle of nowhere for a family wedding. After the ceremony, Don and I walked to the wedding dinner area to the table where we were assigned. But before he could sit down, he fell backwards into my arms. I laid him down, and he started turning blue.

“Because it was a ski resort, they had a defibrillator and people who were trained in CPR. Also, one of our family members was a paramedic. So Don got immediate attention. 

“During the twenty minutes it took for an ambulance to get to the ski lodge, they did manual CPR on Don. During those minutes, they lost his heartbeat three times. When the paramedics got there, they used a machine to do CPR. 

“It was brutal. I could hear his ribs cracking. And there was blood coming out of his nose and mouth. They sliced up Don’s jacket, which was his favorite, and took it off him. I kept thinking that even if they brought him back to life, the recovery from the sheer violence of trying to save him would take months, absolute months.

“They finally got him into the ambulance and put me into a following ambulance. On the way to the local hospital, they lost him, but then got him back. I distinctly remember that, because I could feel him coming and going even though we were in separate ambulances: ‘He’s still with us.’ Then I lost it. I told the person who was with me, ‘Something’s happened.’ And she said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said, ‘I can’t feel him anymore.’

“Don’s favorite thing in all the world was to eat Dairy Queen ice cream. We passed a Dairy Queen on the way to the hospital and I felt him again. It was, ‘Oh. I can feel him again.’ Apparently that was when they got him back again.

“At the hospital, which was really not much bigger than a medical clinic, he was barely hanging on. His blood pressure was just above dead, and he was on a breathing machine. They said, ‘It has been ninety minutes. If we could bring him back now, he would never know who you are. He would never walk again, and he could never eat on his own again.’ 

“Then they said, ‘There’s a drug we can give him to raise his blood pressure enough to transport him to a larger hospital. Then they could do some more things. Why don’t you go into the waiting room with the chaplain and think about what you want to do.’

“Because it had been a family wedding, his mother, sister, and brother-in-law were all there. They went out, and I leaned over Don and said, ‘If you’re going to go, then go ahead and go. But please spare me making a decision for you. I’m not prepared to do that.’’

“About five minutes later, in the waiting room, the hospital person came in and said that his blood pressure was improving on its own and that his heartbeat was slightly stronger, so why don’t you come back in? We did. But two minutes later, his blood pressure plummeted again. The person said, ‘What do you want me to do?’

“Don’s mother and sister are movers and shakers and could run the country if they wanted to. But they shut up and looked at me. I said, ‘I can’t ask him to hang on like this. I simply cannot. We’re going to have to disconnect him. That is what he would want.’

“So they pulled the ventilator out, and he was gone nine minutes later. He had never regained consciousness since he had fallen at the wedding reception.”

A Train to Heaven

Don had an alarm on his cell phone that chimed every two hours for him to take medications. “He was the biggest train locomotive fan there ever was, and he had made his medication alarm the sound of a moving train. 

“That train alarm went off immediately after he died. I said, ‘You go ahead and get on that train to heaven. There’s a station up there, and everyone you know and love is waiting for you. Our black Cocker spaniel is there too. They are all waiting with eager anticipation to see you. You step off that train and run into their arms.’

“When Don was alive, the alarm was sometimes irritating to me. But now, five months after he died, it is one of the most marvelous connections I have with him. It is as though he’s coming to say hello to me. I kiss the phone and ask how he’s doing.” 


It was 9:30 pm when Don died. “None of us had had anything to eat. And we were all a mess. Someone said, ‘Why don’t we go back to the hotel?’ We walked through the little waiting room at the emergency room, where people who had fixable stuff, such as broken bones, were waiting to be treated. Obviously, they were not feeling well, but it was all fixable. And I was thinking, ‘I just lost my husband.’

“We went out into the parking lot, and because it was such a remote area, the sky was full of stars. I knew that two of those stars were Don’s eyes looking down at me. I looked up and said, ‘Well, baby, you’re free now.’ Immediately his voice came right back to me—‘So are you’—because I had devoted a lot of time to making sure he was okay. He was at risk for falls because of his Parkinson’s disease. Several times I had come back home and found him on the floor. He was in a bad way. So I couldn’t leave the house except for essential things. And when I did, I came right back. My world had gotten smaller and smaller, and I had stopped going any place that wasn’t necessary. 

“My first thought after hearing Don’s voice was, ‘That’s true. I am free. I’m going to be able to do things now that I couldn’t do before.’ My second thought was, ‘Wait a minute! You can talk, and I can hear you.’”

Talking with Don

Bobby firmly believes in the afterlife, but he didn’t expect to be able to hear Don. “I asked his sister, ‘Are you hearing him?’ She said no. I asked his mother, ‘Are you hearing him?’ She said no. I said, ‘Well, I’m hearing him. He’s telling me things.’

“The next morning, at home, I walked into our bedroom and said, ‘If you can talk to me, then I have a question for you.’ Don said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘When I asked you to go on your own accord and not make me decide whether to unplug you, why didn’t you just go? Why didn’t you honor my request?’

“Don said, ‘That was my way of getting your buy-in. We always did the big decisions together. I wanted you to have a part in that decision and be supportive of the choice I made, because it was going to affect you for the rest of your life.’ I had instantaneous peace. His answer completely set me free.

“After a few days, I decided I would get out of the house for a walk. The tree in front of our house had just begun to bud when we had left to travel to the wedding. I had said to Don, ‘By the time we get home, that tree will be glorious in full bloom. I can’t wait for us to see it.’ 

“I walked out and looked up at the tree. It was glorious, a big, pink cloud of beautiful blooms. I said, ‘That tree is glorious, and I’m sorry you can’t be here to see it.’ He responded, ‘I can see it. It’s beautiful. That tree is going to be your connection to me.’ I named it a spirit tree because of that.

“Shortly thereafter, someone sent me a wind chime with Don’s name engraved on the little ringer that makes the chimes chime. I hung it from the tree. That is now his very special place.”

The Cardinal

Bobby started going on walks because he had not been able to get out the previous year. “They say that cardinals are red flags from the spirit world to alert you that someone on the other side is here and wants your attention. One day I walked around the loop in our neighborhood and was starting it a second time when I saw a cardinal sitting in a tree. As I continued walking, it hopped to the next tree and watched me. That kept happening.

“I looked up and saw fifteen to twenty cardinals following me from tree to tree around the loop. I said, ‘Okay. I know it’s you. How are you? And what do you want?’

“Don said, ‘I want you to paint a cardinal. A little one. And I want you to give it to my mom for the upcoming Mother’s Day from both of us.’

“I said, ‘Okay. Let me finish my walk first.’ And as I walked, I heard an audience in the back of my mind—chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter: excited conversations and whispers. It was like being backstage in a production waiting for the show to start and hearing the audience talking and chatting. They are all excited and can’t wait for the curtain to go up.

“Then I heard chairs being scooted forward. I said, ‘Don, what is this?’ He said, ‘I’ve told them all that you are going to paint. And they want to watch. It’s going to be a painting show. I want you to talk through your process while you’re painting, because they’re eager to watch.’

“I had not painted in a couple of years and didn’t know whether I had a canvas to paint on. I went to the closet and found an eleven by eleven canvas that Don had built. He had put the frame together and stretched and stapled the canvas. It was sitting on top of a box, as though it was supposed to be there.

“I got out my paints and started painting. And as I painted, I talked through the process: ‘I’m going to start back to front and make a tree branch first. I’m going to gray it out with some white, and then I’m going to bring the bird in. Don, I’m going to try to get your expression on the face of the cardinal so that people who know you can see your face in the painting.’ It took me an hour and a quarter to finish the painting.

“The whole time, I was hearing, ‘Oooh’ and “Ahhh.’ It felt as though someone had control of my hand, as though I wasn’t doing the painting, but that it was coming through me. I had never had that experience before. It was amazing to watch myself paint.

“When I was done, I said, ‘I’m done. I’ll give it to your mother.’ But Don said, ‘No. Before you give it to her, I want you to have a scan made of it so that you can make reproductions.’

“I thought, ‘Why am I making reproductions?’ Then my sister called, and I told her what had happened. She said, ‘I think you should sell the reproductions for a profit and make a huge donation to the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation.’ Michael J. Fox was a big television star who had to stop acting because he got Parkinson’s disease in his late thirties.

“That is what I have done. I paint over parts of each reproduction, so each one is a hand embellished print that has my energy and goodwill with it. As a result of selling them, I have been able to make a $3000 donation to the foundation.”

The Lockbox

Don took care of the financial things in their marriage. “He spared me from the adult responsibilities and let me be creative and crazy and musical and artistic and whatever else I wanted to be.

“All of our financial information was locked in his computer. He had just changed the password, and I didn’t know what it was. Plus, all of our personal and legal documents were in a lockbox, and I didn’t know where it was either. I had no recollection of moving it when we had last moved. It had his social security number, our marriage license, his will, and other important papers, so I couldn’t do the legal work that is required when someone dies.

“I asked Don where the lockbox was. He said, ‘Go down to the basement, turn left, and look up on the shelf, and there it will be.’ So I went down to the basement, turned left, looked up on the shelf, and there it was.

“Then I said, ‘It’s locked. Where is the key?’ He said, ‘I have a spare key—it’s on my key ring.’ So I went and dug up his key ring, and, sure enough, there was a little key that didn’t look as though it belonged with the rest of the keys. That was to the lockbox. I was able to do all of the paperwork I needed to do.”

The Painting of Don

Bobby used to sleep all night, but after Don died he began waking up in the middle of the night. “That’s when I hear a lot from Don. One time I told him that everyone down here is shedding tears for him, because that’s what we do on this side. I asked him what was happening up there. He replied that every time someone sheds a tear for him on earth, someone brings him a white rose. I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ So I told that at the memorial service in Atlanta, where we used to live.

Don said, ‘I want you to paint me how you see me now. I have reverted to when I felt the most beautiful and most strong. I look like I did when I was in my early thirties.’ I painted him surrounded with white roses, wearing his favorite piece of clothing—a brown leather jacket. The painting is his gift to me, and I’m not making prints of it.

“My sister called and said she thinks Don is empowering me from the other side and that my painting and music and everything I’m doing are going to get better and better. The painting came together in three days, and it looks exactly like Don. He said to me, ‘You’re going to find a new power in every creative thing you do.’

The Choir and a New Church

Bobby has started going to a little neighborhood church in South Bend. “They put a church creed up on a screen during their services, which everybody recites. It has a beautiful sentiment, but it doesn’t flow. It feels kind of clunky. Another time when I woke up in the middle of the night, I heard Don say, ‘You need to put that to music.’

“A song started forming in my mind, and by nine o’clock in the morning, the whole song was done. I played it for the choir director on a piano. She fell in love with it and taught it to the choir. It has become our choir benediction.

“Don had also pushed me to go to that church. I found out about it after I joined a community choir near the beginning of this past summer here in South Bend. Anyone can be in it, though most of the choir consists of music students from the University of Notre Dame with jaw-dropping talent. I thought I would be out of my league by being in the choir, so when I went the first time I sat on a bench outside the choir room for thirty minutes trying to convince myself to go in. When I walked in, I realized I could hold my own.

“When the community choir stopped at the end of the summer, the choir director told me he played the organ at a local Methodist church. ‘They’re very accepting and open. They wouldn’t care whether you had a husband or a wife. Plus, they are very service oriented. I think you would fit well in that church.’

“I didn’t want to go to it. Don said, ‘Well, you’re going.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to.’ He said, ‘You need to go. There’s something there for you. So go.’ I have been going to that church since the end of summer, and it is going very well.”

Still Present

Don never left Bobby, Bobby declares. “Don left his body, but he didn’t leave me. He just changed form. The only thing he left behind on that gurney was a broken body that was betraying him and refusing to cooperate. Day by day he could do less and less because of his Parkinson’s disease. His voice had dwindled to a whisper, and I would have to lean down to understand him. But his voice came back after he died. It is strong, and I can hear it exactly as it used to be. 

“Everything that made him the person I knew went with him—all of his power, his sense of humor, his wit. He is still my number one cheerleader. It has given me a profound sense that nothing is lost after we die. It’s simply recreated in another way.

“So in a way my life has not fallen apart. My continued experiences with Don have made me not fear death.” 

After Dying

Heaven is very much like earth, Bobby says, but “it is purified and glorified. It doesn’t have any of the problems that earth has. Don says that there are trees, rivers, mountains, and buildings in heaven, but that nothing is solid. You can put your hand through things, even though they appear solid. That’s why I painted the white roses with loose strokes in the painting of Don—I wanted them to be depict energy that was coming together to form a rose.

“There is no sense of time up there, Don says. He will turn around and there I’ll be. We’ll pick up where we left off. 

“I don’t feel ready to die at all. I still have a lot to do here. When I sense that I am finished, it’ll be my time to cross over.

“I have noticed that I get two reactions when I talk about all these things. I get people who want to know more. That is comforting, like giving them a drink of water when they’re thirsty. Other people shut down and don’t want to hear anything.

“One of my coworkers is like that. Spirituality is not part of her life: ‘What you see is what there is.’ And she doesn’t look deeply into much.

“At the memorial service for Don, I interpreted his favorite song in sign language—‘For Good’ from his favorite Broadway musical, Wicked. Don himself had been an interpreter at the church, and his favorite thing to interpret was that song. The gist of the song is that two people have changed each other’s life for the good, forever.

“The skeptical person was at the memorial service, because she had known Don before any of his health problems arose. ‘When you got up to sign,’ she told me, ‘Don stood behind you. I saw him with my eyes. He was about eight feet tall, and he was glowing. He enveloped you, and you disappeared. He was signing that song, and then he stepped back and allowed you to finish.’

“It shook her. It absolutely shook her. She still doesn’t know how to process it. She has talked to me about it several times and says that it has challenged her about what else we could experience if we were open to it.”

Being Open

That person’s experience encouraged Bobby to open up to what else there might be for him. “For the next phase of my life, it feels as though I am stepping into opportunities that are going to be daunting and scary, things I haven’t done before, which has made me apprehensive.

“I asked Don about that, and he said, ‘Your mistake is that you think you have to produce what happens next. But that’s not how it works. You have to step out of the way and let things come through you. They are all fully formed, and they’re flying by. All you have to do is reach up and pull them down and make them visible or audible on earth. That’s your only responsibility. The moment you think you have to dig down and produce them yourself, they are never going to happen.’

“What I’m realizing is that that’s the way it has always been. The things I’ve done that are lasting and important have come down through me. I didn’t originate them. That is very freeing to me, because the only thing I have to do is get out of the way. I can open myself up and allow what’s coming to come.

“Heaven knows what that’s going to be, but I don’t need to know. I just need to be available to what it is. That’s how the cardinal painting, the song, and the painting of Don came to be.

“If we are created in the image of God, then creativity is a divine attribute. It is born in us. When God spoke things into being, God had an idea and suddenly there was something. God didn’t wrestle with the idea. The something flowed naturally out of God’s idea.

“So I am eager and intrigued about what can happen with me out of the way, not agonizing and being anxious and worried about how I’m going to make things happen. I am going to use that energy to remove myself and let whatever comes come.”


It has been twenty years since Bobby was single. “Still, I have the peace that passes understanding that is mentioned in Philippians 4:7. I don’t think you can experience that unless you need it. You don’t possess it until you’re in a place where you have to have it.

“I asked Don about it, and he said, ‘Yes. It’s like a train ticket. You don’t need the ticket until you are about to get on the train. The peace that passes understanding is the ticket God gives to you right before you’re going to get on that train.'”

Text © 2023 by Cliff Williams

Images of paintings of the cardinal and Don © 2023 by Bobby Strickland
Image of Rudy, Bobby, and Don © 2023 by Olin Mills
Image of Bobby and Don © 2023 by Nancy Elledge

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