By Steve Erlanger
Happy New Year. It looks like 2012 is going to be a much better year.
On the business side of things, with the addition of Vernon and Chris Smith's leadership and support to our management team, Hometown News has made some great strides in several key areas. We also have some very exciting news we will be announcing soon.
On the personal side of things, anything would be better than the year my wife, my family and I have gone through this past year.
The year started with the passing of my father on Dec 23, a few days before 2011 began and then, of course, the terrible and tragic accident that took the life of my incredible 16-year- old son, Austin, in July.
The 150 days that have followed, have been sheer agony. There has not been one day that tears have not been shed by both my wife, Elaine, and myself. I know it has been tougher for her, as she was always proud of her status as a stay-at-home mom. Now she stays home, but stays there alone. I, on the other hand, am able to block the saddening thoughts throughout most of the day as I focus on the challenges and successes we have experienced here at the paper.
Everyday we spend time talking to Austin and praying to God that he is OK and doing the work that God took him to do.
We talk, but you always wonder if anyone is listening. Is there really something else after you leave your physical body? Is there really another chapter? You want to believe, but you always wonder if it is real or just religion's way of keeping people on the straight and narrow while we are here on earth.
Let me tell you of a couple of recent experiences that have taken those questions away from us and have pretty much given us hard-core proof that this life is just the beginning.
The first incident happened this past November. I had been having some chest pains. Not all the time but they would come at any time, last for anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes; very uncomfortable and somewhat painful. Being the tough guy that I am, I put off going to the doctor until it was happening so often that it was becoming a problem to do all the things that I needed to do.
I went in, had the first round of tests, and the doc said I better come back for another round as something didn't look right. The second round of tests led to a third visit to go in with the heart catheter to see exactly where the blockage was and to put in a stint. I didn't think of it as any real big deal. It runs in the family. My father had a pacemaker implanted in his late 40s.
The night before I went in, I had a talk with Austin and God. I don't want to go into details, but I would imagine it was pretty standard dialogue any of us would have in a situation like this. The next morning, Elaine took me to the hospital for the procedure. The doc was ready to go and even was bragging to the other doctors that he could tell them where the blockage was to save them some time. They put me under and slid the catheter up and into the heart. Much to the amazement of all the personnel in the room, there was no blockage, it was gone. The heart was pumping as pure as a newborn baby.
This gave me cause to pause. Did Austin and God fix my heart? I wanted to think so but...
Then it happened. The event so blatant, so obvious, in black and white, that it could not be explained away. Austin sent me a text. That's right. Austin texted me. Let me back up.
Friday night, Dec.23 Elaine and I were sitting on the back patio, watching TV and talking. Most evenings, at the end of the day, Elaine gets upset. She misses our son. She can look up to see his bedroom door where he would come out and lean over the railing to ask us a question or tell her he loved her. She was upset.
We talked about him for a few minutes and I tried to make her feel better. I then set my phone down on the patio table and went inside to get something out of our room. Inside the bedroom I continued to talk to Austin.
"Son, we love you. We wish you were here with us. Austin, you have to let your mom know you are OK. Come to her, do something, please just let her know you are OK."
I went back out to the patio and noticed the phone flashing that I had a message. I clicked on the message and saw that there was an attachment. I didn't recognize the number so I asked, "Elaine, do you know this number? (772) 559-2567."
She said, "That sounds so familiar" she paused, squinting her eyes as she dug deep in her brain for the owner of that number. Then she looked at me and said, "Steve, that is Austin's number."
What? What? Austin's number? Austin's phone has not had service for five months, his phone is in a zip bag under the counter. How could that be Austin's number?
There is a ton of strange things surrounding this miracle. The fact that it was sent to my email but never went to our email server, only my phone, was one of them. I could not open the attachment on my phone so I had to forward it to my email. I went inside to open the attachment on our computer.
Opening this attachment has changed our life and our outlook on the never-ending question, is there life after death?
I opened the attachment and was shocked to see that it was a picture of Austin's grandpa. His grandfather passed away last Dec. 23, one year to the day. This picture was pulled up attached to a "photo gallery" that resides on our computer. I clicked on the arrow to see the next picture. It was Austin. Nearly every other picture on this photo gallery was a picture of Austin, back when everything was OK. He let his mother know that he was OK, he let us know he was with grandpa.
Actually, the photo shows you what we first saw when the message came to the phone,
Was he telling us...I am good?
Just for the record. I went to the ATT store to see how this could have possibly happen. According to them, it couldn't. There is no service to that number. No one else has that number. That number does not exist, at least not in this world.