I was helping myself to homemade strudel at the shiva for my friend’s mother. My friend’s son, whom I’d never met before, appeared at my side and introduced himself.
“I understand you do improv,” he said. “Someone on the couch just told me.”
“I used to. And I understand you do stand-up.”
“Yes, I do. So, you’re no longer doing improv?”
I shook my head. “Not anymore.”
“Why not, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I had a couple of tragedies,” I said.
The young man turned sideways and looked at me. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. I used to be funny. And now I don’t even laugh,” I said.
We chatted briefly about the vast difference between standup and improv, admitting that neither of us could do the other, and he made several witty remarks.
“See,” I said, “I do still chuckle occasionally. But I used to be famous for falling on the floor laughing. On a regular basis.”
The young man’s eyes were so filled with compassion that I spoke without considering. “I lost my son to suicide.”
Before he could respond, a woman approached him. “Did Marla make that strudel?”
I was grateful for the distraction (and the strudel, it was out of this world).
That night while trying to sleep, I kept returning to that conversation with the stand-up. As a lonely child, I’d used humor to snag my friends’ adoration. The more they laughed, the more I loved them. Wondering in the dark if that ability would ever return after my son Colin’s death, I did realize that at least I could still feel delight. I thought about the different things that sparked it: My garden bed of red bee balm. My granddaughter declaring that her favorite color is space. My chihuahua rolling on the grass like Snoopy. Hearing live slide guitar.
And the dimes.
They began to appear shortly after the loss of my son. Sometimes in plain sight, but more often in the most unlikely of places, a dime would appear.
The first one plopped on a prescription bag of valium that was resting on my passenger seat. I was at the drive-thru pharmacy that my son used and valium was his favorite drug. This one felt a little on the nose.
But soon there were more: under my kitchen sponge, on the woodwork above my son’s childhood closet door, inside a Billie Holiday album (he thanked me often for turning him on to the singer when he was 5), under a lettuce leaf in the garden, on the hotel floor by my bed in Amsterdam, under a stack of cat food cans, in the middle of a book about Lenny Bruce that hadn’t been opened in years, inside the bag of Passover plague finger puppets.
The list goes on and on and on. I’ve received 452 dimes since that horrific day on April 7, 2017 (as you can guess I hate the number 7). Sometimes three weeks will go by with no dimes, and then I panic. Has he moved on to another realm? A couple of times there have been five in one day. So then I wonder, will he be sitting at the kitchen table eating salad in my chartreuse cereal bowls just to annoy me as he always did?
Because yes, the dimes absolutely feel like a message from my son.
If you Google “dimes after someone passes,” there are numerous accounts of this happening to people. Apparently, they are a message to “pay attention, trust your instincts and intuition.”
We Jews don’t define life after death. There are references to angels in the Talmud, but were they hysterically funny, massively creative gay men who struggled with bipolar disorder and HIV? Maybe. Did they sprinkle shekels for their mothers or bestow them with oil or honey? Anything is possible, I suppose.
When I thanked a friend on Facebook for initially informing me about the dimes phenomenon, he messaged me back a few minutes later to say that he went outside on his lunch break after reading my message. A dime was right on the bench where he always sat.
Dimes don’t appear in Jewish folklore, but there is a Hebrew word, nistarot, which refers to the secret things that God wants to keep away from ordinary human beings. So I won’t question my dimes. They don’t cause me to fall on the floor laughing. But I do chuckle every time, and they fill me with so much delight that I press each and every one to my lips and say out loud, “Thank you, Colin Danny.”