For a long time, I believed rainbows were just rainbows. I also believed happy endings existed and good husbands and fathers lived long lives. Then cancer entered our lives, my husband’s brain, and I stopped believing all of it.
For the entirety of our relationship, my husband was my soft landing. I knew if he couldn’t catch me before I hit rock bottom, he’d soften the fall. He’d be my safe place. I knew, from the very beginning of our relationship, that was something to be treasured. That it was something many people never found.
I never worried about rock bottoms or hard landings with him. But then he died, and I found myself hovering perilously close to rock bottom so often. That’s not surprising. Life as a young widow and solo parent is exhausting on a good day, something beyond words on a bad day.
On those days, those days when the jagged edges of rock bottom threaten deepest, my husband sends a sign. Sometimes two. A rainbow, whenever I’m in desperate need of a soft landing.
The first important thing to note is that I didn’t arbitrarily decide that every rainbow I saw was a sign. Rainbows followed us during his entire battle with brain cancer.
They started on November 15, 2016–the day we received the results of his first post-treatment MRI. That afternoon, a rainbow arced over my neighborhood. I took a picture and sent it in a text message to my husband. I told him that this was our sign—everything will be okay.
It was okay. That day.
The MRI on November 15, 2016 was clear. The brain tumor my husband had been diagnosed with five months prior had not returned after a surgery to remove it, and a round of radiation and chemotherapy to destroy whatever had been left behind.
Horror cut our celebration short. Just three months later, a new tumor appeared, and our nightmare began again—full speed, no stops.
But we still had rainbows. On July 3, 2017, a MRI revealed a third tumor, a third mass, a third spot marring an otherwise clean MRI. That day, devastated and heartbroken, we sat at a restaurant and wondered whether we had any fight left.
Clouds darkened the sky. Rain poured down. And then the sun broke through.
A rainbow appeared. Then another. Then another.
Three rainbows for three tumors on July third. I told my husband this is our sign. Just like before. Three tumors, three rainbows, and we’re done. He took out his phone after I said that and called his mother. He told her, “Elaine said, ‘Three tumors, three rainbows, and we’re done.'” I’ll never forget how hopeful he sounded.
He died less than a year after his doctors found that third tumor, less than a year after three rainbows brightened the darkened sky.
Rainbows and hope weren’t enough to save him. As it turns out, terminal brain cancer is a formidable opponent and no amount of good vibes can cure it.
But for the twenty months he fought that cancer, rainbows were our sign for hope.
Scratch that. Rainbows are our sign for hope. Because I’m still getting rainbows in the moments I most need hope. On the three month anniversary of the day he died, a rainbow lit up the entire sky. A rainbow sliced across my driveway on the six month anniversary of his death, too. There was a rainbow in a puddle at my daughter’s feet on her first day of sleep away camp, a rainbow on my husband’s first birthday after his death day. and a double rainbow after I finished unpacking the last box after we (my children and I) moved out of our forever home and into our new-start home.
The second important thing to note is that I’m not religious. My religious beliefs are complicated, to put it mildly. They were before my husband died, and even more so after. (Telling my children their father died, watching them walk behind a casket at his funeral—the memories alone make thoughts of religion feel gnarled.)
But I do believe in something: the universe. I believe the universe sends signs. I believe my husband’s energy sends me signs.
On a day when the weight of widowhood and solo parenting had me (literally) in tears on the sidewalk, a rainbow spanned the entire sky on an otherwise bright and sunny day. That rainbow had no business being anywhere in a cloudless sky—and yet it was.
Someone more rational than me could argue that the rainbow appeared because there was some moisture in the sky. Maybe. But I will never not believe that the rainbow appeared because my husband knew I needed him…and that was his way of giving me him. His way of reminding me that I wasn’t in this alone, and he was still my—our—soft landing.
Another more rational person might argue that the rainbows are coincidence—that I notice them more when I’m looking for them. That coincidence is at play. Sounds reasonable. The universe, my late husband, sending signs is a little “woo-woo,” if you know what I mean.
But I don’t care. I’ll take woo-woo and irrational and unreasonable, all of it, because it brings me comfort and makes me feel less alone.
I’ll take woo-woo, if it means believing he’s here, in some small way, even if it’s just a trick of the light.