By Norris Burkes
Posted May 21, 2017

“Do you believe in signs?” asked Dr. William Nesbitt, the physician on our hospice team.

It’s a question I’m frequently asked, especially from the new-age Californians.

However, the doc isn’t new age. He’s a 66-year-old Evangelical with a fondness for writing stories he calls “Hospice Goosebumps.”

“That depends,” I said, reciting my rote theological position. “Do these signs point toward the God we know from Scripture or do they serve to assuage our own egos?”

He slapped his forehead to protest my academia and pointed to the chair opposite his. “Give me a minute to read my patient’s story. Then you be the judge.”

I slumped into the padded chair across from his as he began reading.

Theresa was torn.

Her mother, Jackie, lived in Ohio and was losing her battle with cancer. But here in California, her son was scheduled to graduate from high school. Theresa chaired the graduation committee, and plans for the ceremony were approaching a critical stage.

Theresa thought about it a few days. She couldn’t bear to be absent from her mom. Her mom wasn’t just her mother; she was her best friend. They had a special connection that was hard to explain.

Theresa picked up the phone to call her mom to say that she was dropping everything to come to see her one last time.

“Don’t you dare,” Jackie told Theresa, “You need to be there for your son. It would break my heart if you let him down.”

Then Jackie added a cryptic promise. “I’ll be at his graduation.”

“But Mom, you’re way too sick to travel.” Theresa said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Dad says you’re not likely to be alive on that day.”

“I’ll be there,” Jackie insisted. “Just look for the rainbow. I love you both so much. Don’t worry.” With that, Jackie hung up.

Theresa found her mom’s promise confusing, but wrote it off to Jackie’s ever-increasing doses of pain medication.

However, Theresa understood the rainbow reference. Her mom had been obsessed with rainbows ever since her trip to Hawaii. She used them to decorate rooms and even hung one from her car’s mirror.

Theresa promised herself that she’d call her mom again later, maybe between pain dosages when she might speak with more clarity.

Two days later at exactly 7:50 p.m., Theresa felt her mom die. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew.

The phone rang an hour later and Theresa skipped the formality of a hello.

“Dad — Mom’s gone, isn’t she?”

“Yes, how did you know?” he answered, not entirely surprised.

“I don’t know, but I felt something an hour ago.”

Between the sobs, Theresa promised her dad that she’d take the soonest flight after tomorrow’s ceremony.

The following day, as Theresa applied her makeup for the ceremony, she remembered what her mom had said about the rainbow. Impossible, she thought. It rarely rains in California in June. The forecast was predictably clear, with no hint of rainbows.

Graduation went off as smoothly as she’d planned except for one thing — a rare meteorological occurrence called a “sun dog.”

These phenomena occur when ice crystals in the upper atmosphere refract a spot of sunlight into … a rainbow fragment. My friends in the U.S. Air Force weather squadron tell me the event is technically a halo and not a rainbow, but they can be every bit as colorful.

Grandma kept her word.

Nesbit looked up from his text.

“So, was that a sign, chaplain?”

I didn’t answer. I was too choked up.

“Ha!” Nesbitt concluded, “Maybe that’s a sign that neither the chaplain nor the doctor knows everything.”

Read Norris’ past columns at Write him at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.