Daddy's deer

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Several years ago, I wrote a column about finding a penny on tails at the end of a truly terrible day.

A reader called the next day and asked if anyone in my life had passed away recently. Her thinking was that it could have been a penny from heaven, a sign that someone was still looking out for me.

At the time, it had been well over a decade since I had lost a loved one. While I appreciated the thought, I felt confident that my initial impression was correct and I had just encountered a physical symbol of the bad luck I had had that day.

By nature, I am neither a superstitious person nor a seeker of signs, but I find it easy to believe in them when I need them.

Since Daddy's death, deer have been the sign that he's still with me.

It started the day of his service. Zac and Wyatt arrived at the funeral home later than I did. When they got there, Zac told me they had seen three deer on the way. 

I immediately thought of Daddy, my grandfather and Daddy's firstborn daughter, with whom he now shares a death date. They were together again for the first time in 35 years. Even though I didn't see the deer, it felt like a sign meant for me.

We saw a lot of deer this summer and fall, usually around our family cabin on the river where Zac, Wyatt and I went to escape for a few hours every week.

I had already started calling them Daddy's deer when I did a little research into full moons.

One of my most vivid memories of the night he died is walking outside and realizing as I looked up at a full moon that I no longer had a father on this earth. That was the moment that I felt my life being divided into two — before and after this night.

It turns out that the full moon I saw is called the buck moon because it's the time of year that bucks start getting their antlers.

After that, I knew in my heart that they were Daddy's deer.

I incorporated some deer into my Christmas decorations this year and I watched "Prancer," one of his favorite movies. For those who don't know, the movie is much grittier than most Christmas movies and isn't really about the reindeer. At its heart, it is a father-daughter story. That's how I've always seen it and certainly how I'll view it from now on.

The holidays were what they were this year. As many people have told me, the first ones are hard, but you just have to get through them. 

I was doing pretty good on Christmas, though I did have a bad moment before we loaded up in the car for a drive. I forgot something and turned the car around so we could go back and get it. 

I was one street away from our street when I saw a deer standing in the road. It didn't run off immediately like deer normally do.

I stopped and then inched the car forward. By this time, the deer had gotten out of the road, but it had stopped and turned around to face me. 

I took a picture to remind me that Daddy sent a deer just for me at Christmas.

I know a lot of our readers are grieving a loss from 2020. The calendar may have turned for most people, but we can't be done with 2020 as easy as that. We left a piece of our hearts back there.

I have no platitudes to offer. What happened to us and what happened to other families was unfair, ugly and unforgivable.

It's a hard, hard thing. But sometimes, if you're open to it, there are signs to point the way forward. 

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Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.