I stood there. In the middle of the driveway. On the day my father died. Neighbors had come out of their homes, drawn to the scene by the flashing lights and siren screams of the ambulance. We all watched in silence as the paramedics carried my Papà’s lifeless body out the front door of our home. Summer had just started. We had just celebrated Father’s Day the weekend prior. I had given him what he had hinted at for days: A gas-powered hedge trimmer. He was using it in his vegetable garden that very morning. Before he fell. Before the massive heart attack. Before I called 911. Before.

I thought about what came before. I was a 25-year old unmarried Sicilian daddy’s girl still living at home. Papà still waited up for me to return from a night out, no matter the hour. I welcomed it, as much as I resented it. But Papà loved hearing about where I had been and what I had done, sometimes, sharing his own escapades from his youth. Just days before, as we swapped stories, our cordless phone began chattering, picking up signals from who knows where. We laughed and tried to decipher the unknown voices and bits of others’ conversations being transmitted.

Sono gli spiriti,” my father joked.

Spirits? You don’t really believe in that, do you?”

Papà smiled and shrugged, “Never you know.”

Then, for no known reason, I asked him, “Are you afraid to die?”

Without hesitation, my Papà shook his head and said, “No, baby girl.” He told me he had lived a great life. He told me he was looking forward to what came next. He then asked me, “Do you want me to come back and tell you what it’s like?

I jokingly responded without giving it much thought, “Sure, just don’t scare me when you do, okay?

Now here we were. After the life that came before. And I wondered. “What next?” This man who meant the world to me no longer was in it. No longer could I feel his light, his energy. It felt as if the world just kept on carrying on, oblivious to the loss of my Papà and the emptyness that filled his space.

In the days that followed, I returned to work. I pretended everything was fine. I kept my grief in check and waited until I was alone in my car to cry. I didn’t understand why I could no longer feel him. I felt so alone. I didn’t know how I could go on. As I drove along the crowded highway, I wailed out loud, “Where are you? You said you’d come back. Give me a sign that you’re still somewhere.”

As I funneled my way into a lane for the toll booth, a car suddenly appeared, wedging its way ahead of me in line. I slammed on my breaks to avoid rear-ending it, and that’s when I saw the license plate. I blinked away my tears and focused on the letters:


As quickly as the car appeared, it disappeared. But in that moment, an immediate sense of peace and knowing filled me. I got what I needed. My Papà had answered me. I once again could feel his presence. And I suddenly just knew that what came next was a new adventure. And Papà was having the time of his (after)life.

That day was the first time I got an answer via a license plate. But it wasn’t the last. While I may have feared death or doubted the possibility of there even being an afterlife before, my grief gave birth to a new perspective on what may come next. It’s nothing to be feared, and it has given me a sense that, no matter what, I’m never alone. And that all important life we loved is never really gone. Wherever my Papà is in his after life, whenever I’m feeling lost or discouraged or wondering, “What’s next?” all I need do is ask the question, and without fail, he sends a message loud and clear to me – yes, on a license plate.

It’s happened so often that these unexpected encounters are now expected (and photographed).


  • Paolina Milana

    Storyteller, Creative Content Producer, Author, Life Coach at MadnessToMagic.com

    Madness To Magic

    Paolina Milana is first-generation Sicilian. She was raised by a mom who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and then raised her younger sister, also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Paolina shares her stories of mental health and of resiliency in her first book THE S WORD (SheWritesPress, 2015) which won an excellence award, and in her upcoming COMMITTED: A Memoir of Madness in The Family scheduled to publish May of 2021. With roots in journalism, PR, media &amp; marketing, Paolina has enjoyed a long career as an executive in communications. She is the founder of "Madness To Magic" - providing career coaching, writing coaching, and life coaching primarily to accomplished "plate-spinning" women who find themselves surrounded by madness and who need a little help finding the magic within. She also produces a podcast called "I'm with Crazy: A Love Story" available on iTunes and SoundCloud. Connect with Paolina at&nbsp;[email protected].<br></p>