Unformatted text preview: Dedication
For Debbie, a virtuoso with the telephone,
whose voice we miss every day Contents
The Week It Happened
The Second Week
The Third Week
The Fourth Week
The Fifth Week
The Sixth Week
Four Days Later
The Seventh Week
Three Days Later
The Eighth Week
The Ninth Week
Four Days Later
The Tenth Week
The Eleventh Week
One Day Later
The Twelfth Week
Two Days Later
The Thirteenth Week
The Fourteenth Week
The Fifteenth Week
The Sixteenth Week
The Day of the Broadcast
The Next Day
Two Days Later
Two Months Later
Tell Your Friends! Author’s Note
About the Author
Also by Mitch Albom
About the Publisher The Week It Happened
On the day the world received its first phone call from heaven, Tess Rafferty was unwrapping a box of tea bags.
She ignored the ring and dug her nails into the plastic.
She clawed her forefinger through the bumpy part on the side.
Finally, she made a rip, then peeled off the wrapping and scrunched it
in her palm. She knew the phone would go to answering machine if she
didn’t grab it before one more— Drrnnn—
“Ach, this thing,” she mumbled. She heard the machine click on her
kitchen counter as it played her outgoing message.
“Hi, it’s Tess. Leave your name and number. I’ll get back to you as
soon as I can, thanks.”
A small beep sounded. Tess heard static. And then.
“It’s Mom. . . . I need to tell you something.”
Tess stopped breathing. The receiver fell from her fingers.
Her mother died four years ago.
The second call was barely audible over a boisterous police station
argument. A clerk had hit the lottery for $28,000 and three officers were
debating what they’d do with such luck.
“You pay your bills.”
“That’s what you don’t do.”
“Pay your bills.” “Not me.”
Jack Sellers, the police chief, backed up toward his small office. “If
you pay your bills, you just rack up new bills,” he said. The men continued
arguing as he reached for the phone.
“Coldwater Police, Sellers speaking.”
Static. Then a young man’s voice.
“Dad? . . . It’s Robbie.”
Suddenly Jack couldn’t hear the other men.
“Who the hell is this?”
“I’m happy, Dad. Don’t worry about me, OK?”
Jack felt his stomach tighten. He thought about the last time he’d seen
his son, clean shaven with a soldier’s tight haircut, disappearing through
airport security en route to his third tour of duty.
His last tour of duty.
“It can’t be you,” Jack whispered.
Pastor Warren wiped saliva from his chin. He’d been napping on his
couch at the Harvest of Hope Baptist Church.
He struggled to his feet. The church had installed a bell outside his
office, because at eighty-two, his hearing had grown weak.
“Pastor, it’s Katherine Yellin. Hurry, please!”
He hobbled to the door and opened it.
But she was already past him, her coat half buttoned, her reddish hair
frazzled, as if she’d dashed out of the house. She sat on the couch, rose
nervously, then sat again.
“Please know I’m not crazy.”
“Diane called me.”
“Who called you?”
“Diane.” Warren’s head began to hurt.
“Your deceased sister called you?”
“This morning. I picked up the phone . . .”
She gripped her handbag and began to cry. Warren wondered if he
should call someone for help.
“She told me not to worry,” Katherine rasped. “She said she was at
“This was a dream, then?”
“No! No! It wasn’t a dream! I spoke to my sister!”
Tears fell off the woman’s cheeks, dropping faster than she could wipe
“We’ve talked about this, dear—”
“I know, but—”
“You miss her—”
“And you’re upset.”
“No, Pastor! She told me she’s in heaven. . . . Don’t you see?”
She smiled, a beatific smile, a smile Warren had never seen on her face
“I’m not scared of anything anymore,” she said.
A security bell sounded, and a heavy prison gate slid across a track. A
tall, broad-shouldered man named Sullivan Harding walked slowly, a step
at a time, head down. His heart was racing—not at the excitement of his
liberation, but at the fear that someone might yank him back.
Forward. Forward. He kept his gaze on the tips of his shoes. Only when
he heard approaching noise on the gravel—light footsteps, coming fast—
did he look up.
He felt two small arms wrap around his legs, felt his hands sink into a
mop of the boy’s curly hair. He saw his parents—mother in a navy
windbreaker, father in a light brown suit—their faces collapsing as they
fell into a group embrace. It was chilly and gray and the street was slick
with rain. Only his wife was missing from the moment, but her absence
was like a character in it. Sullivan wanted to say something profound, but all that emerged from
his lips was a whisper: “Let’s go.”
Moments later, their car disappeared down the road.
It was the day the world received its first phone call from heaven.
What happened next depends on how much you believe. The Second Week
A cool, misting rain fell, which was not unusual for September in
Coldwater, a small town geographically north of certain parts of Canada
and just a few miles from Lake Michigan.
Despite the chilly weather, Sullivan Harding was walking. He could
have borrowed his father’s car, but after ten months of confinement, he
preferred the open air. Wearing a ski cap and an old suede jacket, he passed
the high school he’d attended twenty years ago, the lumberyard that had
closed last winter, the bait and tackle shop, its rental rowboats stacked like
clamshells, and the gas station where an attendant leaned against a wall,
examining his fingernails. My hometown, Sullivan thought.
He reached his destination and wiped his boots on a thatched mat that
read DAVIDSON & SONS. Noticing a small camera above the doorframe, he
instinctively yanked off his cap, swiped at his thick brown hair, and looked
into the lens. After a minute with no response, he let himself in.
The warmth of the funeral home was almost smothering. Its walls were
paneled in dark oak. A desk with no chair held an open sign-in book.
“Can I help you?”
The director, a tall, thinly boned man with pallid skin, bushy eyebrows,
and wispy hair the color of straw, stood with his hands crossed. He
appeared to be in his late sixties.
“I’m Horace Belfin,” he said.
Ah yes, Sully thought, the one who missed his wife’s funeral because he
was in prison. Sully did this now, finished unfinished sentences, believing
that the words people do not speak are louder than the ones they do.
“Giselle was my wife.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” “It was a lovely ceremony. I imagine the family has told you.”
“I am the family.”
They stood in silence.
“Her remains?” Sully said.
“In our columbarium. I’ll get the key.”
He went to his office.
Sully lifted a brochure off a table. He opened it to a paragraph about
Cremated remains can be sprinkled at sea, placed in a helium balloon, scattered from an
airplane . . . Sully tossed the brochure back. Scattered from an airplane. Even God
couldn’t be that cruel.
Twenty minutes later, Sully left the building with his wife’s ashes in an
angel-shaped urn. He tried carrying it one-handed, but that felt too casual.
He tried cradling it in his palms, but that felt like an offering. He finally
clasped it to his chest, arms crossed, the way a child carries a book bag. He
walked this way for half a mile through the Coldwater streets, his heels
splashing through rainwater. When he came upon a bench in front of the
post office, he sat down, placing the urn carefully beside him.
The rain finished. Church bells chimed in the distance. Sully closed his
eyes and imagined Giselle nudging against him, her sea-green eyes, her
licorice-black hair, her thin frame and narrow shoulders that, leaned
against Sully’s body, seemed to whisper, Protect me.
He hadn’t, in the end. Protected her. That would never change. He sat
on that bench for a long while, fallen man, porcelain angel, as if the two of
them were waiting for a bus.
The news of life is carried via telephone. A baby’s birth, a couple engaged,
a tragic accident on a late-night highway—most milestones of the human
journey, good or bad, are foreshadowed by the sound of ringing.
Tess sat on her kitchen floor now, waiting for that sound to come again.
For the past two weeks, her phone had been carrying the most stunning news of all. Her mother existed, somewhere, somehow. She reviewed the
latest conversation for the hundredth time.
“Tess . . . Stop crying, darling.”
“It can’t be you.”
“I’m here, safe and sound.”
Her mother always said that when she called in from a trip—a hotel, a
spa, even a visit to her relatives half an hour away. I’m here, safe and
“This isn’t possible.
“Everything is possible. I am with the Lord. I want to tell you about . .
“What? Mom? What?”
The line went silent. Tess stared at the receiver as if holding a human
bone. It was totally illogical. She knew that. But a mother’s voice is like
no other; we recognize every lilt and whisper, every warble or shriek.
There was no doubt. It was her.
Tess drew her knees in to her chest. Since the first call, she had
remained inside, eating only crackers, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, whatever
she had in the house. She hadn’t gone to work, hadn’t gone shopping,
hadn’t even gotten the mail.
She ran a hand through her long, unwashed blond hair. A shut-in to a
miracle? What would people say? She didn’t care. A few words from
heaven had rendered all the words on earth inconsequential.
Jack Sellers sat by his desk inside the converted redbrick house that served
as headquarters for the Coldwater Police Department. It appeared to his
coworkers that he was typing up reports. But he, too, was waiting for a
It had been the most bizarre week of his life. Two calls from his dead
son. Two conversations he thought he would never have again. He still
hadn’t told his ex-wife, Doreen, Robbie’s mother. She had fallen into
depression and teared up at the mere mention of his name. What would he
say to her? That their boy, killed in battle, was now alive somewhere? That
the portal to heaven sat on Jack’s desk? Then what?
Jack himself had no clue what to make of this. He only knew that each
time that phone rang, he grabbed for it like a gunslinger. His second call, like the first, had come on a Friday afternoon. He
heard static, and an airy noise that rose and fell.
“It’s me, Dad.”
“I’m OK, Dad. There’s no bad days here.”
“Where are you?”
“You know where I am. Dad, it’s awesome—”
Then a click.
Jack screamed, “Hello? Hello?” He noticed the other officers looking
over. He shut the door. A minute later, the phone rang again. He checked
the caller ID bar. As with the previous times, it read UNKNOWN.
“Hello?” he whispered.
“Tell Mom not to cry. . . . If we knew what comes next, we never would
Once you have a sister, you never stop having her, even if you can no
longer see or touch her.
Katherine Yellin lay back on the bed, her red hair flattening against the
pillow. She crossed her arms and squeezed the salmon-pink flip phone that
had once belonged to Diane. It was a Samsung model, with a glitter sticker
of a high-heeled shoe on the back, a symbol of Diane’s love for fashion.
It’s better than we dreamed, Kath.
Diane had said that in her second call, which, like the first—like all
these strange calls to Coldwater—had come on a Friday. Better than we
dreamed. The word Katherine most loved in that sentence was we.
The Yellin sisters had a special bond, like tethered children scaling
small-town life together. Diane, older by two years, had walked Katherine
to school each day, paved the way for her in Brownies and Girl Scouts, got
her braces off when Katherine got hers on, and refused, at high school
dances, to take the floor until Katherine had someone to dance with too.
Both sisters had long legs, strong shoulders, and could swim a mile in the
lake during the summer. Both attended the local community college. They
cried together when their parents died. When Diane married, Katherine
was her maid of honor; three Junes later, the positions were reversed. Each
had two kids—girls for Diane, boys for Katherine. Their houses were a
mile apart. Even their divorces fell within a year of one another. Only in health had they diverged. Diane had endured migraines, an
irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and the sudden aneurysm that
killed her at the too-young age of forty-six. Katherine was often described
as “never sick a day in her life.”
For years, she’d felt guilty about this. But now she understood. Diane
—sweet, fragile Diane—had been called for a reason. She’d been chosen
by the Lord to show that eternity waits for the faithful.
It’s better than we dreamed, Kath.
Katherine smiled. We. Through the pink flip phone she held to her
chest, she had rediscovered the sister she could never lose.
And she would not be silent about it. The Third Week
You have to start over. That’s what they say. But life is not a board game, and losing a loved one is never really “starting over.” More like
Sully’s wife was gone. She’d died after a long coma. According to the
hospital, she slipped away during a thunderstorm on the first day of
summer. Sully was still in prison, nine weeks from release. When they
informed him, his entire body went numb. It was like learning of the
earth’s destruction while standing on the moon.
He thought about Giselle constantly now, even though every thought
brought with it the shadow of their last day, the crash, the fire, how
everything he’d known changed in one bumpy instant. Didn’t matter. He
draped himself in her sad memory, because it was the closest thing to
having her around. He placed the angel urn on a shelf by a couch where
Jules, two months shy of his seventh birthday, lay sleeping.
Sully sat down, slumping into the chair. He was still adjusting to
freedom. You might think that after ten months in prison, a man would
bask in liberation. But the body and mind grow accustomed to conditions,
even terrible ones, and there were still moments when Sully stared at the
walls, as listless as a captive. He had to remind himself he could get up
and go out.
He reached for a cigarette and looked around this cheap, unfamiliar
apartment, a second-story walk-up, heated by a radiator furnace. Outside
the window was a cluster of pine trees and a small ravine that led to a
stream. He remembered catching frogs there as a kid.
Sully had returned to Coldwater because his parents had been taking
care of Jules during his trial and incarceration, and he didn’t want to
disrupt the boy’s life any more than he already had. Besides, where would
he go? His job and home were gone. His money had been depleted by
lawyers. He watched two squirrels chase each other up a tree and kidded himself that Giselle might have actually liked this place, once she got past
the location, the size, the dirt, and the peeling paint.
A knock broke Sully’s concentration. He looked through the peephole.
Mark Ashton stood on the other side, holding two grocery bags.
Mark and Sully had been navy squadron mates; they flew jets together.
Sully hadn’t seen him since the sentencing.
“Hey,” Mark said when the door opened.
“Hey,” Sully replied.
“Nice place—if you’re a terrorist.”
“You drove up from Detroit?”
“Yeah. Gonna let me in?”
They shared a quick, awkward hug, and Mark followed Sully into the
main room. He saw Jules on the couch and lowered his voice.
“I got him some Oreos. All kids like Oreos, right?”
Mark laid the bags between unpacked boxes on the kitchen counter. He
noticed an ashtray full of cigarette butts and several glasses in the sink—
small glasses, the kind you fill with alcohol, not water.
“So . . . ,” he said.
Without the bags in his hands, Mark had no distraction. He looked at
Sully’s face—Sully, his old flying partner, whose boyish looks and
openmouthed expression suggested the ready-to-go high school football
star he once had been, only thinner and older now, especially around the
“This the town you grew up in?”
“Now you know why I left.”
“How are you getting by?”
“Look. It’s awful. What happened with Giselle . . .”
“I thought they’d let you out for the funeral.”
“‘Navy rules rule the navy.’”
“It was a nice service.” “I heard.”
“As far as the rest . . .”
Sully glanced up.
“The hell with it,” Mark said. “People know.”
They know you went to prison, Sully thought, finishing the unfinished
sentence. They don’t know if you deserved it.
“I tried to come see you.”
“Didn’t want to be seen.”
“It was weird for the guys.”
“Let’s drop it, OK? I already said what happened. A million times.
They believed something else. End of story.”
Sully stared at his hands and punched his knuckles together.
“What are you planning next?” Mark asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I know a guy near here. College roommate. I called him.”
Sully stopped punching his knuckles.
“You called before you saw me?”
“You’re gonna need money. He might have a job.”
“I’m not a salesman.”
“It’s easy. All you do is sign customers back up, collect a check, and
get a commission.”
“What kind of business?”
Sully blinked. “You’re kidding, right?” He thought about all the
newspapers that had written about his “incident,” how quickly they had
jumped to the easiest, fastest conclusion, reprinting each other’s words
until they had devoured him, then moving on to the next story. He’d hated
the news ever since. Never paid for another newspaper, and never would.
“It lets you stay around here,” Mark said.
Sully went to the sink. He rinsed out a glass. He wished Mark would
go, so he could fill it with what he wanted. “Give me his number, I’ll call him,” Sully said, knowing full well he
Tess sat cross-legged on soft red cushions and stared out the bay window
to the large front lawn, which hadn’t been mowed in weeks. This was the
house she had grown up in; she remembered, as a child, curling in this
very spot on summer mornings, whining to her mother, Ruth, who sat at a
bridge table, reviewing her paperwork, rarely looking up.
“I’m bored,” Tess would say.
“Try going outside,” Ruth would mumble.
“There’s nothing to do.”
“Do nothing outside.”
“I wish I had a sister.”
“Sorry, can’t help you.”
“You could if you got married.”
“I was already married.”
“There’s nothing to do.”
“Try reading a book.”
“I read all the books.”
“Read them again.”
On and on they went, a jousting conversation that in some form
repeated itself through adolescence, college, adulthood, right up until
Ruth’s final years, when Alzheimer’s robbed her of her words, and
ultimately of the desire to speak at all. Ruth spent her final months in a
stony silence, staring at her daughter with her head tilted, the way a child
stares at a fly.
But now, somehow, they were talking again, as if death had been an
airplane flight that Tess thought Ruth had taken but later found out she’d
missed. An hour earlier, they’d shared another inexplicable phone call.
“It’s me, Tess.”
“Oh, God, Mom. I still can’t believe this.”
“I always told you I’d find a way.”
Tess smiled through tears, remembering how her mother, a health food
devotee, used to joke that even dead, she’d make sure Tess was taking her
“You were so sick, Mom.”
“But there is no pain here.” “You suffered so much—”
“Honey, listen to me.”
“I’m here. I’m listening.”
“The pain you go through in life doesn’t really touch you . . . not the
real you. . . . You are so much lighter than you think.”
Just the words brought Tess a blessed calmness now. You are so much
lighter than you think. She glanced at the photo in her hands, the last photo
of them together, taken at her mother’s eighty-third birthday party. You
could see the price the illness had exacted—Ruth’s hollowed cheek...
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