This story comfortably lands in many categories:   

         It’s a Small, Small World
            Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Separation
           Are you kidding me?
            And my personal favorite:

If two points are destined to Touch,
The Universe will always find a way to make the connection

I received an email last November with the subject: Sent by Rabbi Regina

I don’t know many Rabbis and only one by the name of Regina.   That would  be Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips from Brooklyn who so beautifully, and surprisingly, reached out to us darn near one year earlier with that magical never-before-seen-photo of Jimmy and James Powell.

We did not know Regina, and she had only met Jimmy the one time when they were together in 2005 at Auschwitz-Birkenau for the Zen Peacekeeper Bearing Witness retreat led by my brother. 

In her quest to connect thirteen years later with others on that retreat, including Jimmy and James, she was beyond saddened to learn Jimmy had been tragically struck and killed by an automobile in 2008.  She had also found and read the story about The Letter from my father and was compelled to reach out to us. 

I first connected with James Powell in London at the urging of my psychologist, Dr. A, seven days after the letter from my father finally reached my hands. 

That was November 15, 2008—ten years to the day of Rabbi Regina reaching out to me and sending the photo of the James boys.


Her compassionate and heart-felt condolences ten years later were no less comforting, moving and welcome. 

That story is told in When Is It Too Late to Send A Condolence Card?

[Short Answer: Never]

I opened the email with abundant curiosity and anticipation.

Hello Casey, 

We have never met, but I have a quick story to tell you.

This past weekend we were in Brooklyn, New York’s Prospect Park for a tree planting and bench dedication for my daughter Erica.

Erica passed away suddenly in an accident in Brooklyn on August 30, 2011.

Prospect Park Brooklyn

We were finally able to do this in her honor and, with a collection of friends and family around, we planted a Serviceberry tree, decorated a protective fence surrounding the tree, and placed a picture of Erica on the fence. 

The following day, my wife Donna, our good friend Karen and I wanted to take a walk over to sit on the bench, and just enjoy the cool sunny day. We stopped to get coffee and slowly strolled into the park.

As we were approaching Erica’s tree, we noticed someone stopped at the tree, reading the sign and looking at her picture.  As we got closer, I said “Hello,” but she had already turned and was walking away.  However, Karen was bolder and called out:

 ‘What do you think of the tree?’

Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips

Well, by now you must know that person was Rabbi Regina. She said that she had not noticed this tree before. The sign was moving to her, and the picture of Erica was very nice.

From there she let us do most of the talking, about Erica and her life, and death, and also about the magic that Erica brings when we are around the place of her passing. 

Erica Abbott

Rabbi Regina suggested we look up a blog Write Me Something Beautiful

Well, you now know that I took her advice…in my mind…relayed through our daughter Erica.

After reading some of your stories on the plane ride back to San Diego…yes, I too live in S.D… I decided to write you. 

I find in your stories the patterns that I experienced….dealing with friends and family…and the expression of grief…that never leaves us, even after our 8 years.

But we cherish the signs Erica sends along to let us know she is still here with us.

I know meeting Rabbi Regina in that park was totally random in most people’s minds…

But you and I both know that experiences happen that are meant to be…the signposts they leave for us…to assure us they are still here.

Here is a photo Erica’s best friend, Carolyn, sent us as she was walking through the park looking for the spot for the tree planting.

Erica: Park Bench

Thanks for listening

The tears were now in complete free fall and goosebumps had taken over my body. 

After somewhat pulling it together, I did some searching. 

Erica was accidentally struck and killed by a car while riding her bike near her home in Brooklyn.  A professional modern dancer, Erica was a passionate student of Buddhism and yoga and active in the community.  She was 29 years young. 


Not only were we absolutley blown away by the synchronicity of this connection of two grieving fathers, we were deeply moved by how much our children, Erica and Jimmy, shared in common. 

I got back to John the following day.

If two points are destined to touch, 
The Universe will always find a way to make the connection,
Even when all hope seems lost.
Certain ties cannot be broken. 
They define who we are,
And who we can become.
Across space, across time,
Across paths we cannot predict. 
Nature always finds a way

David Mazouz and Keifer Sutherland in Touch

John- I find myself coming back to this introduction from one of the episodes of the short-lived TV series Touch that ran in 2012 starring Kiefer Sutherland. 

For me, it makes some sense out of how we remain connected with Jimmy and Erica, even though they should be so far away and out of reach. 

And it sheds light on meetings and connections that would appear ‘totally random in most people’s minds.’ 

Perhaps Rabbi Regina told you the story of how she reached out to us–10 years after Jimmy was killed–or you read it on the website.   Anyway, here’s the story.

I sent him the link.

The Rabbi and I have stayed in touch and I find her perspectives and wisdom extremely helpful and enlightening.  She is the one who put the spotlight on the knowing that we on this earthly plain can help with the healing of our loved ones on the other side. That we can heal and mend relationships beyond our bodies, our lifetimes and over multiple generations. Truly heavy stuff.

[For more on this see Healing And Mending Relationships Beyond Our Bodies and Lifetimes]

Was it random, a matter of chance, she took a walk in Prospect Park, was drawn to the new memorial to a young woman who tragically lost her life, and met and talked to another grieving father from San Diego?

You already answered that question.

We-our kids-share a lot in common.

Erica and Jimmy were taken way too soon, tragically, suddenly and violently; both in the their 20s in the month of August.

They were both passionate about the arts-dancing, writing, and I’m sure much more. 

Both were Buddhists at their core.

They have benches. 

We didn’t plant a tree, but we adopted a big tree (it may be dead-I mean transitioned) across from Jimmy’s Bench that everyone calls “Jimmy’s Tree.”

Jimmy’s Tree

Many people probably think we’re crazy. 

I’m OK with that.

Speaking of signposts, I just love Carolyn’s photo: ERICA: PARK BENCH

I also love, as do you, how our children find ways to show up for not only us but their good friends as well. And in such creative and, oftentimes, really convoluted ways!

Thank you for reaching out and through.


John sent me this P.S. the next day.

Here is a picture of some artwork we have hanging in our home. I did not know the story of that painting until I read about it on your blog.

This is our blog post Melancolie

Melancolie by Albert Gyorgy

More about Erica’s bench

This quote is inscribed on Erica’s Bench.

May the frightened cease to be afraid and those bound be freed

It is from Shantideva’s Prayer.  That prayer happens to be one of the Dalai Lama’s favorites.  It’s from A Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, by Shantideva, a Buddhist master from the monastic university of Nalanda, India. It was composed in the 8th century.

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

Blessings, indeed


Sent By A Rabbi is dedicated in loving memory of Erica Louise Abbott who continues her dance with the stars and heavens.

Erica Abbott
Erica’s Ghost Bike

From her father John:

This is a photo of Erica’s Ghost Bike at the location of the accident. We have maintained it in the neighborhood all these years, and have gone back annually to freshen it up with new flowers and paint.

Here is a link to the Memorial for Erica on

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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