Real Life

Real life: My dead dad set me up with my husband

His message from Heaven was the greatest gift of all.

By As told to Take 5

Stefania Warne, 60, from Erina, NSW, shares her true life story:

I glanced at the clock nervously as my father Walter's head rested in my lap.
He'd collapsed this morning and was barely breathing.
The sight of his limp body had sent my mum, Gina, into hysterics, so I'd called an ambulance.
But by the time they arrived, it was too late.
"I'm so sorry," the medic began. "Your father's had a heart attack."
Losing Dad, 69, shattered Mum and me.
He'd been our rock, and we didn't know what we'd do without him.
The next few days passed by in a blur.
Trudging off to my job at a jewellery shop, I blinked back tears and forced a smile for the customers.
The second my shift was over, I'd scurry home and lock myself in my room.
The world seemed so full of sadness without Dad in it.
For a month, I lived like a hermit.
When Mum fell ill with pneumonia, my older brother, Cass, 31, came to stay with us.
He took one look at me and shook his head.
Dad and I were so close; I was devastated when he died.
"Sis, you can't keep going on this way," he said.
"What do you mean?" I stammered.
"You've got to get on with your life," he insisted. "Tomorrow, I'm taking you out for a drink after work."
I protested but he wouldn't take my excuses.
Next day, he was outside for me.
"Just one drink," I warned.
The moment we stepped into the crowded pub, I felt my heart begin to thud.
There, sitting at the bar with his back to me, was my dead father!
"It's Dad!" I gasped, pointing at the figure.
Cass looked perplexed and slightly worried.
"That's not Dad," he said. "But I know who it is … my old mate, Neil!"
Hearing his name, Neil turned around.
"G'day Cass," he grinned, shaking my brother's hand.
The two had known each other as teenagers but drifted apart with age.
Stealing a quick glance at Neil, I felt butterflies rush through my tummy.
His ice-blue eyes were hypnotic.
Me (left) with Neil (front), Cass (middle) and a friend.
After a quick introduction, we all sat down together and got chatting.
Poor Neil, 33, was quite shy.
It turned out he'd lived a sad life, staying in a boarding house with few friends.
It seemed we were both as lost as each other.
As the barman called for last drinks, Cass had an idea.
"Neil, how about you come home with us for one more round?" he suggested.
"Love to," he nodded.
Back home, we'd no sooner sat down for a bevvie when the colour drained from Neil's face.
"That's Walter!" he gasped, pointing to a photo of Dad on the mantel piece.
How did Neil know my father?
This night was getting stranger and stranger.
Neil explained how he and Dad had worked on the railways for years together before my father eventually retired.
"He told me all about his special daughter, and how he wanted me to meet you sometime," Neil said.
"He also said that he could see the two of us together."
Part of me blushed hearing the sweet words.
But I also felt happier than ever.
I'm sure Dad was watching over us on our wedding.
I'd missed Dad so much, but now Neil was in my house, it was like a sign that Dad was still out there, watching out for me.
Taking the hint, Cass left us alone to talk.
I knew I had to get to sleep soon if I wanted to make it through work the next day, but I couldn't drag myself away from Neil.
"I think your dad was right. We'd make a good couple," he continued, gripping my hand. "Will you marry me, Stefania?"
I recoiled in shock.
"Don't be silly, Neil. I've just met you!" I cried. "We need to get to know one another first."
Poor Neil seemed a little disappointed, but I was only 20 and far too young to make such a hasty decision – especially after a few drinks!
After a kiss goodnight, we agreed to meet again.
Soon enough, we were spending every spare minute together.
Seeing me smiling was enough to help poor old Mum get better, too.
"Neil reminds me of your father," she noted.
Despite the 13-year age gap between Neil and me, we were kindred spirits.
Me and Neil - after nearly 40 years of marriage!
When we weren't working, we'd go for long walks together and listen to music.
After five months of bliss, he popped the question and we married at the local church.
I was sure that Dad was watching from above, smiling down on the two of us.
"Thanks Dad," I said after walking down the aisle.
He'd played Cupid from Heaven, and couldn't have found me a better match.
Fast forward 39 years later and Neil and I are still very much in love and we have four children.
Sadly, Neil, 73, has developed dementia, but he hasn't forgotten me.
In fact, every night at 6pm sharp he calls me over to tell the story of how we first met.
"I know, love," I smile, patting his hand. "I'll always remember."
He's the sweetest man in the world, and while I would have loved for Dad to see us marry, I'll always be grateful to my father for bringing us together.

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