A privileged night

When I woke her first in the afternoon, she asked me in a tone of great matter of factness, “Have I died yet?”

“Not yet, Mom. See Lisbet’s painting of the red poppies on the wall? You are in your room still.” It promised to be a bemusing conversation. I tried to keep the same tone of matter of factness so that I would not detract her from her train of thought or change her mood.

“Am I in my body?”

“Looks like it to me! What does it feel like?”

“Well, I’ve already died twice today,” she said.

“Did you, now? ”

“Yes , twice for sure.”

“Well, how did it feel?”

“Feel? I don’t remember feeling anything.”

“No pain, ” she added. “Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, Mom, when you die, they say there is no pain.”

“Did you see God?”

“No. I didn’t get that far yet.”

She leaned back and relayed into her pillows. Her head, even in bed, still too heavy for her to hold in place, lolled on one side.

“If you want to go, Mom, just go. We love you. You’ve done a marvelous job as mother and you’ve given us so much. You are not going to get better, so if someone offers you a hand to go over to the other side, you just reach out and take it. Let them help you.”
She didn’t answer. Her gaunt head shifted to one side and stayed there as if she couldn’t hold it straight.

Then she perked up a bit and opened her eyes.

“Would you like to come with me?” she asked, a bit of mischief, a bit of longing for company and comfort.

“I would, Mom, but I still have my life work to do. I’ve not done that yet. But I’ll hold your hand while you go, if you would like?”

“Yes,” she said. “Your painting. You will have lots of time for that soon. I never wanted to hold anyone back.”

She was brighter. It was still early in the evening. I wasn’t sure how best to help her spend a bit of evening time, so I asked. “Would you like me to dial up Heather?”

“No,” she said

It surprised me. She said it so categorically, flatly. After an effort, she said, “I’ve said all my good byes. I’ve thanked everyone I wanted to. I just want to go now.”

She was clear in some things; struggling in others; couldn’t find her words. Yet most of what she said was grounded in reality, like “the system” as the bed vibrated beneath her. Tonight there was something different with her. She seemed so sure of having died and come back. I was reluctant to leave her on her own.

She had rested a bit of more time when she said “Who are the two people behind you?” There was no one in the room. Out the windows from the fourth floor, all one could see was the graceful array of winter elm branches. There was no one to be seen that I could see.

“I don’t know. I can’t see them. What do they look like?”

“There’s a brick wall and two women. They have markings on their backs.”

“Are they letters or numbers?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see them. Numbers, I think. A one and a two.”
“Do you know who they are?” I was asking her own question back to her.


“Is it Mabel and Granny?”
“No but I’ve been with Mabel and Granny. (Granny is her mom.) Mabel (her sister) always took care of me. Even when I was older.”
“They must be looking after you now.” I volunteered.

“Yes, they’ve come often lately.”

“You told me at Christmas that Mabel was sleeping beside you, holding you”
“Did I? I don’t remember.”

“Yes, you said she was holding you. I think that was nice, Mom. You go on and let her take care of you.”
All this conversation was desultory, matter of fact. She appeared to sleep between responses, her brain working slowly with the effort, but clearly.

She saw a brick wall and a light on the ceiling several times when I could see none. Sometimes there was a man and a woman. I offered up possible names and even suggested angels. None clicked. I was hesitant to shape her answers with my own imaginings. I let her run down her conversation till it petered out so that she could sleep. But it wasn’t over.

Her spirit was clear and innocently child like. She was looking to me for instructions. I was no clearer on what was expected or what to do than she was.

“Do I confess now?” she asked.

“If you like. Do you want to tell me something?”

“I stole a dime once.”
“Did you, now? Tell me.”

“Remember Mary Jones? She was in a wheelchair? She asked me to go into her house for something and I saw a dime on the bathroom counter and I took it.”

“And it has bothered you all your life? I asked.

“All my life!”

“And how old were you?”

“About seven.”
“Well, you’ve done about ninety years of penance, Mom. You are absolved. Forgiven. Let it go.”

I thought how much money that represented in those days when an ice cream cone was a nickel and now they are sometimes four and five dollars. A loaf of bread, once upon a time was five cents and now is about two dollars.

My answer seemed to satisfy her, absolve her. If that were all she had done then, really, she could go to heaven!

“And there is one person I can’t forgive,” she continued.

“Who was it, Mom?”

“A family member.”
“A family member?”

“Yes.” she said with finality. I tried to think who could have done her such a wrong that she could not forgive them. She was often angry with us because we didn’t always do as she wished. Who had done something so horrible that she could not let it go? I searched amongst those family members I knew, but I couldn’t think who it might be.

She told me a story of her youth where she had been terrorized by a teenage boy. It has gravely affected her all her life.

What could I say? What comfort could I give? Was this the brick wall she could not get past? “Mom?” I said calmly and firmly, trying to bring her back to me.

“Mom, he’s older than you. He’s dead now. There is nothing you can do to him. Anyway, you know what the bible says. ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’ If you carry hate and anger for him, you are the only one that’s hurting. He will not feel it because he doesn’t even know you are still hating him.

“Forgiveness is for you. It’s you, letting go, so that you can be at peace.”

“My poor mother”, I thought. “Carrying this grief and anger in her heart for almost ninety years. I wanted to take her in my arms and cradle her, but she had never let us show our emotions and she did not like to hug. I still had her hand in mine and she held it firmly.

I don’t remember our conversation after that. She rested. I kept her hand in mine. She told me I was caring and wonderful. She knew what I had done for her and she would watch for me from Heaven. I deserved good things.

She became alert again for some final cautionary advice.

“Be careful how you choose a husband,” she said. “You deserve a good one.” I had hid from her that I had continued to see my ex. If all truth was bared when she died, she would know of my deception.

And later, although I had offered to stay until she went into that dark night to see her Lord of Creation, she roused again for a drink of water and said, “You’ve stayed a long time with me. It’s dark outside. You had better go home.”
Her mother instincts over-ruled. She shut her eyes and appeared to go to sleep, and snored so softly and evenly. She was beautiful.

I left her to sleep in peace.


One Response to “A privileged night”

  1. bluedragonfly Says:

    Wow. This is wonderful. So fascinating to read and so sweet and tender. I’m so glad you are there for this and so glad you are writing it all down.

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