I don’t remember when I first heard this. I believe it may have been from my mama. It is the belief that when someone leaves this earth, there is someone who has already passed on that comes to lead them to the after world.
Today would have been my son’s 22 birthdays. Truth be told, when he died I had no clue who came to get him. Never even thought of it (I am not going to guilt myself into this making me a bad parent).
However, what followed next and throughout the last few decades of my life I will continue to speculate on and I do believe that there is someone who comes to lead the way for the newly departed.
Roger (former husband and father to our children) had a brother nine years older than he. Roger has great stories of his relationship with his brother which I will save for another day. Suffice it to say that when his brother died at the age of 30, Roger felt as if they had just begun to bridge the gap between the nine year span and were becoming not only brothers, but friends.
Ron had married several years earlier. He and his wife Michelle had a one year old daughter, Kristen, and another baby on the way. When he died, Michelle bought a double plot, for both her and for Ron. She herself was 30 years old and grieved deeply as did the rest of the family. Ron died in 1983.
Fast forward to October 18, 1993. Michelle remarried several years later after Ron died and her new husband, Jay, was loved dearly by Roger’s family. He also brought a son to the marriage and was raising Michelle and Ron’s two children. Grant, our 2.5 month old son, has died. We had no life insurance, just recently bought a house so were cash poor and no idea how/what needed to be done or how it would be paid for. Michelle called us to let us know that Grant could have the second plot with Ron.
First, Michelle’s second child that was born after Ron died was a son. Having Grant buried with Ron would be like giving Ron the son he never able to hold on this earth. Second, it begs the question “is life predestined?” Ron died 10 years before Grant. I never had the opportunity to meet him. Roger and I did not meet until 1989. Yet, here is this eternal resting place for Grant.
Fast forward to 2011, 18 years later. Several dynamics were in play. My mama’s lung cancer had spread to her brain and she was quite the train wreck. Going through both chemo and radiation she was awfully sick. Prior to the radiation kicking in (and truly adding a year to her life if she had not received it), she stated that Grant was coming to visit her at night and would come sit next to her shoulder and help her sleep. Roger and I were also entering the last phase of our marriage. There were huge issues at play. The sale of our house, my mother moving in and spending 50% of her time with us, therapy sessions three times a week (his, mine and ours). I will try and be respectful to our situation for Roger’s and our children’s sake. Suffice it to say that Roger was still trying to figure out who he wanted to be when he grew up.
During 2011, in our new (rental) home, Roger had at least two episodes in which he experienced his brother’s presence. Almost 20 years after Ron had passed, Ron was there. His presence was so vivid that it left Roger shaken and in tears. When Ron’s presence was felt, Roger noticed a distinct shift in the outside weather through the windows. Ron was there to help Roger in his next chapter.
As my mother’s death grew imminent, I continued to ask the question, “Who will be The One to come lead my mama to the afterlife?” Will it be Grant? My grandfather? My favorite cousin, Bob? How will we know? Will we know?
Just to complicate matters further (because this IS my life in general), my mother’s dying wish was that she be buried with Grant. While this may not sound like a big deal, it was. My mother never fostered a relationship with my mother-in-law, Inge. They were different generations and, frankly, I believe my mother did this because she watched me struggle with my own relationship with Inge. On a good day the relationship was ok, but it could change course at any given moment. To sum it up quickly, she had no filter which was interpreted as being critical and insensitive (May she rest in peace.)
Keep in mind, the funeral plot was owned still by Michelle, Ron’s wife. However, as a courtesy, Roger and I both felt we needed Bjorn and Inge’s blessings for my mother to share eternal space. I will tell you this. There have been some times where those two completely surprised us with their ability to support Roger and I. This was one of those times. Bjorn and Inge never hesitated in stating, “Yes, it will be done.” My mother sobbed tears of joy and relief.
A year later, I had come to the conclusion that I need to help Roger on his journey. I couldn’t keep our marriage together and he was not going to “find” himself in our marriage. My mother had officially gone into hospice and I was camped out with John, my step father (A chore no one deserves). Roger and I had gone up the previous weekend, came back home on Sunday. Home health brought the hospital bed in on Monday and I drove right back up. She was no longer eating and the morphine was brought in. I stayed all week. Roger called Friday morning and announced he was on his way and he was staying through to the end. Visitors came and went, my mama’s best friend, Marilyn, stayed with us. It was a regular wake with the body still present.
Friday night passed, Saturday came. Mama had spiked a fever. The hospice nurse suggested Tylenol, in the form of a suppository. I will tell you, after watching my mother’s 2.5 year journey with cancer, I have a lot of negative things to say about medical practitioners and how they handle terminal patients. This nurse was one of the good practitioners. My response to her was, “if you think she has several days to live then please proceed with the Tylenol. If you think that death is imminent, let her be.” The nurse looked me straight in the eye and clearly stated, “No more than 24 hours.” That was that.
The nurse departed and I sat in a dining room chair, next to my mama’s bed, playing her favorite 50s songs on my iphone at low volume. Roger is sitting across from me on the couch. There wasn’t much to say. He was there for me and for my mama. For that I was grateful. Roger always stated he “didn’t do death”. His presence was a statement of respect for my mama and empathy for me.
From my viewpoint, I had a view of my mother’s backyard through her sliding glass doors. Temperatures had been in the mid-90s, clear, dry heat. Classic Chico weather. I rested my head on my mama’s bedside for a few minutes and looked back out the sliding glass doors. The wind had picked up and clouds were swirling in. It was unusual. I turned to Roger, who was looking at the same view as me. Our eyes met and, in unison, we both said, “Its Ron”.
The man my mama had never met, the brother-in-law I did not know, the guardian of our son for now 19 years, Ron. This was the man who was taking my Mama home. It was the strangest sense of relief. Ron was coming to let her know that her eternal resting place, next to him and to Grant was ready for her. The wind and the clouds swirled throughout the night. At approximately 5:45 am, John called me to her bedside. We had been taking turns throughout the night. My mama took her last few breaths. Within minutes, the wind died, the clouds scattered and the skies were crystal blue. It was done.
I spent time with my mama then. Using her favorite bath soap, I washed her arms, her delicate fingers, her face and her hair. Put her in a fresh night gown with a touch of her favorite perfume. Roger sat, with tears rolling down his face. “I hope that someone cares for me when I die as you have cared for your mama.”
Just a few years later, my mama’s mom, Emma (Gigi), passed away. I had flown down to help my cousin, Patty, who cared for her, go through her things. Gigi was still with us physically and there was not necessarily a hospice plan (that I recall). Patty and I sat next to her bed, talking and reminiscing and sorting through certain of her personal items. Before we left that afternoon, I pulled a picture of my mama, my grandfather, and my uncle Dick from a shelf at the top of her dresser and placed it by her bed. We received a call early the next morning that Gigi had passed. I offered to go stay with her until the mortuary came. Patty, understandably, wasn’t ready to see her yet. As I sat with my Gigi, I also spent time gussying her up. A fresh gown, a touch of perfume and a touch of lipstick. A fresh flower in her hair. I looked at the picture that I had placed on the shelf and realized that in the picture, in the background, was a picture of my Uncle Chuck, who had passed in 1986. I firmly believe, as my grandfather, my uncle Chuck and my mama had passed before Gigi, they all came and got her at once. They were there, their spirit in the form of that picture, was their access point. She was home, too.
Death is never easy. It is one of the most turbulent experiences you will ever have. If you can, I have one suggestion. Take time from the turbulence. Look around you. Look around your dying loved one. Remember the scents and the sounds. Trace the lines on their hands, on their face. Just take the time to be still. Whether you believe in God or you are just spiritual, there are signs all around you that there is a better place. There are those who are at eternal rest that still speak to us when we are lost and call for those next ready for eternity.
To that end, find your peace on this beautiful day.