Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…
We have a large extended family. Our mom was the youngest of nine children. There are five children in our nuclear family. My parents have eight grandchildren. They are reproducing their own broods now. We originally had 15 first cousins between southern and northern California. When the time and space allow, we enjoy seeing each other.
I had planned a family brunch for that particular Sunday. Some local (Southern California) cousins and my local siblings (including Dave) had been invited to come to our house for brunch to visit with another cousin, Mary, from Northern California. As it turns out, Mary broke her foot a few days before and could not travel that particular weekend.
Fri 7/8/2011, 10:19 AM
Looks like I won’t be able to make it:(. I had an unfortunate step onto the curb yesterday and have a broken foot. I go back today to see what to do about it….it is quite painful. So, don’t think it would be too easy to trek on the plane and hither and yon, so I am so sorry to have to decline your lovely invitation.
I know John is looking forward to seeing you on Sunday….what is your address and phone number again to pass on to him? Thought I saved it, but can’t find it…
Have a wonderful visit…so sorry not to make it down….will work on another time….hello to all in your family for me…
Instead of hosting brunch for the rest of us, because we all have to eat anyway, I felt the need to cancel. I called everyone and did just that. My darling husband, Rick’s mother, had been ill. She had been rushed to the hospital several times in recent months. Each trip turned into a stay for a week or more. She had a weak heart and fluid was building in her lungs. She was 80-something (she wouldn’t want me to reveal her actual age which no one knew until her death- but that is another story altogether), frail and I felt her departure from this earth was near. So near, that I thought we might get the call any minute with the news that she was gone.
It would be awkward to get that call in the middle of brunch or right before people arrived. I don’t like making people feel awkward and speaking of grave situations or death, in general, makes most people pretty uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say. They question if they should say anything? Will it make things worse if they do? It just made sense to cancel and hold our breath through the weekend without having to put on the happy face of the host of a family party.
I called everyone the Friday before to let them know that Mary was not coming, that it was “probably better that we cancel because my darling husband’s mom is gravely ill.” Everyone understood without question. I did not speak directly to Dave who lived with and was cared for by my mom. I called and canceled with my mom, who would obviously pass on the news to Dave because that is just how I expect messages like that to be filtered down.
Dave called me back later that day and left a voicemail message. He told me how sorry he was to learn this news of Rick’s mom. He was very kind to call, and his words for my husband were very heartfelt. Dave was very fond of my darling husband, and he was very thoughtful in that way anyway, supporting people with kind words, at the right time.
I noticed that it was a little bit difficult to understand his message, understand him, as his words seemed, it is hard to describe, muffled, garbled, slurred. It’s hard to define exactly other than his voice seemed far away.
Maybe it was the connection, we do have crummy cell reception at our house to this day. Maybe it was the recording of the message itself. Maybe he was tired. He seemed a little tired the last time I saw him. Or maybe it was a new medication. Some of the medications he took for severe muscle spasms unintentionally knocked him out. I decided he was just tired or medicated or medicated and tired. I spent no more than a moment trying to analyze. I passed the message on to my husband as requested. I deleted the message and felt touched that he had called, not worried. It may be important to state that in general I am analytical but not a big worrier. Statistically, I find comfort in the fact that bad things don’t happen that often. I try not to let my thoughts go to the darkest place possible, all things being considered.
I don’t think I am any more sensitive to the happenings of the universe than the next guy but my sixth-sense “I see dead people” radar, feeling that grave news was indeed upon us was picking up vibes all right, but apparently, I was slightly off.
Dave was not on any radar as he was never ill, NEVER. He had, however, been having unusual experiences in the last weeks of his life. Here come some of the weird things I alluded to previously. He was noticing light and colors were becoming more beautifully intense when he was outside. The colors of the leaves were a brighter shade of verdant green, the sky an electric blue more green and deeper blue than he had ever seen. He was also seeing people he did not think he should be seeing, namely, dead people.
He thought he was losing his mind. He told me so much in a conversation not long before his death. Being paralyzed he was very concerned that he was losing the only thing he felt he had left, his mind. He asked me directly, “You know you gotta take me out? You can’t let me be a vegetable!” I assured him in the most unexcited tone possible “Nothing is wrong with you and NO I am not going to break the law or murder you in the face until you are dead. You KNOW I would get caught. It’s who I am. You’re fine.” Come to find out he was hedging his bets and had asked my mom to do the same, her response? Exactly as mine. “Oh, You’re FINE!” Fruit apparently really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Truth is, I fully support the right to choose life or death. California is a right-to-die state so that really would not have been a problem. I would have done whatever was needed to help him leave if, in fact, something happened to his mental faculties and he became a vegetable. Good news though, none of us had to make such a difficult decision.
I shared these details of Dave’s unexplained experiences the weeks before his departure with a dear family friend who also happens to be the most spiritual being I know. I wasn’t looking for insight. He asked me what happened, I told him. My friend concluded in a reassuring tone without skipping a beat that, “Oh yep, his door was just opening very slowly.” To which I responded “Oh.” Pregnant pause “That makes sense.” Trying to sound like I understood. I didn’t know what else to say, as I had never heard a human departure from the planet being phrased quite that way.
Well, the door was ajar to elsewhere for someone, I clearly felt the draft from the opening. I just had the wrong person, my mother-in-law at the threshold that weekend. Dave apparently had other places to be. My mother-in-law passed away two days later. Maybe because it was a commercial-sized double-door opening that I felt the draft so strongly, I don’t know, but it was visceral to me, to say the least.
There were four deaths in our lives within ten days that July. Another family member my cousin John, also unexpectedly died in September and the husband of a dear friend later that fall, which was just plain exhausting. It felt like I was at a funeral every few weeks for the rest of the year.
I missed lunch with a friend because I was attending another funeral. I was hysterical about forgetting my friend, standing her up. I envisioned her sitting at the table in the restaurant all alone. Pretty sure she is still mad at me. I’m still sorry Penny Mc.
I was disoriented for months. I blame it on dehydration from so many tears shed. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of raining more dead people for about a year after what my husband and I referred to initially as “the summer of death” which morphed into “the season of death” as more people dove into the dead pool.
This is not a collection of ghost stories, by the way. I do not claim any ability to explain things other-worldly. I am not really sure how I feel about them myself. They are simply part of the permanent record that I observed and am reporting.
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