Day 11 – December 21

MY MOM: Did someone just come in?
MY SISTER & ME: Why, what do you see?
MOM: The same man who was here earlier. In the suit coat. He looks like a doctor. He’s holding a piece of paper.
US: Is he talking to you?
MOM: No. He’s looking around, just looking around.

On Day 11 of my mom’s 14 Day journey, she saw two men standing at the foot of her bed.  They were standing together, not saying anything to her.  They just stood there “inspecting” the situation.

I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife or Heaven. Prior to this I had a single experience in college with a “spirit” that spooked me for many years to follow. But as I grew older, I became more skeptical. So did my mom. She wasn’t necessarily a religious person, or a believer in ghosts or spirits. So when she started having conversations with “people,” I listened. And listened carefully. I believe that what she saw was real. And I believe that someone came down to escort her to her new world, with her official passport to Heaven in hand.

It isn’t unusual for dying people to interact with others in their final days.  Most often it’s someone they know; sometimes – as was the case with my mom – it was a stranger.  Sometimes the interaction is joyful, sometimes quizzical.  But to the person dying, who and what they’re seeing is very real.

My mom saw the same man twice that day.  At one point he was there with someone else; the next time he was there alone.  But it was the same person. Same description.  She didn’t seem to be hallucinating.  She truly believed she was seeing someone.  Maybe it’s not until our bodies start failing that we can truly see the other side.  Maybe once our body is half in this world and half in another – and we’re weakened from illness – we allow the spirits in.  Perhaps we’re too firmly planted on this plane in our current life to interact with anyone else.  Like a video game, we’re not able to advance until we’ve performed a certain amount of tasks on this Earth.

I tried to get my mom on camera talking about these people.  But every time I’d start the video, she would stop talking.  Maybe this information isn’t intended to be documented.  Maybe the dying aren’t suppose to tell us or we’re not supposed to know.  In which case, I probably heard enough.  The man.  The clipboard.  His buddy.  The foot of the bed.  What more was there for me to to be privy to?  The part that was intriguing was that my mom said, “He’s just looking around.”  Did he see me sitting there?  Or did he only see my mom?  Maybe the spirits could only see the dying.  The clipboard probably contained my mom’s information.  Maybe height, weight, a photo of some sort.  Stats and “accomplishments” on Earth.  Maybe this gentleman was there to gather this information; a greeter sent down to assess the situation.  Perhaps he – like an insurance adjustor – just came down to check out the scene. The business at hand.  He came down to see if she was truly ready to go.  Then he went back “up there” – or wherever he was from – to meet with the angel bosses who would then send her official escort down a couple of days later.

I wondered who my mom’s escort would be.  Would it be my grandmother?  Would it be a stranger?  Maybe they would send my mom’s sibling who died shortly after birth.  Maybe it would be the “handsome gentleman” my mom had been talking about – the short one who made her smile.

One thing I knew for sure, someone was in the room with us.  This wasn’t a hallucination.  She saw these gentlemen with her heart.  That was enough to convince me that, indeed, they were there.

********

My mom traveled in and out of sleep the rest of the afternoon.  More relatives came and left.  More food was served.  The hospice worker arrived early in the evening to clean her up for bed.  Carla, the nurse, took out my mom’s dentures and soaked them in a cup full of blue mouthwash that was sitting on the coffee table.  She changed my mom’s diaper, slipped a clean pad underneath her hips, placed the oxygen hose back into my mom’s nostrils and kissed my mom on the forehead telling her she’d see her the following night.  My mom told Carla to take some cookies home for her daughter.  Carla thanked her, packed a Christmas-themed tin full of nut rolls and peanut butter balls, then left for the evening.

Mentally, my mom was still present, but I could see that things were starting to shift.  She was sleeping more, communicating less and starting to wander off in her thoughts.  She’d rally for awhile, but then her mind was transported to another place in time.  It was as if she had one foot in the present, in her family room, and the other in the future, running through a green meadow, with our former family dog, Buffy, at her side.

Up until that point, her exit had been textbook. I knew that within a day, our communication would cease.  It’s a very strange concept to know that within 24 hours you’ll never hear this person speak again.  While I still had her there, and she was still somewhat able to comprehend, I flipped through my mental Rolodex to think if there were any last-minute outstanding issues that needed to be discussed, words left unsaid, apologies that needed to be made. Yes.  There was one. The Skyhawk Incident.

Whether or not I should  go there was the dilemma I faced that evening.  For 33 years, my mom believed that “A goddamned woman at the golf course” had hit her beloved Buick Skyhawk.  I never had the heart to tell her that I was the one who put the three-panel gouge in the passenger side of the car during an afternoon of fun, sun and boys with my girlfriends.

And tonight, as I readied myself for my confession, my mom looked so peaceful, I didn’t want to disrupt the loving moments we had shared over the past few days with an admission of wrongdoing.  But I felt an overwhelming need to repent and apologize for my teenage transgression.

As I held her hand, I prefaced the admission by telling her how much I loved her.  I’m sure she could feel my pounding heart through my fingertips.  What seemed like an hour of silence passed before I finally got up the nerve to say, “Remember that time the Skyhawk got smashed?”

She interrupted my confession, by looking lovingly into my eyes.  She brushed my bangs off my forehead, and let her hand linger on my cheek.  “You’re such a good girl.  You’ve always been such a good girl,” she said, as a tear made its way down my face, settling in the corner of my mouth.

I took a deep breath and said, “That goddamned woman at the golf course.”

She nodded her head and we left it at that.

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The S**t List

My niece Nicole and I were sitting with my mom in the family room.  It was an overcast day, wet and sleeting.  The curtains to the back patio door were open, allowing my mom to see a little bit of the outdoors from her bed.  Though she didn’t venture into her backyard much – if at all – she always liked to see outside to report on the weather.  “Oh God, it’s gonna rain today.”  “Look at how dark that sky is!”  “Turn the air on, Nick, it’s gonna be a hot one!”  From as early as I can remember, my mom and dad have been obsessed with the weather.  Which is ironic, seeing that she rarely experienced the weather from any place other than her sofa. She never even opened the windows in her house.  In the summer they were closed while the air conditioner was on; in the winter they were closed, because of the bitter Michigan cold.  Occasionally, she would allow some air in from the screened back patio door.  But this wasn’t very often.  It usually only opened if there was a smoke alarm crisis from something burning in the kitchen, or there was a house full of people and we simply needed air.

An outdoorswoman, Millie Goich was not.

We used to spend our summer nights on the back patio.  It wasn’t that large, but it was roomy enough to house a three-piece patio set, a dining table and chairs and a gas barbecue grill.  One of my favorite memories was eating corn-on-the cob on that back patio on warm, Michigan summer nights. This all stopped a few years earlier when their awning over the back patio ripped.  Rather than fix or replace it, my mom decided to keep it down.  From that point forward, they never put their patio furniture back outside in the summers.  Now, If my dad wanted to sit in the yard, he’d have to get a folding chair – which he often did – set it up in the middle of the empty slab of concrete – and make himself at home for a few hours with a good book.

But my mom never ventured outside.  Well, occasionally, she’d open the back patio door to “Psssssssttt” away a squirrel.  She hated squirrels.  I don’t know where this animosity toward the fuzzy-tailed rodents started, but if she’d see one in the yard, she’d  push open the patio door, stand behind the screen and let out her warning call, “Psssssssssssstttttttt!  Psssssssssssstttttttt!”  The squirrels would scamper out of the yard, over the fence and up a tree.  My mom always looked pleased with her accomplishment.  She’d go back to the couch, pick up her hand-held slot machine game, and continue playing until the next squirrel dared to set foot on her patio.

On this grey afternoon, Nicole glanced outside to see my mom & dad’s neighbor, Kitty Finazzo peering out of her bathroom window.  When she saw my niece looking toward her, the curtain swung shut.  This wasn’t an easy task for Kitty, since her window was over the bath tub.  To look out the window, she would have had to stand on something to reach it. It was clear that Kitty REALLY wanted to see what was going on in my parent’s house.

Since my mom had been home from the hospital, she had not seen Kitty Finazzo. Kitty Finazzo had not seen my mom. Unbeknownst to Kitty Finazzo, she was on my mom’s shit list.  Getting on the shit list wasn’t a place you wanted to be.  Because once you were on, it was really, really difficult to get off.  This isn’t a list she pulled out very often. In fact, over the years, I recall only four people being on this list.  For various reasons my mom would get ticked off and say, “I’m not talking to her again. She can go to Hell.”  And that was it.  You were officially on the list.  Three of the people made it off the list, but it took years.  And now, at the end of my mom’s life, one person remained:  Poor Kitty Finazzo.

What Kitty Finazzo did to get on the list wasn’t shit-list-worthy to me, but this is my mom’s list, not mine, so I have to respect that.  It happened three weeks earlier.  My mom had just started her kidney dialysis.  Her three-day-a-week appointments had been taking a toll on my mom.  Getting in and out of my dad’s Jeep SUV wasn’t easy for her and even with the step stool, climbing into the front seat was getting more and more difficult.  It was hard for my almost 90-year-old dad to help my mom up into the car, as well.  And when the weather was bad – and there was snow on the ground – getting her into the car in an icy parking lot was next to impossible.

It was at this point that my parents decided to borrow a sedan from my cousin that would be easier for my mom to get in and out of.  This would hopefully remedy the transportation problem and make her appointments a little easier on the both of them. Until they could come up with a more permanent solution, they would park my cousin Jim’s car in their garage, and ask Kitty Finazzo if they could park their car in her garage.   Kitty didn’t have a car and her garage was empty.  Though my parents had a two-car garage, one half of the garage was filled with my niece Sara’s belongings.  She and her boyfriend were planning a cross-country trip from Reno to retrieve it, but for now it remained in my parent’s garage.  Since there wasn’t room to park two vehicles, they had to find a home for the Jeep during this transition.

So they decided to ask Kitty Finazzo if they could park in her garage.  Kitty Finazzo said she didn’t see a problem with that. However, a day later, she called my dad and said that her son said no.  Why the son had any say-so over Kitty’s garage is a mystery – he didn’t live with her – but he put his foot down and said my dad would have to find another place to park the Jeep.  This pissed my mom off exponentially. “For all we have done for her over the years!  You take her to the grocery store, drive her to the fruit market!  And she won’t let us park in her goddamned garage!  To Hell with her!”  And that was it.  Shit listed forever.

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