Sixteen years ago tonight my mother passed away.
I had know from the time I was a child that my mother would die in the year 2000. It was just something I knew, like a memory of having been told at one time. I accepted it. It meant nothing to me when I was a little girl because it was the 1960's and I really wasn't old enough to understand the passing of years. Years were just numbers on the Christmas seals Mom stuck to the back of the Christmas cards she sent, and big numbers on the cake we celebrated the new year with.
Decades passed and the "memory" remained in my head. Even in 1991 when Kelly was born the year 2000 seemed an eon away. And then all the millennial dire predictions began and I grew uneasy. I had my own millennial prediction long ago and now that year with the zeros was on the horizon.
Mom was able to celebrate Christmas as usual in 1999, but in January of 2000 her health began to decline with alarming rapidity. She spent much of the year in and out of the hospital. My father and sister remained hopeful. My brother was in denial. I was the only one who knew what was coming and was prepared for it to happen.
I wrote a story called Tank while sitting in my mother's hospital room. She was on morphine and having a lot of paranoia, imagining secret agents were spying on her, the nurses were plotting against her. Sprinklers were cameras through which they spied on her. She refused her trays because the food was poisoned. I brought her thermoses of coffee because she still trusted me, but she thought my father was a traitor and was upset that he came to sit with her every day. We couldn't persuade Dad to not go and stay all day, that his presence was only upsetting her further. The nurses tried to talk to him, we tried to talk to him but he felt it was his duty to stay at his wife's side and wouldn't budge. It was a frustrating situation.
On October 3rd I ran over to visit Mom who was going to be released to home at some point during that day. She seemed anxious to go home. Her doctor came into the room to tell her he was going to sign her release papers. He thanked her for being a good patient and she thanked him for being a good doctor and they said goodbye to one another. He looked at me and didn't have to say anything- I knew he was sending her home to die. It was her wish and he was granting it. I just nodded. Then three nurses came to give her a bed bath so I walked down the hallway and sat on the window sill at the end to wait. I could hear her shouting my name because she thought I'd left. The sound of her calling for me still echoes in my ears to this day. "Susan!"
The nurses let me go back into the room and I sat with her for a little while. She was worried that the hospital bed wouldn't be there when she was brought home. She didn't trust Dad to have made it up properly for her. She wanted it in the huge family room facing the glass doors so she could see outdoors. Autumn was her favorite time of year. Her things were packed so I took a couple bags and said I would drop them off at the house and make sure everything was ready for when she got home. I leaned over and kissed her and said, "I'll see you later, then. I love you." She said she loved me, too and I left. That was the last time I saw her alive, the last words we spoke to one another.
The ambulance brought her home. I was going to go visit her by my sister called and said Mom was tired and wanted a day to rest before anyone came over. My sister and her husband lived upstairs in the two family house. I was a little upset but I know people don't get much sleep in hospitals, so I stayed home.
I called my sister on the fourth and asked how Mom was doing and was told the visiting nurses had come to check her and she was resting. I said I'd let her rest and come see her the next day for a little bit.
I didn't hear anything more. Kelly came home from school. She was nine-years old. John came home from work. We ate dinner. I played with Kelly, she did her homework, I read to her and she went to bed about nine o'clock. She had school the next day. I sat in the living room reading. John was watching TV. It was a quiet night. I was feeling a little anxious, a little restless but dealing with it.
And then the phone rang. It was my sister telling me Mom was dying, to get over to the hospital here in town, a few blocks west of their home, as quickly as possible. I was upset but put my shoes on, grabbed my barn coat and purse, got a hug from John at the door and drove downtown to the ER parking lot. I didn't see an ambulance and wondered if they'd just grabbed her, dropped her off and took off, but that's not how it's usually done. I was just getting out of my car when my sister and her husband showed up and said Mom was at home and she was gone, to go there.
The EMTs were packing up their stuff, a police officer was in the house and the funeral home had been called by the time I got there. The police officer said he was sorry and stayed in the dining room. I went into the family room to say goodbye to Mom, but only had a few minutes with her before the funeral home arrived to remove her body (the funeral home was just a block or so east of the house). We all had to go into the dining room. They closed the French doors that had curtains and removed her through the atrium doors.
It was surreal. But it was not a surprise. The day in 2000 had arrived that she was summoned home.
All my life I've loved magic. I grew up knowing the story about Harry Houdini and his mother. When she died he waited and waited for a sign from her from the great beyond- a sign that never came.
I remember joking with Mom and my sister and brother saying if I went first I'd give them a sign when I could from the other side. And they agreed to do likewise.
Oddly enough, Mom sent a sign in November 2000 on Thanksgiving Day when we had Dad over for dinner to our house so he wouldn't be alone on the first holiday after Mom's passing. We'd just sat down for dinner and started to pass the bowls around when a noise to my left made me turn my head and look. There on the floor between my chair on the long side of the table and Dad's at the foot of the table to my left was a small square Hallmark. I had put the box behind a tall stack of stacking decorative boxes on the end of the huntboard because I didn't know where I wanted to store it. I had hung the little three inch diameter porcelain plate "Making Cookies With Gramma" beside the light switch in Kelly's room just a few days prior to Thanksgiving. For the box to have landed on the floor where it did it would have had to come up and over the top of the boxes or around from behind the boxes and then sideways along the front of the huntboard, more or less. Either way, there was nothing around it, no fan turning, no mechanism to move the box in play but what could only be ghost power. We all just looked at one another kind of in disbelief. Finally I said, "Happy Thanksgiving, Mom," picked up the box and set it on the huntboard behind me and we went on with dinner.
A year or so later, one a particularly rough night when I was missing Mom, I was sitting in the dining room when a triangular decorative bell that hangs from a plant hook behind the soffet over the kitchen sink clanged loudly one time. I turned my head and there was no one in the kitchen. Jumping up, I ran into the kitchen and looked at the bell. It was swaying slightly. The windows were closed. The ceiling fan was not on. There was no unusual air current in the house. It was just another sign that Mom knew I was having a bad day missing her, so she rang the bell to let me know she was nearby.
And since then there really hasn't been anything more in my home, although my brother and sister get signs fairly often. My brother lives in Mom and Dad's former downstairs apartment. My sister and her husband still live on the second floor. Often the house fills with the fragrance of cookies baking in the oven when there is nothing being baked or cooked in the entire house. Although I miss my mother still very much, it's my brother who had the most difficulty with losing her. And my sister did too, to a greater degree. I was the one who had been more psychologically prepared due to that long ago awareness that 2000 was the year that she would pass.
Anyway- tonight after dinner I jokingly mentioned that Harry Houdini waited for a sign from his mother that never came and I said, "Well, it's another year and she's failed to come thru for me again." John told me I shouldn't say things like that. He reminded me that I was joking about Betty, my maternal grandmother who's hand tinted portrait from when she was a child used to hang on the living room wall straight ahead of you as you came into the room from the hall. I don't remember what I was saying but suddenly there was a click on the floor where I was standing near the picture. When I looked down I found an old bent nail, and I knew immediately where that nail had come from. It had come from the reverse side of that picture! I had removed those nails to clean the glass when I'd rescued the old family photos from the basement shortly after Mom died as I am the curator of the historical family memorabilia. There is no way the nail could have popped out and sailed through space about four or five feet from behind the picture to where it landed by the side of my foot like it did. It would have popped out and fallen straight down under the picture. That was why he was warning me not to provoke my mother.
I was just kind of sad really...feeling sad all day on the 16th anniversary of her passing.
So, when I came out into the kitchen to work on my notes for my upcoming author event for Miss Peculiar's Haunting Stories, set up my laptop, sat down and then glanced at the clock to see how many hours I had before bedtime to work I jumped and felt an odd feeling of unreality. The kitchen clock that I was pretty sure I had looked at when I got home from work, and we had all sat underneath during dinner and I was sure I had looked at again then to check the time, now read 10:02PM and was NOT running! The battery had died. The clock stood silent at basically the time my mother had left this world 16 years ago on the night of October 4, 2000!!! (This was at 7:20PM- so the hands of the clock had moved ahead to 10:02 at some point and then the battery had bad been drained to freeze them there.)
Okay then- I guess Mom didn't like my snarky comment after dinner and sent me a message! Or maybe she just sensed that I was feeling particularly sad this year and let me know that she's still with me in spirit when I need her.
...and another thought just occurred to me...I never had a sweet sixteen birthday party and always felt like I'd missed out on a rite of passage. To appease me, Mom threw me an Always 21 birthday party. She gave me a charm that reads "Always 21". It's on my charm bracelet still. Maybe because this is the sixteenth anniversary she was also giving me another sign that she remembered how she hadn't given me a sweet sixteen party...so, this was a very sweet sixteenth for me with her remembering me in that way.
Message received and I feel better now.
Love you, Mom!