Sunday, May 31, 2015


I woke up realizing that I could not wake up.  I was hovering over my body which was not moving – not breathing.  I tried everything to wake myself up.  I put my hands on my shoulders but they slipped right through.  I pulled frantically at the dark blue covers by nothing moved. I even tried screaming and there was no flinch – no indication of movement.  I started to panic – there had to be some sort of explanation – it had to be a dream. My heart should have been beating but I felt nothing.  I kept circling hoping my eyes would pop open and this nightmare would end.  I just kept looking at myself in bed –lifeless.

I looked over and saw Angela sitting in the corner.  “Claire, I’m so sorry“ she said with tears streaming down her face.  “But how am I seeing you?  You died a year ago,” I replied still trying to comprehend what was happening but it was slowly beginning to dawn on me.  “Claire, you died last night – a heart attack I suppose – I’m just so sorry – “ “Stop saying that – this is not happening – it’s a dream – it has to be – Jack is coming over-“  
Oh, shit – if I was dead who was going to look after my grandson?   His father was not in any shape to raise him.   Angela looked down – I knew what she was thinking – who would take care of our boy.   “I wanted to you live as long as possible and when they told me you would be dying – I begged them to let you live for my Jack’s sake.  I pleaded but they said it was your time.  Claire I didn’t want this – please believe me.” 

The room began to swirl around me.  This was not a dream.  This was my death – plain and simple –I was dead.   In some ways there should have been some relief in that – no more bills to pay, no more arguments with my son Tom over how he was raising Jack.   But there was no relief, no bright light to walk into to – just a corpse that looked like me in my bed getting colder by the minute.   I backed up into my closet door and slide down to the floor.  Angela sat down beside me.   “My back doesn’t hurt anymore,” I mumbled.   “No, those little aches and pains go away, but the emotions remain.” 
“So you’ve been around the whole time?  Why haven’t you tried to reach out to Jack?” I asked knowing how hard he’s been trying to reach the other side hoping to capture some semblance of Angela but instead got that Coal Miner ghost that scared the shit out of him.
“I just can’t – I left him and I tried to get back but the accident ended it.  I know that Tom has been trying to poison him against-“  “Don’t blame Tom for that!  You left him.  You had an affair.  You were unfaithful to my son – and you left your Jack behind for me to raise.  Don’t you try to put your guilt off on my son for God’s sake!”  I might have been dead but I could still feel anger and right now my daughter-in-law was pushing what little buttons I had left.   “He pushed me away Claire.  He never got help after Vietnam. We both begged him to – I just couldn’t live a lie –“ Angela put her head down and started to sob.  I didn’t have time for this – or worse I was realizing – I had an eternity of this. 

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.  “Nana, are you there?”  It was Jack’s voice.   “Sweet Jesus- I don’t want him to be the one who finds me, please do something,” I asked to the powers that be – but instead I got silence.   Angela looked at me, my corpse and the door where Jack was knocking.  She walked through and saw that Tom was waiting in the car.  “Tom is here with him – he can find you,” Angela said matter of factly.  Her casualness took me aback. “So you’re having Tom find me – my son – my baby?”  “Do you want the last image that Jack’s sees is you dead in bed.  At least Tom has seen dead people in Vietnam.”  I heard Tom coming to the door – “Mom, open up – it’s us-“  I looked at my lifeless body hoping I would suddenly come around but I could tell by my color – I was long gone.  “Her car is still here Dad- she’s got to be inside – “ said Jack sounding a little panicked.  “Okay, I’ll use the key but stay here – alright?”  Tom sounded worried but calm – and I prayed that he would know what to do. 
The click in the lock got the dead bolt to turn.  If my heart had still been beating it would have been going a mile a minute and pushed right through my throat.  He walked in carefully.  “Mom – are you here – it’s me Tom.”  He looked in the kitchen and the living room and hesitated as he walked into the bedroom.  The door knob turned slowly and he walked in.  “Mom, it’s time to get up- Jack’s –“ he stopped mid-sentence.   He walked over to my body and bent over to see if I was breathing.   He fell to his knees – trying to catch his breath.  “Mom-I’m sorry – why – sweet suffering Jesus – why?”  Jack called from the door – “Is everything okay – where’s Nana?”  “Jack – don’t come in here – stay by the car –“  “Is Nana – sick?”  he asked afraid of the answer.  “Just stay by the car  – stay by the car –“  Tom picked up the phone and dialed 911.  “Hello- I need to report – a death- my mother – she’s not breathing – she’s – oh my God – she’s –“   Tom broke down as the operator tried to get more information.   I stood there – wishing I could hold him. I wished when I was alive that I should have held him more.  I should have told him I was proud of him even with all the drinking and outbursts – he had a good heart and it was breaking once again.  He put down the phone and sobbed.  He tried to hold my hand – but it was cold and stiff now.  He dropped it which made him cry more.  

Angela went over to him and put her hand on his shoulder which seemed to calm him down.  She looked over to me and encouraged me to come over.   My hand hovered lightly over my son’s back -the one I used to pat when he was a teenager who wrote poetry and had the whole world in front of him – before that God damned war had ripped his heart out.   I put my hand on his shoulder and it felt warm. Right now, his shoulders were holding the weight of world which I could no longer try to carry for him.   He’d be on his own now – just him and Jack. 
He walked outside and from the window I could see him telling Jack – who just shook his head – not believing it and wanting to go inside to see for himself.   Tom was holding him back when the ambulance and the police arrived.  From there was a blur – the paramedics checking my vitals and finding nothing – the police questioning Tom and Jack and the two of them seeing my body in a sheet carried out of the house while a group of the neighbors looked on and were trying to console the both of them.   “So sorry Tom, she was a great lady – so kind – it’s just so sudden –“ said my neighbor Arthur who always said good morning when I got the paper.  He also had no problem borrowing my hedge clippers which he still had – at this point it didn’t matter – none of that petty shit mattered anymore.

The next few days were a whirlwind.  Jack and Tom making arrangements – trying to hold it together.  Well-meaning neighbors and church folks who were bringing muffins, casseroles and desserts galore – hoping that food would stem the grief.  When the house got quiet – it was just Jack and Tom and the silence was deafening.  I was not there to provide any sort of buffer – if they did talk it became an argument because Jack felt he knew me better than Tom.  Tom would respond that Jack didn’t know shit about me - that there were things we shared as mother and son he could never understand.  This cut Jack like a knife since Angela had died so suddenly.  And so it went – each one playing the game of who loved me more – a game that was unwinnable.
What surprised me the most was that Angela was actually helpful – trying to calm things down in her other-worldly way.  She would intercede when Tom looked like he wanted to smack their son by knocking things over as a reminder that she was still present and those signs he responded to.   My heart went out to Jack who just looked lost – he looked older than 15 and yet like a baby at the same time.  He needed a shoulder to cry on and his father was just not it.  Add to that the hormones that a 15 year old boy has raging through his veins and this transition was not going to be an easy one. 

The day of my funeral it was pretty sunny and Father Scott did a beautiful
service.  Tom managed to stay sober and actually put his arm around Jack during the eulogies that people were kind enough to do for me.  Then Tom stood up and walked to the pulpit.  This sent a few whispers through the sanctuary since Tom has not been in church since Jack’s baptism.  He had given up on God after the horrors he had seen in Vietnam.   But right now he didn’t feel like a stranger in a house of God – he seemed at home.  He strode confidently to the alter and stood there with a poem he had written for me when he was 15 for Mother’s Day.  He began – “When heaven needed a heart that could embrace the world- yours opened like a river that could not be dammed.  Where others would hold reservoirs of anger and spite – your tide of love would pull down those walls and bring a lightness that could not be denied –“ he kept his eyes on the paper and his voice was strong – never wavering.   Jack sat there transfixed wondering where this side of his father had come from - he smiled for the first time in a week.  Tom ended with “Mothers are the spring of life that keep us from drying up when emotions fail – they cover us with warmth and try to shield us from the rain but it’s the rain that makes things grow.  When a tear falls from a mother’s heart – it has more power than a hurricane to transform us – because although we cannot see it at the time – it makes us stronger in the face of adversity.”   Tom said nothing more as he left the pulpit to a chorus is sniffles in the pews.   Angela appeared next to me – “I hope he starts writing again – it would really help him.”  I nodded- but I was too stunned as everyone else was to say anything more.  
Tom sat down next to his son with his head bowed – trying not to look at Jack because he had taken a chance and revealed so much.  Jack leaned in, “That was awesome Dad!” and then touched his father’s hand.   Tom shook his head to say “Thank you.”   It was then that father and son actually started to form an understanding – one that was short on words but long on meaning. 

The burial at the cemetery was pretty standard but Tom seemed to be at peace that he had been able to see me off in style.  Thankfully – I had paid for my funeral arrangements years ago – so I could be next to my husband.  I just never thought that it would be used before I was even out of my 70’s.   
Jack sat with his dad in a daze.  The commotion of the last few days had distracted him from the uncertainty of his new life – having to deal without me in his life.  He watched as my casket was lowered into the cold ground – the same one that had swallowed up his mother.   “This is so fucking unfair-“ he said under his breath.   Tom just nodded – it was his sentiment exactly.   They each took a rose and threw onto the grave before the men started to cover it with dirt.  My head was still reeling – it was all so surreal.  The tombstone was nearby –the one I purchased when my husband died only now instead of my birthday and a dash – it had the day I died.  There it was – a bunch of numbers that made my demise official. 

Tom decided to have the reception at my house which was nicer than the one he and Jack lived in.  The refrigerator was also bigger to hold all the casseroles that my church group brought over.  The community really embraced my son and grandson and for that I was grateful.  A flurry of people went through my house that day – more than at any point while I was alive.   When the last church lady left the last tuna noodle casserole – my house was finally quiet.   Jack and Tom sat on my couch with the crocheted blanket that Angela had made me one year for Christmas.   The silence seemed so unnatural – I usually had the TV or radio going because I hated being by myself.  Now there was only the ticking sound of my grandfather clock in the hallway that filled the house.   Jack and Tom wanted to go but couldn’t bring themselves to do it – for some reason they both knew it would mean it was really over – I was gone and never coming back – at least not as they knew me when I was alive.
I went over the Jack and tried to comfort him – to put my arm around him but it kept falling through.  Angela appeared and showed me how to drape my arm around him by hovering but not resting on him.  My little ghost hunter seemed oblivious to me – so filled with his own sadness to consider that I might just be this close.  Angela sat next to Tom who was wiping his eyes and looking down – trying to keep it together for Jack’s sake.   Both my boys looked so vulnerable – I just wanted to take their pain away but knew I couldn’t – not unless I rose from the dead and that seemed highly unlikely.  I’ve been a Christian woman all my life and knew that in the history of the world it had only happened once – however it was still only the third day since I passed so maybe it was possible.  

Angela could read my mind and started to giggle.  “Good God Claire –are you suggesting that you can take the Messiah route?  Trust me, the powers that be look down on that line of thinking.”  I winced at my hubris and hoped that it had not cost me.  I was dead, the funeral was over – the boys seemed like they were on the way to healing.  My mission was over.  Where the hell was the white light to take me to heaven? “I was wondering that too,” Angela replied.  “I figured since I was an adulterer – with that sin still on my head when I died that’s why I was not allowed to ascend – but it’s something more than that.  I’m still trying to figure it out.  In the meantime – we can still be here for Jack and Tom.  It’s funny, I find that I love him more now that I’m dead then I ever could when I was alive.”   That remark genuinely pissed me off.  “You’d still be alive if you had loved him more – at least with my death – I could have left in peace knowing that you would be alive to look after them but no – you had to go off with your lover on that snowy night and then tried to come back to get Jack but God was not going to let that happen.  You died in that car accident leaving me to pick up the pieces of your mistake!”  Every bit of contempt I had for her was spewing out.    
Angela’s face when from hurt to hard.  Her eyes turned to steel and she addressed me in a way she never had before.  “How dare you use God to judge me when I know for a fact that you were not exactly faithful in your marriage either.”   She knew that she had struck a blow.  She just looked at me with the same contempt I had for her.  “How did you –“ I stammered realizing that even though I had confessed my sin and thought I was absolved – apparently it was not enough.   “Tom told me he thought that you had an affair when he was a teenager.  Then your husband came to me after I died to ask me to look after you.  He had been around you all this time but it was time for him to move onto his next life.  He wished he had treated you better.  You could have understood Claire – you could have reached out but instead I got nothing but judgement – your fucking judgement – even before my affair.  I was never good enough for your son until I died and then it was safe to be nice – because in the eyes of the community and your grandson – it was the right thing to do.  But make no mistake – heaven can see that you are a fucking hypocrite!”  Angela picked up one of my Precious Moments angel figurines from the side table and threw it at me.  It went through me and crashed to the floor.  Tom and Jack were jostled from their grief enough to look up.

“What the hell?” Tom said as he looked in disbelief as the shattered porcelain figurine.  “How did that get all the way over there?” asked Jack not fathoming that his mother and grandmother were having an epic fight.  “You common little gutter snipe!   You’re right – you were never good enough for my boy.  As for my husband – I had my reasons – reasons that don’t concern you –“ I replied getting ready to hurl something myself.  “Don’t concern me?! – unfucking believable!  Your husband was also suffering from Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder  from the Korean War– but they didn’t call it that then– it was shell shocked and they didn’t have therapy for it then.  You tried to get him help but nothing worked – just like with Tom. We both needed more but – Jesus Claire – you could have tried to understand or maybe you did and you turned your back on me anyway.”  I found an old ceramic cup - a piece of crap that Angela had made me for my birthday when she was still into pottery and threw it back.  It hit the side of the shelf and broke in two – not nearly as dramatic as I had hoped but now Jack and Tom could see it fly through the air and crash.
“Dad- what’s going on?  Is it – “ Jack stopped short realizing his ghost hunting which was more of a hobby was about to get real.   “Shit son- we need to get under something-“ Tom ordered like an soldier that knew he was under attack – he’d been through this with Angela once before.  He grabbed Jack’s hand and they ran to the kitchen and got under the table. 

“Is that the best you can do old woman?” Angela laughed.  She picked up a ballerina figurine and threw it against the wall – “Too bad you were never good at sports-“ I picked up her crocheted blanket and started to rip it.  Angela retaliated with smashing two more of my Precious Moments angels. “I always detested these things and you were actually stupid enough to think they were art!”
“Dad, I’m scared –“ we both heard Jack from the kitchen.  “Great – now you’ve managed to terrify Jack – the one totally innocent person on this whole thing,” I said running into the kitchen.  “You are not going to comfort him without me,” Angela replied.  I saw Jack and Tom under my dinette.  Jack was trembling and Tom was holding him tight.  “It’s going to be okay son – it’s going to stop soon.”  “It’s only going to stop when you get the fuck out of here Claire –“ Angela opened up the cabinet and started to break my Corning Ware. 
I tried to keep her from my good china which I wanted Jack’s wife to have one day.  The dishes kept breaking around them until a shard of glass hit Jack in his arm and it started to bleed.  “That is enough Angela – stop it now!” Tom bellowed as he stood up ready to take her on.  Angela stopped just as she had my favorite salad bowl in her hands.  She saw Jack bleeding and realized she was the cause.  “Oh my God, Jack – I’m so sorry,” she sat down next to him – holding his arm trying to stem the flow.  Tom got a rag from under the sink and wrapped it around Jack’s arm which stopped the bleeding.  “There you go soldier,” he said trying to ease the tension of the moment.  I wondered if he thought I was around as well.  “Dad, was that Mom and Nana – are they ghosts? Why aren’t they in heaven?”  The idea of my grandson thinking I was not going to heaven took me aback.   

Tom looked around the kitchen and surveyed the damage.  He had been through this with Angela after her funeral when he was drunk.  But this time he was stone sober and his son- an innocent victim had gotten hurt.  “Angela – look I know since I came back from the war – I was not the man you married.  I’m sorry for that – I was just so pissed that in my life I had seen so much death in Vietnam – friends blown away before my eyes.  I never talked about it because a real man just takes it all in and doesn’t say anything.  But that’s bullshit.  I let it destroy our marriage, my relationship with you – with Jack. For that I’m sorry.  I don’t like what you did at the end – leaving me but now I can understand it.  I have to move on Angela.  I was sitting in church today at my mother’s funeral.  Shit – life is too fucking short.  I can’t keep all this anger inside and still function. It’s eating me alive. I forgive you Angie and Mom – you have to forgive her too.”  I looked at Angela and she looked at me.  I realized in death we were supposed to be better than this – we needed ascend beyond our petty mortal coils.   I walked over to Angela – my footsteps crackling over my broken stoneware.   “I’m sorry Angela – I should never have judged you.  Please forgive me.”  Angela took my hand – “I’m sorry too Claire – please forgive me – I know our relationship has not been easy.  I know how much you love them.  I’m just so tired – so very tired.”
A warmness started to fill the kitchen.  The overhead light started to expand and stars entered the kitchen.  I looked over at Angela who was covered in the light.  “That was it Claire – its forgiveness.”  I looked at Angela and for the first time since I had known her – she looked calm and at peace.   White orbs surrounded her.  She started to talk to someone I couldn’t see.  “It’s beautiful Claire – so peaceful.  I need sometime – I’m not sure when I’ll be back - take care of them.”  The ray started to pull her up and she was gone.  

I stood there waiting for my white light but something was holding me back.  I had never forgiven myself for cheating on my husband – he may have forgiven me, the church might have absolved me but still I didn’t feel worthy and that was keeping me back.  “Mom, I know what happened when I was a teenager and Dad did too – it’s in the past.  I love you Mom but you need to move on too –“ Tom said with his voice cracking.   A warmth started to pushed through my chest – like 100 pound weight that had been crushing me for years was finally being lifted.  The white shaft of light started to cover me as well – and this time both Jack and Tom got to see something was changing.  “Dad, look – the room is full of light.”  I felt myself getting lighter.  A voice asked me a crucial question – would I be willing to come back from time to time to keep an eye on things – as a free spirit.  “Yes – please!” I replied eagerly.  I understood Angela’s need to stay away and recharge but the idea that I would be able to go back and forth helped me to be able to finally move on.  Jack put his hand out and I touched it briefly before I ascended to the light completely.   My parents had been waiting a long time to see me – it was good to be with them again.

A week later, Tom was going through the house to get it ready to sell.   I had willed it to him and now he and Jack would have some money to keep their heads above water for a while.  He kept some of my furniture and keepsakes before sending the rest to Goodwill.  Jack got home from school and found Pup-Pup back on his bed.  Tom had thrown him out in a drunken stupor to get his son to grow up.  I saved the little dog from the trash, washed him and kept him at my house in the guest room.  Jack and I usually kept it hidden when Tom was at my house – it was our little secret.  “Pup-Pup – what?!” Jack said as he patted his little stuffed friend.   Tom looked on without saying a word.   Jack had lost so much in such a short period of time – maybe growing up was over-rated.   Tom walked into the kitchen to start dinner with my remaining Corning Ware.  There was a precious Moments angel on the table.  “Hey Mom,” he said with a smile.