Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unexpected visitors

My mother used to tell the story of time her mother came to visit her. I wish I had paid more attention to the details of that story. As much as I peer into the thick darkness of that memory, I can’t remember when Mom said that Grannie Armstrong came to visit. But I do remember that it was after she had died.

I never met my mother’s mother. She died suddenly from a stroke, at the age of 70 – the year before I was born. When my mother got married and moved to Canada, she never saw my grandmother alive again. They were very close and I don’t think my mother ever got over the shock of that loss. She wrote of it in her diary. I hear the loneliness in her voice, thinking of being so far from ‘home’, trying to be a good wife in a strange, cold country.

My mother was not given to flights of fancy and, despite her struggle with depression, she did not experience hallucinations. She was a creative but also quite a practical person who worried that I was too “airy fairy”, as she often referred to my childhood day-dreaming. When my mother told the story of the night her dead mother visited her, I got goose bumps. Not because I was afraid but because I felt it to be so absolutely real and unarguably true.

My mother said that she awoke in the middle of the night, uncertain of the time. My father was working shift work that night and so she was alone. She described being suddenly wide awake, not struggling to shake off the cobwebby feeling one often has when roused from a deep sleep. Looking up she saw her mother sitting at the foot of the bed, hands folded in her lap. She smiled at my mother and my mother smiled back. They shared a long and loving gaze before my grandmother simply disappeared. My mother said she hadn’t been afraid and I could tell she was deeply comforted by the love and warmth of that singular experience.

I wasn’t able to be with my mother when she died and after she passed away I secretly hoped that I would receive a farewell of some kind from her. I had travelled to visit with her only weeks beforehand and she had rallied from a period of illness. Despite struggling with advanced Alzheimer’s she still knew me at our last visit. I spent hours with her each day, helping her eat, looking at pictures, telling stories. On our second-to-last day together, I remember telling her that I loved her and, being unable to reply in a full sentence, she pointed to me and mumbled “Love” with a smile. Perhaps that was her goodbye. I just wasn’t ready to hear it.

I desperately hoped for a visit from Chris after he died. His sudden and unexpected passing left a huge gash of emptiness inside of me and I thought that if I could see him once more and say goodbye, it might provide some comfort… some closure. Someone he knew had a dream about him soon after his death in which she saw him floating up in the sky with the energy of being free. In her dream he told her that it was so wonderful in the afterlife and that he was pain free and feeling vibrant again but that he was so sad to be away from his beloved Sandra.

I was jealous that she had heard his voice. Why hadn’t I heard from him!? All the irrational, insanity of that time left me questioning my own perceived openness to alternate realities, the depth of my love for Chris, etc, etc. So many painful, questioning nights laying in bed staring at the ceiling, hoping for a vision, a voice, anything that would signify communication from my beloved Chris… I often prayed to awaken from what I had begun to hope was a long nightmare. But the visit never came.

So it was a shock when I did get an unexpected, early morning visit back in January. I remember waking up very suddenly, my eyes literally snapping wide open, and my senses being very sharp as if the volume on my hearing had been turned up. Not more loudly but more crystal clear, the constant hum of life and my own busy mind suddenly quieted. Someone was in the room with me but I wasn’t afraid as I obviously would normally have been. I continued to lay on my side, not turning to look about but simply feeling this intense presence in the room.

No words were spoken. No voice was heard. No touch was felt. An overwhelming sense of comfort and calm filled the room and then, as suddenly as it had quieted, the hum reasserted itself and the visitor left. I don’t know if it was Chris or one of my parents. I don’t know if it was even someone I knew. I do know that I was left feeling more peaceful than I had in a long time.

I remember a couple of months after Chris died, a bitterly comical scenario played out in my imagination: Mom and Dad are hanging out in the afterlife (whatever form that may take) and in walks Chris. “What the hell are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be back there with Sandra! You promised to take care of our little girl!” cried my parents to Chris. He shuffled his feet in embarrassment, chewing his lip, and struggling to find something reasonable – or even witty – to say that would appease them. Nothing came to mind…

I hope they’ve forgiven him.


Helenski said...

Sandra, your posts are so eloquent and touching. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories with us. In many ways, it feels like getting to know Chris all over again through your eyes. Thinking of you, Helen

Amanda M said...

I would often lay awake after my mum died, hoping for a visit. I would talk to her out loud, asking for her to let me feel her presence, but in honesty I never have felt that calming situation you described. I dream about her a lot, though. Especially when my life is going through lots of changes, like now. It does bring me some small comfort, but it would be nice to have the kind of experience you describe...