Day 299: Ghost Stories: Part Five

On Halloween, when children are dressing up like ghosts and goblins, I think it is important to remember that those who have left this life have not left our lives– they watch over us.

This is Marta’s story:

My Uncle Jim was diagnosed with cancer in late April of 2008.   He had been rushed to the emergency room because he suddenly had an excruciating pain in his kidneys.  He and my aunt thought it was kidney stones; four hours later they were told it was cancer, and it had already spread.  It was already in his bone, his lungs, his liver, and his kidneys.  You see, my uncle did not know anything was wrong; he was already in constant pain because he had MS, so when symptoms of cancer arose, he did not notice because he always felt discomfort and he always felt pain.  He was in Florida at the time, so Marta and her family flew down to help my aunt close their winter home and bring Uncle Jim home to see his primary doctor.

The doctor at home confirmed the diagnosis.  After some soul-searching and reflection, he decided to deny treatment.   They were not going to be able to get rid of it, so chemotherapy and radiation would only make his final days that much more painful.  He wanted to enjoy his family up until the end.  However, on May 9th, he was rushed back to the hospital because in such a weakened state, he contracted pneumonia– his lungs were full of fluids.  He spent almost a week in the hospital while arrangements for hospice care to facilitate making his final days comfortable.

Marta and her brother Chris took turns staying at the hospital through the night with him.  They wanted him to be comfortable, but they also wanted to be in his presence as much as possible.  Just to touch his skin and hold his hand was important.  One evening, my uncle was lucid and Marta felt she needed to talk to him.

“Dad, you have been the best father to me.  I have been blessed by having you in my life.  You have taught me kindness.  You have taught me strength.  Most of all, you have taught me to love.  I love you Dad, and I will miss you so very much.”  Tears streamed down her face because she knew he would not see her daughter grow; he would not see any other grandchildren.  She cried because she would not be able to learn from him anymore.  She cried because soon, she would no longer hear his voice.

She continued, “Dad, what are your wishes for after you are gone.”  She squeezed his hand.  It was the hardest question she ever asked someone, to admit that death was near.

“I want to be laid out at Golubski.  I want my funeral to be a celebration of my life.” He looked her in the eyes.  “Marta, I want you to promise to always keep the cottage in the family.”

“Dad, I don’t want to talk about money and property.”

“I do.  I built that cottage out of love.  I built it for our family.  The future generations are our family.  I want the children to grow up there like you did.”  He paused for a second to catch his breath.  Even conversation was laborious for him.

“Marta, when you are at the cottage, look up at the sky.”

“Okay.”

“When you see a bird flying over head…”

“Yes?”

“And it shits on your shoulder, that will be me.”  He smiled and she laughed, brushing tears from her eyes.  Her father always had a funny sense of humor.

Within a few weeks of that conversation, he passed away.  The funeral did not focus on his death, it focused on the man he was in life.  Marta actually spoke at the wake, and she told the congregation gathered the bird story.  We all laughed, and everyone looked at each other and nodded their heads.  “Yes, yes,” we all agreed.  “That would be Jim.”

A month later, we were at their cottage.  Marta’s mom, my Aunt Pam was having a difficult time without Uncle Jim.  They had been married for over thirty years, and their love was strong.  She felt hallow without him.  Marta and Aunt Pam took a walk so they could talk and cry together.  A half hour later they returned, still crying, but laughing, too.

While they were on their walk, a bird flew over head, and wouldn’t you know, it shit on both of their shoulders!

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Day 297: Ghost Stories: Part Four

This is Mary Margaret’s story:

Mary Margaret was born into a Roman Catholic family.  As a child she went to church every Sunday.  When she reached school age, she knew that she would soon be “an adult” in the eyes of God: she would soon receive her first holy communion.  In May of second grade, when she first received the host on her tongue, she knew how important it was that Jesus had died for her sins.

Mary Margaret attended twelve years of Catholic schools.  She had a very close relationship with God.  When she started college, she continued to attend mass weekly.  She was majoring in chemistry, but really, she was at college to meet a nice Catholic boy that she could marry and start a family.  Two weeks into her freshman year of school, she did meet a nice young man with whom she almost immediately fell in love; however, he was Jewish.

Sol was everything she wanted in a boy.  He was charming.  He was funny.  He cared about the environment.  He cared about people.  He was handsome, and almost immediately, he made her feel like she was the only girl in the world.  Sol was majoring in poly sci, and he had plans to attend law school.  He wanted to be an attorney and help people.

Sol fell in love with Mary as well.  After four years at university, Mary and Sol decided they wanted to marry.  Both sets of parents were worried about the intermarriage of faiths, but Mary and Sol decided they would be fine.  They would raise the children to learn about both faiths, and when the time was right, the children could decide which faith they would rather follow.  Sol’s mother, Bracha, found this irksome because she knew that her son did not attend temple regularly, and Mary’s influence would win out in the end.

Fourteen years later, Mary Margaret and Sol had four children.  Bracha’s fears had come true, the children were being raised Catholic.  Sol had gotten so busy in his law practice that he eventually stopped going to temple all together.  His children were being taken to the Catholic church every Sunday.  Bracha did her best to teach the children about her Jewish faith, but they did not want to be converted.  Bracha, although polite, felt contempt for Mary Margaret.  She wanted to be Safta not Grandma.  She wanted to have Passover meals not Sunday dinner.

Mary Margaret knew how much Bracha disliked her and it broke her heart.  Mary was a good mother and a good wife.  Mary did her best to show Bracha respect. She sent Hannakuh gifts and called on Rosh HaShanah to wish her a happy new year.  Mary Margaret even learned to cook Kosher meals to please her mother-in-law, but to no avail.  Sol told Mary not to worry.  His mother was stubborn, but she had love in her heart.  She could not express love for Mary, but Sol was convinced she felt it.

One summer morning, Mary Margaret was sleeping in.  The children had all reached ages in which they could either fend for themselves in the morning or they wanted to sleep in themselves.  Mary had been up late the night before finishing a Barbara Kingsolver novel, so she needed a little extra rest.  Sol got out of bed like usual, and he kissed her on the cheek.  He held the kiss a little bit longer than usual and he stroked her hair.  Mary Margaret did not open her eyes, but she smiled.  “Love you,” she said.

Seconds later the phone rang.  It rang three times.  Why did Sol not pick it up?  It seemed impossible that he could have left that quickly.  The phone rang again.  Annoyed, Mary Margaret rolled over and picked up the receiver.

“Hello,” she said.

“Honey, it’s me.” It was Sol’s voice.

“How are you calling me?  You just kissed me,” she said.  She felt confused.

“Honey, I left for the office two hours ago.  I didn’t even kiss you this morning because you looked so peaceful,” he said.

How could this be?  She could still feel the moisture from his lips on her face.  Had she dreamt it?

His voice was laden with sadness.  “Mary, my father just called.  My mother passed away a few minutes ago,” he said to her.

Mary smiled, although tears welled in her eyes.  She had not dreamt the kiss.  She knew in her heart that Bracha had stopped on her way to the next life, to make peace and let her know that she truly did have a place in Bracha’s heart.

Day 296: Ghost Stories: Part Three

This is Kim’s story.

Kim’s mom died when Kim was only nine years old.  She was close to her mother, the way any nine-year old is close to her mom.  As she grew older, even though her father remarried, she often wondered what life would have been like had her real mother been part of her life.  Would she have dated that nasty boy in ninth grade?  Would she have chosen a different profession?  She especially realized how much she missed her mother once she started to have her own children.  The color of her youngest daughter’s hair was so much like her mothers, and when her oldest daughter laughed, she was reminded of her mother’s laughter.

Although Kim thought of her mother often over the years, she wished she would show up in her dreams.  She had heard many stories of people dreaming about their loved ones, stories that were probably nothing more than the product of an active imagination, yet, when she heard these stories, she could not help but wonder if it was something more.

Kim’s friend Susie often dreamt of her own mother, her mother that had passed away a few years earlier.  Susie always said that she knew her mother was gone, but she was there talking about life in the present: Susie’s children, Susie’s husband, Susie’s job.  Susie’s mother had never met her youngest daughter, but that did not stop her from commenting about the child’s interests.  Yes, Kim listened to Susie and wondered… could these apparitions in her dreams really be Susie’s mother?  If they were, why did her own mother, after thirty years, not want to visit?

This last July, for the first time in her life, Kim dreamt about her mother.

Kim’s mother walked into the room and sat down on the bed.  She shook Kim and “woke her.”  She put her finger to her lip to indicate that they needed to whisper; her mother did not want to wake her husband.

“Hi Baby,” her mother said in the dream.

“Hi Mom,” Kim said.  She leaned in and hugged her and held her for a long time.  Kim breathed her in: jasmine and rose, warm and exotic.  She had not smelled the scent in years, and there it was, her mother’s favorite perfume: Youth Dew by Estee Lauder.

Her mother pulled away.  She touched Kim’s face with her fingers.  She looked her in the eyes.  “I don’t have much time,” her mother said.  “I just want you to know I am proud of you.  You are better at life than I was.  Your children are lucky to have you.”

“Thank you.  I wish you were here to watch them grow,” Kim told her, enjoying the feeling of her mother’s fingers on her cheek.

“I am here.  I am in your heart.”  Her mother rose.  “I’m sorry, Honey.  I have to go.  I have to pick someone up.”  And with that, she walked out of the room and disappeared.

Kim startled.  She awoke.  She was lying down, not sitting up.  For the first time, she remembered a dream involving her mother.  It was so real.  Had it been her imagination?  She breathed in?  Could she smell her perfume lingering in the air?  Had she dreamt about her mother because she had been craving to dream about her for so long?  She had no answers, and it was only 3:00 am.  She lulled herself back to sleep.

At 7:30 AM, Kim was busy getting the kids ready for school.  The coffee was brewing, the waffles were warming, the girls were in the bathroom brushing their teeth.  The phone rang.  Who calls this early in the morning? she thought.

“Hello?” Kim said into the phone.

It was her aunt, her mother’s brother’s wife.  She was crying.  “Kim, I am sorry for calling so early.  I just wanted you to know.  Your Uncle Pete died in the middle of the night.”

Kim’s entire body covered in goosebumps.  Could her mother’s cryptic last statement been about Uncle Pete.

“I’m so sorry.  When did this happen?” Kim asked.  She already knew the response.

“About 3:00 am.”