Driving across the Indiana border into the country today, the Queen Anne’s lace and yellow coreopsis ran wild in the fields along the road. The sun beamed into the car and a soft warm breeze blew in the window, opened just a crack to bring some summer air in. When I wiped my face, I felt warm tears and wondered if the breeze made my eyes water. With a tap to the automatic control, I closed the car window but the wetness still puddled in the corner of my eye. Now that I’d noticed it, the tears seemed to slightly increase their pace. The drive was pleasant and I had no reason to cry.
I’ve had enough mystical experiences to know that when the body overrides the mind, there is something I’ve missed that set off a physical reminder. And then it hit me. Of all the days of the year, August 5th is the one that started my journey into Anne on Fire, though I didn’t know it at the time. On August 5th, 1996, my mother died after a six-month battle with liver cancer.
I glanced at the car clock and it showed 12:30, within an hour of the time my mother died on that August 5th morning, a morning much like today with the sun streaming in to the windows of her bedroom and the flowers blowing softly in the breeze outside. Can the body really remember what the mind choses not to?
That morning I sat with the hospice worker and held my mother’s hand. It had grown frail and bony like the rest of her body as the cancer withered her athletic frame. Her breath rattled and I gave the morphine pump another squeeze to ease her pain. When the hospice worker told me we were close to the end, she suggested I make a couple of telephone calls to let the family know. I slipped out of the room and into the kitchen, dialing my aunt Mary — my mother’s only sibling. I had begun to tell Aunt Mary the news when the hospice worker hurriedly appeared before me and whispered, “It’s time.” I told Aunt Mary I’d call her back shortly and strided into the bedroom, grasping for my mother’s hand. One breath. Then another. Then silence. Her grip faded slowly from mine but I grasped even more tightly.
And then the most amazing thing happened Her spirit seemed to separate from her body. A transparent mirror image floated upward in excruciating slow motion. I gasped loud enough to startled myself. Then I realized my hands were hot, feeling intense heat in each one so much so that they began to tremble. I watched immobile as the transparent image of my mother floated up out of the room.
She was gone and at the same time I knew she was with me.
Awe-struck I turned to the hospice worker, who quietly told me, “You have been given a gift from your mother. Treasure it.”
“But what just happened. Tell me?”
“Death is as precious a gift as life. Not all of us are allowed to witness it. Your mother gave you the gift of being with her for her journey. We all choose when to die and who will be with us,” she said and I knew then this woman had witnessed many deaths and was a very special person to share this with me.
The rest of the day dissolved in a blur of activity. Aunt Mary arrived as did my brother Jim and sisters, Kathleen and Susie. Funeral people were called; arrangements began to be made.
Something unique had happened and I watched the activities unfold as if in a trance. Something had changed in me as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it but everything was different. In the days and months and years that followed, I began to receive signs from my mother. These were the signs that set me on the Anne on Fire journey.
More to come.
Eileen Gertrude Stark Gallagher. 1930-1996. Rest in peace.
- Hospice Care: Too Costly or Misunderstood? (centerforhealthmediapolicy.com)