Death and Needing to Hear from the Neither World: Grief, Insanity is Thy Name

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When we have loved greatly, we will never walk alone.

My uncle is terminally ill in a Florida hospital with a do not resuscitate order. He is a father figure to me so this is very important. I live 900 miles from Florida’s sunny gulf coast. This plays horribly with my mind.

9:00 am: I get the phone call telling me to expect the inevitable at anytime. Notify the rest of the family on Facebook, keep my phone charged and with me, Mom says.

I’m sitting with my daughter, who is in her second week recovery from spine surgery. We are home, finishing breakfast and morning showers when the call comes in. Immediately, I realize the problematic nature of the timing of everything. I feel I need and want to be in Florida. My daughter needs me home. She can’t do this on her own. Not yet.

Fourteen years ago, my parents, brother and several aunts and uncles heard the calling of the snow bird at the retirement capital of the country – Ocala, Florida. They sold their homes, packed their things, bought RVs and waved goodbye.  Ending what was a very close knit extended family system with all the trimmings. This left me with my own little family.

It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships across the miles. Responsibilities, expenses and health have all played havoc. But we have succeeded with only moderate feelings of loss on my part, especially during the holidays. This is not a holiday, but like a holiday, I feel the pangs of not being in the same location as the rest of the family and it’s taking its toll.

I’ve spent most of my day trying to figure a way to juggle taking care of my daughter and her cats and still fly to Florida. I realize I not only want to be near family, I need to be there for me to nurture them and for them to nurture me. I want another chance to say goodbye to a man who will always be my other father.

It’s 5:00 pm and my phone rings. It’s my mother. I ask her if my dad can pick me up at the airport if I figure out the logistical nightmare.

She hems and haws and says, “Let us go to the hospital and see what’s what. Then we’ll have a talk and call you back between 10:00 and 10:30 tonight.”

Not a problem, I have class in an hour and I still have not figured things out, so this gives me more time.  I take care of dinner for my family, take the dog out another time, another glass of ice water and an ice pack for my daughter and leave for class with my assignment left behind on the table. I have my fully charged cell phone in my hand in case the call telling me it’s over happens.

Class ends and I get back in plenty of time for the mom’s call.  The phone does not ring and this is where insanity set in and never looked back.

By 11:00 I’m concerned. My daughter asks if there is any news – no. 11:30, I get this odd feeling of relief.

Enter crazy thought #1. He’s passed away, no longer suffering and this is the relief I feel.

I tell all this to daughter who says, “Why do you think they didn’t call? Why don’t we call down there to see what’s going on?”

Enter crazy thought #2. They are so busy with Uncle’s death; there is no time to call, too distraught to call.  Who the hell am I to call them during this horrible, intensively challenging time?  I’m not a part of the family anymore anyway. I live 900 miles away! They had a family portrait taken several months ago, of all of them – without me. I’m really abandoned and on my own.

Enter crazy thought #3. I flash back to my sister’s death when I was seven. I didn’t get to say goodbye then either.  She died; they whisked me off to Grandmas while things settled. When I returned, all my sister’s things and pictures were gone. We weren’t to talk about her, it was too painful.  As an adult, I get this. As a child, I did not. Sitting in my room alone waiting for a call that was not coming, perhaps the adult is not too far removed from the child.

Enter crazy thought #4. They are doing this again. Arranging everything with me out of the picture because they don’t think I can handle it.  Just like, I couldn’t handle my sister’s death back in 1968. I was seven years old then! I tell my daughter all this.

She wobbles over, gingerly sits down on the side of my bed and puts her arm around me. Our roles have reversed. She tells me things I would have told her in a reverse situation. The leaves don’t fall far from the tree.

12:00 midnight. Enter crazy thought #5. I tell my daughter, “Well, if I can’t be there to say goodbye, I’ll be expecting a visit from his spirit. At this point, he can probably get to me easier then I can get to him.”

She looks at me to verify I’m serious. I am.  I’ve heard of many people having death-bed visits from loved ones.  Family finding out someone died before the police or hospital called to tell them. Why not have my uncle come to me to say goodbye?

1:00 am. My daughter is back in her room leaving me and my over active imagination to run amok.  I’m writing the next chapter of a manuscript while sitting on my bed.  Behind me is a double window that overlooks a second story balcony. There I have a rocking chair where I drink my early morning coffee. The windows are open.  I have my I-pod on a speaker stand set to shuffle. The music is anything from tribal to Bach, Incubus to Frank Sinatra.

The writing is going well until I hear a noise. I shyly look up from the computer screen half expecting to see the materializing form of my uncle. I see nothing out of the ordinary.  I continue writing, fighting back sorrow. I can’t believe this is finally the end.

The I-pod stops playing and I stop typing, startled by the sudden silence. A sign, I wonder. Cautiously, I turn to see what song is listed on the screen. Was it Edelweiss, the song we danced to at my wedding? No, it says D00045.

That is the code for a series of voice recordings I’ve made. One of which is a lengthy conversation with my uncle where he tells me about his childhood.   I rummage through my computer to find the original clip convinced it is that recording (I-pod will not play it). It’s not.  It’s notes about muses in the Peach Orchard in the Gettysburg battlefield.  Not my uncle.

I laugh at myself and turn off the I-pod. The room grows still with the exception of the tip tapping of my fingers on the laptop keyboard. Behind me, I hear the sound of my rocking chair on the balcony moving. Is it the breeze? I don’t feel a breeze on my skin.

I want to turn and look but find myself griped in fear. What will my uncle look like? What if it’s not what I expect? I get up the courage to look but it’s too dark to make out the chair. Stealthily, I move closer to the screen, cupping my hands around my eyes to block out the ambient light.

Before my grandmother died, we got possession of her rocking chair and my father placed it in our clubbed-in basement. After she died, that chair rocked on his own for several minutes on many evenings. We always said it was grandma. Many a night, I would hear the creaking of the chair and sneak downstairs to watch it slowly move back and forth for just a few moments and then come to a stop.

The rocker on my back porch was empty. A swift breeze pushed back my hair and I sighed. It was the wind after all.

I return to my laptop. My nerves frayed and my mind on red-alert. The auto fan in the far window clicks on and the anxiety makes my skin feel it’s being peeled off my muscles. I push off the laptop, bound out bed and slam shut the windows, locking them and pulling the blinds shut.

If my uncle is going to visit, it’s not going to be through the window or in the rocker! He can visit but only on my terms. Whatever those are?

I go out to the bathroom in the hallway and return to my room, shutting the door behind me. I pick up the laptop and return to chapter three. Something outside my door bangs once, then twice. Everything goes silent except my heart.

I slid out of bed and mosey up to the door. I outstretch my hand to the glass door knob debating if I really want to see what is going on. I think, why in the hell would my uncle try to scare me like this? Followed quickly with the thought, maybe, he doesn’t have many options.

I’m the one that wanted to say goodbye and here I am cowering behind a door. I open it to find the empty hallway which does nothing to calm my nerves. Across the hall is my office.

I listen and notice the outside street sounds are louder than normal. I walk over and find the window open and several paperback books scattered on the floor. Lightning flashes and I assume the wind has knocked the books off an end table. I shut the window and return to my room thinking I’ve read too many Stephen King books and seen too many episodes of paranormal television programming.

3:30 a.m. and my stomach is growling. I need something to eat.

To get to my kitchen I have to go down the stairs and through the living room and dining room. The staircase is completely enclosed with a heavy wooden door at the bottom. I don’t like the staircase at night. In fact, I try to avoid it.

Tonight, my stomach says we’re moving forward through the darkness and down the stairs (there is no light on the stairs). I tell myself my apprehension is ridiculous. I reach the glass door knob and stop. On the other side of the door will be my living room partially lite by the porch light coming through the front windows.

In my living room is my late sister’s Chatty Cathy doll. It is my most prized possession. This doll is also a very special memento for my uncle and ties all of us together. I tell myself (enter another crazy thought) if he has any ability to communicate with me, it will be with this doll. Now I’m afraid to go into the living room for fear I will find the doll moved or moving, maybe talking. It is Chatty Cathy for goodness sake.

I chide myself again for thinking such crazy thoughts and bust through the door. Keeping my eyes firmly on my feet, I quickly work my way through the living room, dining room, slam on the kitchen light and sigh in relief.  Everything is normal. Everything is going to be fine. Uncle is not going to pay me a middle of the night goodbye call. Mom and dad will call later when they are able. I’ll figure what to do at that time.

I pull out a plastic bowl, the box of Lucky Charms cereal and some milk. I wonder what the family is doing now. Are they still up like me? Are they making arrangements for Uncle’s cremation in the morning? Why haven’t they called me? Don’t they know I’m worried sick?

A dark shadow whips by my feet and returns prowling towards me. I scream, dropping the milk, tipping over the cereal filled bowl, spewing Lucky Charms all over the counter, down the cupboard and onto the floor.

I clench my heart in absolute terror, convinced the world is coming to an end when the dark, shadowed creature speaks to me – Meow.

My uncle’s spirit, if it could, did not visit me because he was still alive. My parents didn’t call because they thought it was too late. Never thinking I’d be up all night in grief then terror because someone I thought had died, hadn’t and was coming to visit me but wasn’t.

“Why didn’t you call?” They asked me. A good question and I don’t have an answer. I need to figure that one out.

If this isn’t an example of the power of our thoughts and what happens when we let them run amok, I don’t know what is. I need to ask myself some serious questions about my mental behaviors. I can throw in, yes, I was tired, I have PTSD, and I’m grief stricken and feel helpless. I think while all those things are factors, they don’t negate the fact; I let the whole thing run crazy. I didn’t reality check. I didn’t use the resources at hand to help myself.

It’s 11:30 pm and I’m sitting here on my bed typing this blog. My window is open and there is a slight breeze from the balcony brushing through the rocking chair slats.  I wonder if my uncle will make it through another night. If he doesn’t, I wonder if he’ll come visit.  Perhaps, I’ll sleep with the light on.

Uncle died at 1:30 a.m. My daughter and I were in my office reminiscing through old photos of us with Uncle when it happened. The call from my parents came in directly after that. While there was no ghostly apparition, I still got to say my goodbyes in a much healthier way. Through all the fabulous years of memories that will last not only myself but my children as well. Thanks Uncle Joe, I’m missing you already.

About Debbie Hill, deborahhillcounselor.com

Wellness Counselor, Author, Photographer, Interested in living a balanced, compassion centered life, travel, spiritual/supernatural issues, history, all things Disney. If that's not eclectic, I don't know what is.

Posted on June 27, 2013, in An American Family Moment, Insights, the Greatest Gifts, Parapsychology and Paranormal Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. First of all, let me offer my condolences on your loss. We always enjoyed your Uncle Joe at family celebrations.
    Secondly, I feel sorry that you feel that your family has pushed you out. I really doubt that they have deliberately abandoned you. People get tied up in their own lives and often times they just don’t think out of the box. Although your feelings make perfect sense, I have the feeling that your family would be very surprised to hear that you felt left out.
    Often times, people who have not experienced the feelings that you have, don’t realize that those type of feelings even exist. It’s not that they aren’t compassionate people. It’s just not a “life experience” that they’ve had. They just don’t know any better.
    I’ve had to excuse countless behaviors by people by just saying to myself, “OK, they just didn’t know any better.” We often think that people SHOULD know better, but we can’t explain what goes through the minds of others. I’d like to think that your family just doesn’t realize your aching for more inclusion. I can’t imagine, having known many of them, that they would deliberately push you away.
    Secondly, I found your details regarding the “visitation” of Uncle Joe to be quite entertaining. You wanted him to visit….so you were looking for every opportunity that might suggest that he had.
    Unfortunately, we can’t demand this type of situation. When and if Uncle Joe does drop in, it won’t be fearful. Rather, it will happen just matter-of-factly. It won’t be an “Oh My GOD!” moment….it will more like a “hey! how are things?” moment. And you can’t force that, although I can understand how you wish that you could.
    You just want to have that last word, last hug, last good-bye.
    So, I pray that you get it, so that you can have some closure. No one knows more than Uncle Joe how precious your daughter is to you. He’s probably smiling down on the two of you right now.
    So, be easy on yourself. Mourn as you should, but know that your family does love you very much. I’m certain of that.

  2. I wondered if you had comment moderation on your blog, because I posted a comment within short time of you publishing this. Unfortunately, I did not think to save what I had written, which is kind of sad, because I wrote it in the moment, when the emotion was still high. I will attempt here to repost my thoughts, although I’m fairly certain that it won’t be the same level as the original. And, if this posting doesn’t show up, then I’ll know that you just have been too busy to moderate the comments, which is certainly quite understandable. So, here goes:

    Let me first and foremost, offer my condolences for your loss. Your Uncle Joe was truly a special person, and we so enjoyed our time spent with him at family events . Those moments, in themselves, seem a lifetime away for me.

    After reading your post, I am sorry that you feel that your family has pushed you away. I honestly don’t believe that is their intention. Often times, people are busy in their own worlds and they just don’t know how to think outside of the box.

    People who have not experienced situations simply don’t know what it is like to be in that position. They haven’t walked in your shoes…. and they simply don’t know any better.
    I’ve often excused hurtful behavior by convincing myself that certain people act the way that they do because they haven’t “walked the walk” and they are insensitive to what another person might be feeling.

    I’d love to say that they SHOULD know better, but you can’t think for people. And, sometimes, they just don’t get it, which doesn’t make the situation any better for you, but, hopefully this comment will help to alleviate some of the pain that you feel regarding being “abandoned”.

    Your suspenseful description of waiting for Uncle Joe to appear was amusing to me. I felt like I was in the room with you as you described the details.
    You wanted SO much for him to pop in, and yet, just thinking about the possibility frightened you.

    You so wanted to see him that you would have MADE him appear! I imagine that you were looking for an “I’M HERE GIRLIE!” moment. But it just didn’t happen. It’s funny how we so want things to happen on our time, isn’t it? Unfortunately, life does not work like that.

    I understand why you felt the need to see him. You needed one last hug…one last happy moment together, one last good-bye. You feel shortchanged because you were denied these.

    When Uncle Joe does pop in, it won’t be scary. He’ll say hello, and you two will have a short conversation, as if it happened everyday. And when it is over…..you will wish that you could have it back, or that he could have stayed longer.

    In the meantime, you have every right to mourn. But be sure to remember the fun times and the smiles and the hugs that you were blessed to have had.

    Because that is what Uncle Joe would have wanted.

    A good joke and a hearty laugh……that’s the Uncle Joe that I remember.

    And the fact that he truly loved you. Take care.

  3. I wondered if you had comment moderation on your blog, because I posted a comment within short time of you publishing this. Unfortunately, I did not think to save what I had written, which is kind of sad, because I wrote it in the moment, when the emotion was still high. I will attempt here to repost my thoughts, although I’m fairly certain that it won’t be the same level as the original. And, if this posting doesn’t show up, then I’ll know that you just have been too busy to moderate the comments, which is certainly quite understandable. So, here goes:

    Let me first and foremost, offer my condolences for your loss. Your Uncle Joe was truly a special person, and we so enjoyed our time spent with him at family events . Those moments, in themselves, seem a lifetime away for me.

    After reading your post, I am sorry that you feel that your family has pushed you away. I honestly don’t believe that is there intention. Often times, people are busy in their own worlds and they just don’t know how to think outside of the box.

    People who have not experienced situations simply don’t know what it is like to be in that position. They haven’t walked in your shoes…. and they simply don’t know any better.
    I’ve often excused hurtful behavior by convincing myself that certain people act the way that they do because they haven’t “walked the walk” and they are insensitive to what another person might be feeling.

    I’d love to say that they SHOULD know better, but you can’t think for people. And, sometimes, they just don’t get it, which doesn’t make the situation any better for you, but, hopefully this comment will help to alleviate some of the pain that you feel regarding being “abandoned”.

    Your suspenseful description of waiting for Uncle Joe to appear was amusing to me. I felt like I was in the room with you as you described the details.
    You wanted SO much for him to pop in, and yet, just thinking about the possibility frightened you.

    You so wanted to see him that you would have MADE him appear! I imagine that you were looking for an “I’M HERE GIRLIE!” moment. But it just didn’t happen. It’s funny how we so want things to happen on our time, isn’t it? Unfortunately, life does not work like that.

    I understand why you felt the need to see him. You needed one last hug…one last happy moment together, one last good-bye. You feel shortchanged because you were denied these.

    When Uncle Joe does pop in, it won’t be scary. He’ll say hello, and you two will have a short conversation, as if it happened everyday. And when it is over…..you will wish that you could have it back, or that he could have stayed longer.

    In the meantime, you have every right to mourn. But be sure to remember the fun times and the smiles and the hugs that you were blessed to have had.

    Because that is what Uncle Joe would have wanted.

    A good joke and a hearty laugh……that’s the Uncle Joe that I remember.

    And the fact that he truly loved you. Take care.

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