My sister, Eileen, died on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. In reality, I think she really died a couple days earlier—on Sunday.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
At 4 a.m. that Sunday morning, my phone rang. I shot straight up, turned on the light, put on my glasses, and looked at the caller I.D. Not recognizing the number, I debated whether to answer the phone or not, then thought, it could be an emergency. It was.
My nephew, Lee, informed me that his mother had been taken to Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, having had a cardiac arrest a couple hours earlier, but was now being transferred to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, where I lived. For her to be transferred, I knew it wasn’t good, but I kept that feeling to myself.
Lee asked if I could go to the hospital to be with her until he and the rest of the family could get there, which he figured would be another hour. I figured it to be at least two. For me, Bronson was only fifteen minutes away.
I grabbed my purse, and a bag, throwing in a snack, water, a book, the dissertation chapter that I was currently editing, and my iPad, which was turned off, with all apps closed as was my habit, as it had been parked for its nightly recharge.
When I arrived at the hospital, it was quiet and dark, with halls devoid of activity. I ended up in a dark waiting room, where I turned on one light so as to not awaken two women sleeping on two couches of the three couches on one side of the room.
On my side of the room, where there were a few chairs, I sensed that I wasn’t alone. I looked around and even got up to check the hall but no one was there. Moments later, I heard classical music playing. I found the music comforting as classical music was my favorite type of music. Then I heard an Adagio that was one of my favorites. And then another.
Once again, I sensed Eileen was in the room, but this time right next to me. All of sudden, I realized that the music wasn’t coming from the overhead speakers but that the music was coming from my bag.
I pulled out my iPad and opened it. No application was open or turned on, and yet the machine was playing my favorite downloaded music. I had to open the app in order to turn it off.
“Eileen? Are you here?” I whispered. Immediately, I felt her grin, and then she was gone.
Eileen was well aware of my intuitive abilities, as I had told a few stories about it, but that nearly ten years early. At the time, I didn’t think she, or the rest of my family, really believed it all. So, I didn’t talk about much with them after that.
The family began to arrive and the prognosis wasn’t good. In my heart of hearts, I knew that she died at 2 a.m. when the cardiac arrest had occurred. While I sensed Lee, her second oldest child and second son, understood exactly what was happening, his brother, Bill, and three sisters—Lacy, Cathy, and Sarah—were in denial, grasping any little sign upon which to hang their hope.
Normally, I’m not one to hang around a hospital for hours upon end, but in that moment, I knew that I wasn’t really there for Eileen in seeing her recover. Instead, I knew I was there to help her kids accept her death and make the needed transition, but I wasn’t quite sure how I could do it until finally Eileen began the conversation in a major attention-getting way later, as I was going home that night.
That entire Sunday was a day of sadness and hope for these kids, and I could see their hope flagging a little as they first talked about the reality, their fear of losing her, and then their return to hope that the doctors were wrong. Lee was the only one of the five who believed, like me, that she was already gone.
A big family, with my sister and her friend, Lee and his wife, her sister and mother, and Eileen’s other four children, their father, plus myself, we filled most all of the seats in the room. Three other women, strangers to us, were in the corner, with one quietly talking on her cell phone. My three nieces were at the point of trying to convince themselves that their mother was returning to consciousness, stating as much, when all of a sudden the woman on the phone said, quite loudly, “No, I’m NOT!”
The girls’ conversation stopped immediately, their heads turned in unison to the woman who had spoken. Realizing the woman was on the phone, the girls laughed and dismissed the outburst, but right away I knew that was Eileen speaking to her kids through that woman. While to everyone else, the outburst looked coincidental, I knew differently. Eileen was listening to their conversation and wanted them to come to grips of her death and was finding any way possible to tell them otherwise. The timing of that woman’s response may have appeared coincidental, but it wasn’t. Even one of the girls said it had sounded like Eileen. I wanted to tell them what had occurred, but I sensed they weren’t ready to hear it, yet. I knew there would be an opportunity to refer back to this incident later.
Conversation went back to their hope and other aspects of their own lives that they had put on hold for the time being.
Later that evening, as I drove home, I heard Eileen tell me, “Ask them about the rose ips.”
“No, rose ips?”
“No, rose ips.”
“Just do it,” she said.
Once home, I called one of the two girls who was staying overnight in the hospital, asking what they knew about rose hips or rose lips, but they didn’t have a clue. I told them that I would see them in the morning.
Monday, February 11, 2013
When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, I asked if they had uncovered the meaning, but they hadn’t. They told me that their father, Tim, would be arriving shortly, wondering if he would know.
When Tim arrived, they asked him about the rose lips or rose hips, and he shook his head, not knowing. Then, I said, “Could it be rose tits?”
He burst out laughing saying it was Eileen’s favorite phrase when she got mad at him, making reference to his previous wives who had been well-endowed. The kids were fascinated that their mother had found a way to communicate with their father. They wanted to know more, what to listen for, how to listen, what could they expect to hear, and yet I knew they didn’t truly believe that she had died. They felt that she was still alive but was able to communicate, but I knew differently.
Having remembered my stories from years ago, they questioned me. To place the stories in a safe context for them, I shared some of my experiences that included my father playing with my TV after he had died a few years back. They had loved their grandfather and knew how he had a history of repairing TVs and computers. They asked if there were others way that the dead communicated with me and I was able to share a few stories of hearing them, smelling specific scents associated with them, like a pot-roast or brownies baking in the oven, and like their grandfather’s pipe tobacco.
They asked if they’d be able to see signs, so I told them the various ways the deceased can communicate with us. They were interested and even spoke of doing some research on the subject.
The conversation turned and the day was filled with routine, lunch, and then a conversation with the doctor who told the family there didn’t appear to be any brain activity, but that the hospital wanted to run a few other tests to make sure. The results wouldn’t be ready until later that night, probably the next day. Throughout the day, two at a time, family members would go sit by Eileen’s bed and keep her company.
At one point, my sister, Monica, and Eileen’s good friend were in Eileen’s room talking about Eileen’s doll collection. Monica was telling the friend about how Eileen would hold tea parties all the time, when we were growing up and how those dolls meant everything to her.
Unbeknownst to me, Eileen had a partial. Upon her admittance, it had been removed and placed in a small cup of water that had a lid. As they were talking about these tea parties, the lid had flown off the cup and flew across the room. When I walked in the room about five minutes later, they told me what had happened. With teeth representing talking or eating, it was Eileen’s way of saying that she wanted to join the conversation!
Monica shared the experience with the family and the Eileen stories began. A sense of celebration had begun.
That night as I was driving home, once again, Eileen made her presence known. “Ask about the giraffe explosion.”
“Giraffe explosion? That doesn’t make sense! Could you make it any more difficult?
I heard her laughing.
“You’re testing me, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” And she was gone.
The minute I got home, I texted one of the girls who was staying at the hospital. She’d didn’t know and everyone else was gone, at the moment. We’d talk in the morning.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The next morning was a repeat of the morning before. None of the girls knew what giraffe explosion meant. Their father arrived and they asked him. He started laughing and told the story of a family trip to the zoo, where he’d gone into the gift shop to buy something for the kids. Knowing he couldn’t buy just one giraffe, he came out with an armful of giraffes, one for each of the kids. He said that Eileen had taken one look and had burst out laughing, shaking her head.
More stories were shared, and then later, at a point when it was only the three girls and I in the room, one of the girls asked me point-blank what I thought was happening to their mother. I was able to tell them that I thought she had already died before she ever got to the hospital. I was able to talk about my music playing on its own, and how the outburst of a stranger had fit perfectly into their conversation, sounding very much like their mother.
At that point, one of them asked, “She’s staying here because it’s what we want, isn’t it?” They turned to each other, the truth in their eyes.
“We have to let her go, don’t we?”
One of them answered, saying that they did and that they’d have to help their oldest brother come to same resolution because of all of the kids, he was struggling the most. In that moment, I knew the kids would be okay. Later, the doctor confirmed that indeed Eileen was gone, there was no brain activity. As the family began to arrive, the decision was made to pull her off life support that afternoon. One by one, the family went in to say goodbye.
In the meantime, I needed to travel back to Marshall, a 45-minute drive, to tell my mother what was going on, as she was too ill to travel, and up until then didn’t know the seriousness of Eileen’s condition. One of Eileen’s daughters had posted what was going to occur on Facebook, and we didn’t want an inadvertent call made to Mom before she was told by one of us in person.
I was halfway there, when all of a sudden, I fell goosebumps travel all the way to the top of my head, down to the tips of my toes, back up to my head and down to my toes again. Then, it felt as if my spine was rising out of my body, going straight out of the back of my head. Then, I felt this euphoric relief.
I looked at my watch: 4:37 p.m. I sensed that I had just experienced Eileen’s death and her soul leaving her body.
About twenty minutes later, I called Lee’s wife, Heather, who said she was just getting ready to call me. Before she could say anything more, I told her what I had felt and the time I felt it. She replied, “That’s exactly when Eileen died.”
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Eileen’s funeral was truly a celebration that included a drive to the ceremony and a brief prayer. The day was miserably cold with deep clouds and thin, sporadic snowfalls. The moment the prayer was over, a small hole appeared in the clouds where we could see blue sky and the sun shining brightly down on us, just a small portion of the crematory where we stood. And then the hole quickly disappeared. It was a dramatic moment noticed by all, with a few voices saying, “It’s Eileen.”
Eileen still makes her presence know from time to time, flipping lids off containers, her faint image in pictures taken since her death. She leaves significant messages with her kids. Even as I write this blog, I sense her here, delighted that she’s in the spotlight again, a place she enjoyed and thrived.
By no means is she forgotten, not with the legacy of life she’s left behind, nor does she allow us to forget.