My mother, we afterwards learned, was probably only days away from dying of whole-body cancer, without ever having submitted to diagnosis or treatment. Her personal life experience had left her with a deep-seated mistrust of authority. Not willing to surrender to the medical establishment any more than to any other, she simply went about maintaining appearances as best she could till her strength was all but gone, then used the last of it to go to bed one night with a plastic bag over her head so that no one could cart her off to die in a hospital. My mother had spent her entire adult life in tireless devotion to the family, left her affairs and even the house neat as a pin, and in my conscious mind, I don't think I ever begrudged her this choice. I certainly had no objections or fears based on religious concepts, but unfortunately, neither did I have any such comforts.
Having emigrated from Germany with my parents and three siblings in the fifties and thereafter cut off from all extended family ties, I had never become gradually inured to old age, disease and death. In fact we had never even had a serious illness or injury in our small circle, and now, as my very first taste of these normal life events, the central pillar of my emotional landscape was suddenly ripped away. Oma, as we all called her in later life, was always there for all of us, putting her own needs last.
Despite having a separate home, devoted husband and wonderful daughter of my own, losing my mother even at her advanced age and myself nearing fifty, pitched my world into chaos. I had a vivid vision when I first got the long distance phone call from my hysterical father, who found her body the next morning. I felt myself on a mission in outer space in a flimsy spaceship, a place I've always imagined, not as an exciting frontier as we are encouraged to think of it today, but as an infinitely desolate, dark and terrifying emptiness fit for no sentient being. I seemed to be looking out of a porthole of my tiny rocket ship, just in time to see, far below, the Earth blow apart and vaporize into blackness before my eyes. I felt at that moment like a helpless child on a pointless journey, condemned to float alone in outer space for the rest of my life.
Considering the emotional abyss I was in, I find it exceedingly strange that as early on as the viewing in the funeral parlor, I began having unexpected insights and flashes of comfort at the most unlikely times. I have no idea how these incongruous thoughts came into my head. If, as I repeatedly imagined, they came from my mother, why she should choose to contact me out of all the family remained an equal mystery considering I had always had such a thick skull in these matters. Just this, and I don't know whether it's relevant, but except for the barrier between us regarding spirituality, my mother and I were very close and loved one another unconditionally.
A week or so before she died, I was fortunate to be able to go to see Oma one last time. She saw me to the door, and as I was leaving I said, "I love you so much.", hugged her close and kissed her cheek like I'd always done as a child and teenager, but hadn't done for years. She was heartbreakingly thin and weak, but gave me such an embrace she trembled with the effort. She said nothing, and neither wept nor smiled, but had a look in her eyes that I'll never forget, so desolate and faraway. I think we both knew it was goodbye.
Because my mother's death had been a suicide, the incident was investigated as a crime, particularly with regard to possible assistance by my father. An autopsy was performed immediately and with such thoroughness that the local undertaker apologized he had had a hard time reassembling her for display, so to speak. Considering the circumstances were blatantly obvious, with detailed notes and instructions left by her for everyone in both English and German, it outraged me that my mother had gone through so much suffering in order to die with dignity on her own terms, then have her remains ravaged for little more than the morbid curiosity of strangers. It also terrified my sister, because she knew something of Buddhism, about which Oma had many books and which apparently contained some concept that the soul does not leave the body immediately and that the remains should therefore be left undisturbed for a specified number of days.
Warned of the conditions, several family members were afraid to go in to pay their last respects. But, though I had never seen a dead body, let alone this body and was filled with extreme apprehension, I simply had to see her face, touch her hand, somehow be close to her one last time no matter what. I therefore braved my fear and went in. But even before I could get to her side, with just one glimpse from halfway across the room at her strange, disfigured face, I heard myself stating aloud and with a calm assurance that completely surprised me, "That's not Oma. She's somewhere else." The rest of the visit, which I had expected would be excruciating, felt almost impersonal, the only lasting impression being a revulsion towards meat that stayed with me for a few months.
The next thing I noticed was the weather at the funeral. I love the outdoors and have cumulatively spent years wandering alone, attuned to the nuances of nature and the elements. The last spring that my mother was alive, it remained depressingly dark and cold week after week, the sun simply refusing to come out either here in the city or up north where my parents had their little house. Oma and I commiserated about it over the phone whenever I called during those final few weeks. I wished so much for some sunshine for her, fearing she was near death and crying myself to sleep almost every night. But I could neither cause the sun to shine nor even bring myself to drop my responsibilities at home to be with her as I should have. She on her part kept assuring me and everyone else that everything was ""all right"". But then my mother, though no more religious than the rest of us in the conventional sense, had a miniature library full of writings from many corners and ages of the world dealing with philosophical and spiritual matters, and seemed to have no fear of death at all.
On the day of the funeral, it seemed that spring had finally arrived with a bang. Even through tear-blinded eyes, I couldn't help noticing almost furtively, that the light all around had an almost surreal quality, so blindingly radiant did everything appear. The sky was the most searing blue I can ever remember seeing, the new green leaves on the trees looked literally fluorescent in their brilliance, and I felt the heat of all this radiance, with great astonishment, burning a kind exhilaration into some deep, barely acknowledged level of my mind. Rather than dwelling on the irony of this longed-for break in the weather a scant few days after it would do my mother any good, I remember being irresistibly drawn instead to thinking of her soul as a wandering spark that had returned to a great fire, and that the blaze of energy I was seeing and feeling now, was a by-product or result of this happy reunion. Perhaps, I considered, Oma, whose presence- not in her sad wooden box but all around, in the brilliance- was seemingly felt by several of the grandchildren, was now truly happy and free, somehow even more alive than she had been before. And, more to the point, was somehow trying to tell us so.
Like many people lucky enough to have such opportunities, I've often had a sense of wonder and awe, and of privilege, when coming face to face with wildlife and other scenes of natural beauty. So even though I have trouble with the concept of a caring, omniscient God, if I had to "worship" anything, I suppose I would probably worship nature. At some point, as I kept getting these mixed signals of consolation in the midst of despair, I theorized that if Oma were trying to comfort me, or the family through me, it would make sense for her to choose vehicles such as this that were already naturally conducive.
During that whole first summer following my mother's death, it seemed as though nature pulled out all the stops for me. In all the summers I can remember, I've never been treated to such a barrage of life-affirming sights, from deer with twin fawns to armfuls of fox cubs, to a giant, shiny black moose that blocked the path before me for a relative eternity, calmly meeting my gaze. In this new atmosphere of sadness and loss, there was always an extra element, a kind of thrill each time thinking that our beloved Oma might have sent this as a gift in the midst of my despair.
Often, as in the instance of the moose, one of these beautiful visions would come to me just as I was in the very throes of excessive grief. Once while driving along a highway just after a thundershower, I had to wipe my streaming eyes repeatedly to determine whether the miniature rainbows that appeared to have completely enveloped my car, were for real. They were, as was the sight of seemingly dozens of four-leaf clovers that had sprung up in the grass of our little city backyard as if overnight, the following spring.
Oma and I had a little game involving four leaf clovers. As she claimed never to have found one in her life, I made a point of picking one for her immediately on arrival at her house every chance I got. She would always pretend to be exasperated as I often found them growing practically on her doorstep. We'd been living at our home in the city for seven years and I had never found a single four leaf clover in our own yard before, though I always have an eye out for them through force of habit. Since that first curious multiple sighting, I've only found one more growing here, that on an occasion when I was trying to demonstrate my silly gift to our daughter's boyfriend. He had come into our lives after the death and had never met my mother. He asked me how I did it and I jokingly replied I could find one pretty much any time I wanted, because Oma sent them to me. At this, he challenged me to find one right then. I walked about twenty feet, spied a handsome specimen right away, and without picking it, returned to the back door where the kids were standing. I said I'd located one and asked them to see if they could find it also. The two searched high and low, going past the spot where it stood many times, but couldn't see it even though to me it stood out like a sore thumb. Eventually I had to bail them out, but it was the last one that I've found growing here since.
One final four leaf clover incident that sticks in my mind occurred on a day that I went up north alone, in a terrible state, to come to a decision about Oma's house. It was deserted now, as my father had come to live with us in the city where I could look after him. My father was determined to sell the little house, which had been in Oma's sole ownership, as soon as possible. It was of little monetary value, being not only in ill repair but also isolated and parceled off from its original farm acreage. All the same it still had much to recommend it in my view: an enchanted spot far off the beaten track, surrounded by woods, fields, lakes and streams; a fertile, south-sloping 2-acre plot of land; a seemingly inexhaustible, crystal clear artesian spring, and a classic centre hall plan scaled down to country cottage proportions which provided maximum air and light to each one of the eight little rooms. After decades of hardship and continual uprooting, it had become Oma's ultimate refuge and special place, and she had filled it with humble comforts, love and memories for almost thirty years, making it heaven on earth to me and most of the grandchildren including our daughter. Even though it too seemed more like an empty shell now, the idea of letting go of even that was a new nightmare. My mother had actually secretly willed the place to our daughter, an only child with whom she had a very special relationship, but my father threatened he would fight us in court if we tried to come forward with the claim. We had no money to buy him out, so now I was faced with a seemingly impossible choice.
As I wandered on the overgrown property, weeping and wondering what to do, I had a whim to enlist my mother's help, not really taking the thought very seriously. My idea ran something along the lines of "Oma, I know we have no money or stomach for a fight now, but you know how much we still love and need this place. If you send me a four-leaf clover to let me know you're still with us, I'll know what we have to do and that everything will be all right. I'll stop at nothing to see that we keep the house in the family."
It normally took me only a few minutes to find one of the lucky clovers among the lush growth of Oma's yard, but not that day. I searched intensely for at least half an hour among matted ranks of thickly growing clover, but my "sign" was nowhere to be found. Finally, tired and desperate, the thought came that possibly I was going about this the wrong way. I tried something drastic. "Oma, please, send me a four-leaf clover if you think we need to...let go." Without even taking another step, I looked down at the ground to begin my search afresh, and saw a perfect specimen beside my shoe.
At the time I was crushed, but I obeyed the "omen". I can't say whether it was the right choice, and wish there had been a greater variety of options; it has certainly not made losing the house (which was practically given away to the first comer) any more bearable to date, at least for me. The only thing it unquestionably has done, is prevent untold additional misery and strife in the family had I persisted in taking an adversarial route. I should mention that our daughter Rosie, who as the legal heir was the one technically being deprived, had already chosen to defer, and was simply waiting for me to finish wrestling with my own conundrum. Certainly, such displays of selflessness had always been one of the things that endeared her to my mother.
If Oma was
somehow at work severing attachments to her previous existence up north, she may
have been working equally hard helping us refocus ourselves closer to home, here
in the city. The sudden deluge of four-leaf clovers appearing, then just as
mysteriously disappearing from our backyard after her passing, was soon repeated
by an equally strange coincidence in the animal world.
Oma's place had always been home to a swarm of half-wild cats, whose numbers varied with the seasons and the tolls of their natural existence, that were descended from the original mousers in the barn next door when it still housed cattle and feed. Some of them stuck around long enough to become nearly like house pets, but wild or tame, all received names, back rubs on request, and an endless supply of dry cat food in the back porch for times when the hunting wasn't so good. Around the time we first suspected that Oma was ill, the cat population had waned to two grown females who had both been with her for several years, and one of her last custodial acts was to catch these two with the help of my father, take them to the local vet and have them spayed.
Fortunately, an earlier litter from one of these last females had included a fluffy white runt that we were able to corner one visit, before he became too quick on his paws. As our last pet had recently died we took him back to town to live with us. He turned out to be a true homebody, and to make a long story a bit shorter, one April morning almost 3 years later, after an unexpected union with another tiny recent adoptee from our city neighborhood, there came the sound of five teensy kitten voices squeaking away from underneath our daughter's bed. This nesting site had been chosen by their mother, who was barely more than a kitten herself, despite all our enticements to cozily lined cardboard boxes in more appropriate-seeming locations. Possibly, it was chosen by one other as well, especially considering that this day, April 7th 1998, was Rosie's first birthday ever without her beloved Oma. As if to make the point even clearer, while our daughter lay quietly that evening, excitedly listening to the sounds of new life under her bed, one of the dried wildflowers she had fixed around a portrait of Oma hung over her headboard fluttered gently down and landed in the palm of her hand as it lay on the coverlet.
Oma's "birthday gift" to her special granddaughter, though we couldn't keep the entire litter, are all well-grown (ex)toms now, and the last of their line. Their male ancestors up north were rarely seen for more than a season once grown, due to their wandering habits, but these three white fluff balls seem to want nothing better than to hang around, get hugs, and make us laugh.
Apart from possibly reaching out through animals and plants, Oma also at times seemed to employ man-made objects. My appreciation of objects only came to me in adulthood, but has always been closely bound to my original fascination with the beautiful forms, colors and textures in nature.
One early spring, I had spent a bleak afternoon trudging the rounds of several antique malls south-west of our city. Oma was constantly on my mind, and I had sunk deep into gloom as I viewed the first grass blades poking from the bald earth here and there, and buds hinting of life among scraggly branches along the roadsides, all the while acutely aware that Oma would never see another spring. I had come to the point of wondering whether anything was worth it.
A short while later, my eyes glanced over one more case full of tiresome knickknacks, and stopped on an earthy-colored ceramic figurine. It was a large, beautifully modeled representation of a grazing foal, doubtless depicting no more than the youngster of a common carthorse, but this with such insight and truthfulness that the more I looked, the more the imagery swept me away. Head down eagerly cropping invisible grass, stumpy tail held away from its hindquarters in mid-flick, long legs slightly splayed with the effort of reaching the earth, this simple figure exuded such energy that it seemed ready to throw up its head and bolt out of the display case at any moment. More immediately than anything I had seen outdoors that day, it reopened my eyes to the true nature and promise of spring, that of eternal renewal and the joy of being alive. I found myself laughing and crying at the same time, and all the grayness around me melted away like so much dirty snow.
My sensitivity to design has resulted in my becoming a collector of art and antiques on a very modest scale. After a lucky find financed the purchase of the needed computer equipment, I enthusiastically joined the swelling ranks of eBayers in early 1999. This enabled me not only to find new treasures more readily than ever before, but also to help pay for those purchases with sales of my own.
Soon after, I became aware of a kind of vintage item which, with apologies, I would prefer to leave undescribed so as not to inadvertently lead to my eBay seller ID. These items were at that time recognized by only a handful of collectors, and happened to be both relatively plentiful and underappreciated in our area, affording me the opportunity to quickly establish myself as a prime source on eBay.
Among this genre, there was a particular design that was known from only a few examples and coveted by collectors both for its rarity and exceptional form. Not one specimen had surfaced in years, and I soon developed the goal of finding the next one in order to proudly offer it on eBay. I looked long and hard, without success but without losing hope.
I didn't realize just how important this goal had become to me till one week late in the year, I was checking the eBay listings as I did every night, and saw with shock that another seller was unknowingly offering a variant of one of these rare models. He lived in a nearby city which I knew was also a rich source for the general type. It sounds silly and vain, but I was devastated. I tossed and turned in bed that night, unable to sleep, feeling worthless and humiliated. I didn't realize that I had developed such an intense professional pride in my eBay reputation, or how large a role that diversion had come to play in getting me through this still difficult period. I agonized for hours, even going so far as to wonder tearfully how Oma, who had seemingly been sending me signs of her continued existence and concern, could have let this happen. I concluded bitterly that all the previous consolements and little miracles I'd tentatively attributed to her were merely products of my imagination, and that my mother was indeed, as I'd always suspected, simply dead and gone.
The next day was Sunday, the day one of the best local pickers' markets was held downtown each week. My husband and I had often found good things there, but it was vital to arrive early since knowledgeable dealers, who flocked to this event in droves, had usually scoured the place clean before 8 AM.
Having had so little sleep the night before, I awoke late and glumly wondered what to do with my day. For some reason, if for nothing better than to kill the time, we decided around 11 to drive to the market in any case, though we knew there would be dregs at best and were moreover low on funds that week.
The market occupies a cavernous old building that is undivided and bare but for the tables and temporary shelving ranged on the floor each week. This gives a fairly unobstructed view of the interior from the doorways. As we came through our customary entrance, I made a mechanical sweep of the day's gathering with my eyes. Before I had advanced more than a few feet into the building, they came to rest on the prize that had eluded me for so long, high on a shelf in plain sight above the surrounding clutter. The vendor knew nothing of its identity or value, and so the pittance we had was just sufficient to pay the asking price. I listed my find before my competitor's auction had even expired. His variant did very well, but mine, which was a classic example, set an eBay record that stands to this day. No more have been found, or at any rate offered, since.
There were other incidents of the sort though not quite so dramatic, but the one that still bemuses me most happened late in November 1997. On that occasion, I was browsing a large permanent indoor flea market out of town that was usually little more than a gathering place for glorified junk. I had come there, not in any real hope of finding anything very exciting, but because I'd had a buying appointment in the adjoining town and wanted to leave no stone unturned before heading back home.
I had started out very early that day in order to hit the cross-town shops as soon as they opened and then work towards my appointment an hour or so farther out. I picked as I went and tried to cover as much ground as possible, pushing my superannuated VW from stop to stop as fast as it would go. I'd previously worked for years in the city as a delivery driver and courier and was not easily unnerved whether hemmed in, pressed from behind, cut off, or squeezed against the guardrail by traffic of all description.
Pretty much all of the preceding had happened to me by midday without my taking exceptional notice or offence. As I worked my way westward along the teeming expressway, I came to an exit leading onto a secondary road that ran in the same direction I wanted to go. I virtually never take these secondary routes when I'm in a rush, and to this day can't say why on this occasion I chose to turn off. As I drove easily along, no longer in a running battle with other traffic, I came to a flat, wide-open stretch of road with not a single truck or car to be seen before or behind me.
Just then without warning, the hood of my car flew open and crashed back against my windshield. I'd been having trouble with the latch and it must have been precariously holding fast the whole time, but it couldn't have waited for a safer- or more inexplicable- moment to finally let go. I could only guess where my wheels were headed but wasn't injured, kept my head and gingerly steered the car to a gradual stop on the shoulder. Luckily the hood hadn't come completely unhinged and I was able to force it back down and tie it shut with a bit of rope from my trunk. As I did so I remember thinking wryly that if I believed in such things, I'd say my guardian angel had his eye on me that day. It was only once I was underway again, on reflecting how differently the situation might have gone had this mishap occurred just a little earlier, that my knees went momentarily rubbery.
By the time I arrived at the aforementioned flea market, I was my usual self. My appointment had taken longer than anticipated and I hastily got down to the business of scanning the shelves and aisles. The place is huge and it took some time before I came to a nondescript case displaying an assortment of inexpensive, souvenir-type native artifacts and crafts. Amid this jumble, my eye immediately fell on a rounded, speckled greenish mass on a lower shelf, about a foot high and wide, that invited closer inspection due to its unusual sheen and coloring, like polished, many-shaded moss. It was an Inuit soapstone carving of two stylized owls in a partial embrace. The gestures were essentially those of half-sleepy, half defensive birds, a pair of huddling fledglings disturbed in the nest: we had kept a lovebird for years and I knew the poses well. But through the skilled touch of this artist, the embrace could also be read as protective, imbuing the scene with a subtly human quality. As I continued to examine the piece, beginning to fall in love, I became sufficiently curious to read the sales tag, and discovered the piece was, surprisingly, labeled Baffin Island circa 1896. For the moment, the foremost thing that occurred to me regarding the date was what I remembered learning about the impossibly brutal conditions of everyday survival for Eskimos of this time period. And from that point things got, well, weird.
The event began as a conscious intellectual response: amazement and awe that a long-dead native carver from a culture where deprivation and suffering were the everyday rule of life, had succeeded with this simple object in leaving all his pain behind and communicating instead, wordlessly across more than a century, a message of immeasurable tenderness, reverence for life, and love. At that moment, seemingly emanating from this strange object, there occurred something I can only very inadequately describe. The best I can think of is to compare it to a torrent or surge of energy or electricity that seemed to be boring into the centre of my chest and felt about the diameter of a baseball. It was absolutely riveting, painless, unaccompanied by any thoughts or emotions, and went on for perhaps 5 or 10 seconds. It was not a heart fibrillation: I've had one or two of these in my life and they felt completely different. This was smoother in texture, with a faint wavelike or surging quality to it, and had an unmistakable sensation of coming at me from in front of my body and rushing in, not that of occurring in my chest itself.
I stood stock still, more than anything confused, and when it had passed I became weak in the knees for the second time that day and began inexplicably to weep. I could hardly stand on my feet, walk, nor utter any words to the counter attendant when she bid me a friendly goodbye on my way out a few minutes later. Darkness had now fallen and as I began the two hour drive back home with few visual distractions, I raked my mind for any possible explanation, unable to stop crying for more than a few minutes at a time, and at length, remembered my close call on the road earlier that day. At some point I provisionally put two and two together.
When I got home, my husband and daughter were in the kitchen and I collapsed on a chair and told them about my day. My closing statement/question was, "The one owl was hugging the other, protecting it from danger. Oma knows I might notice a piece like that. Do you think it might have been her, not a guardian angel, who saved my life today, and that she used the owls to tell me so?" At this, Rosie gave me that long, patient look of amusement that she always does when I've gotten the point far later than everyone else. "But Mummy, didn't you know that Oma is an owl?"
This was truly news to me, or alternatively I hadn't been paying attention, which happens. It turns out that years before, playing in the woods around Oma's house to their hearts' content as Rosie and several of her cousins were left to do each summer, they had, as is normal, developed children's fantasy games. A favorite among these had been Indian-style costume dramas complete with spirit animals to represent not only themselves but also select grownups in their lives. By spontaneous agreement, she and my sister's boy who is about her age, had identified Oma as an owl, and neither of them had ever doubted this seemingly self-evident fact from that day forward.
I'm not sure Oma would have agreed in life with what I did next, because she always tried to discourage materialistic tendencies in me, provided she wasn't the one doing the spoiling. All the same, after this new revelation I determined to buy the carving if I could even though the price was a fair stretch by our standards. I hoped by this to eventually discover its history, as well as to have a lasting reminder of this strange event.
As luck would have it, my sales had been good over the last month and by the next Saturday, coincidentally my birthday, my husband and I made the trip back to the flea market and purchased the piece. I had in the meantime been able to contact the individual vendor who had displayed it in her case, and she told me the following story. I haven't a clue whether it's relevant or even true, but am including it just in case.
Two Feathers, the owner, was a soft-spoken white woman, perhaps in her early forties, who had married a native Mohawk from the nearby reserve. They had four children and did not seem especially well off. This lady had in her childhood had an ordinary English name but had changed it when she "went native".
In those days her family lived in the eastern part of the province, on the same street as an elderly widow who became great friends with her mother. One day the widow, whom Two Feathers remembered as being extremely aged, had invited the mother over to tea, and as a special treat, the little girl and a sibling were invited along as well and allowed to view the old woman's beautiful gardens. She recalled the excitement of being in the gardens while her mother and the widow had tea. At the end of tea, the girl remembers sitting for what seemed an interminable time while the old lady carefully explained to her mother that she was giving her an Eskimo carving that had been given to her by her father. She went to great lengths to stress how precious this carving was and that the mother should take good care of it, as she herself had no children to leave it to.
The old woman's father had been on an expedition in the Arctic around 1896, and had acquired the carving from an Eskimo guide during that trip. At the time the carving was given to the little girl's mother, it had had a bone base attached to the feet that had some markings on it, but this had worn loose, separated from the stone section and gone missing in the intervening years. (The stone doesn't balance well on its own, and there are still two roughly drilled holes visible on the underside that suggest a former mounting). When the girl's (now Two Feathers') mother died in turn, there was considerable rivalry in the family as to who should inherit the carving, and it was especially coveted by one of her uncles. But Two Feathers prevailed, and had had it in her possession ever since.
On the way home, we stopped at a prominent Inuit gallery in our city, where I had already made an appointment for one of their personnel to have a look at the piece. There were actually two experts present, one with over twenty years experience and one with only a few. I refrained from mentioning the "paranormal" element of the story, but only recounted what I'd been told by the seller regarding the origin and age. Both agreed that the carving was unquestionably authentic Baffin Island, probably Cape Dorset, but dismissed the idea of so early a date. Both the large size and carving style, they indicated, would fly in the face of existing evidence regarding style progression, cultural influences and so forth in this art form. The younger woman thought it might be from the mid-twentieth century at best, possibly by an artist named Latcholassie who is famous for his owls. The older woman tentatively agreed but seemed puzzled and not a little intrigued by the stone itself. She came back to the issue, caressing the surface and murmuring, "Now where do you get a stone like that?" She was convinced it was Baffin Island serpentine, yet after handling literally thousands of carvings over twenty years, had never seen any quite like this.
Again, I don't know what to make of this or whether it has any bearing on the rest of what happened. I hope to find some more definitive answers someday, but in the meantime, recall just one other odd thing about the whole event. When I first saw the carving, my curiosity, too, was primarily aroused by the sumptuous coloring and sheen of the stone. The delicate mottling and shadings were plainly visible to me at first glance, especially around the heads where a light from inside the cabinet seemed to make the rounded shapes softly glow. Yet, when we went back the next week to pick up the piece, the entire area was dim and the cabinet was dark, making the carving almost blend into the shadows of the lower shelf. I checked all over but there was no wiring in or near the cabinet at all.
All the preceding events happened within about the first three to three-and-a-half years after my mother's death. During that time, my grief was very pervasive except for interludes after one of these experiences, when I would briefly consider that my mother might still be alive and near in some way. Towards the fourth year, the seemingly impossible happened and I started to feel less desperate. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred for over a year and I was beginning to think that, having perhaps been by my side through the worst, my mother had now "cut me loose". The idea was sufficiently bleak that sometimes I longed for the bad old days, when my mother seemed so painfully present even in her absence.
Then this spring, (2002) my daughter and husband hit on a mad plan to buy a little second-hand house trailer and park it down at the water's edge of an unimproved lakefront property we co-own with one of my brothers. My husband had had a small windfall and both of them had been pining to get up north again, out of the city, ever since we'd no longer been able to go to Oma's for R&R. Our property is on a lake a few kilometers from the old house, and also quite close to the little pioneer graveyard where my mother is buried. I, too, miss getting out of the city, but due to unresolved issues am not eager to go anywhere into that particular area just yet.
The problem with the trailer plan as I saw it was, among other things, that the road leading into the property and especially down to the water, isn't so much a road as a precipice. The grade is very steep in spots, there's virtually no fill, and rocks, logs, and treacherous swathes of damp vegetation make for a precarious passage. Also, before even getting to our own bush road, one has to traverse almost a mile of twisting, one-lane communal access road almost as bad, with washouts, boulders, blind hilltops and bends, and half a dozen sets of cottagers from farther up the point liable to appear suddenly in your windshield in a giant crashing 4x4.
The idea of trying to haul a top-heavy, oversized crate on tiny wheels through this gauntlet made me very opposed to the project, which I was sure would wind up with one or both vehicles lying smashed into bits thirty feet down the side of one of the hills. It seemed a colossal waste of time and money, but my darlings would not be deterred. By June they'd found and bought an old 18-footer and by July 5th, embarked with a rented truck to do the deed. Despite desperately wanting to come along to help prevent the worst if possible, I wasn't allowed: not only did someone have to stay home and take care of the cats and my father, who is now completely bedridden, but also, my panicky, party-pooping presence was judged to be undesirable on the scene. My last pleading request to my husband was, "Dear, promise me, if you get into a mess, don't play the hero, get help, OK?"
With their firm promise they would both request assistance if necessary and call on the cell phone anytime they got within range to report on the progress, I busied myself at home and tried not to think about what was happening on the battlefield. By late afternoon I had a lull, and began irresistibly going over various recipes for disaster in my mind. Just during one of these mental scenarios, it fully dawned on me for the first time that, far beyond the loss of a few hunks of equipment or money, either my husband, or daughter, or both might be killed or maimed.
Then, I had my first ever full-blown panic attack. I can see now why some people wind up in the hospital with these, thinking they're dying. I had never before felt so helplessly terrified. I told myself over and over I was being totally irrational and tried in every way I could to fight off my rising hysteria. Nothing helped.
And so, possibly for the first time in my life, I consciously prayed. A part of me railing that this was not only hypocritical but an exercise in futility the whole time, I nonetheless concentrated with all my remaining might on sending one desperate request straight up: "Dear Oma, please, please PLEASE don't let them get hurt or killed! I don't care about the trailer, or the money, or the truck, or anything, Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, watch over them and keep them safe!"
Strangely, my "futile exercise" had an unexpected immediate result. It was as though the act of relinquishing control, of asking for help, was like giving over the wheel to a fresh driver: I'd done my best, and now it was up to ...whoever. As my panic ebbed rapidly away, I wiped my tears, blew my nose and soon after fell asleep on the couch, exhausted.
Here, in essence, is my husband's cell phone report that came in the next afternoon, about 18 hours later than expected. But after I'd heard the news, how could I stay mad?
"Well lovey, this is pretty weird. Don't worry, everything's fine. Everything went well till we got to the start of the cottage road, it was maybe six o'clock. I stopped then because I wanted to check out that first big hill, it looked pretty washed out. We pulled over to the side and were just getting ready to walk in to get a close-up when along from the direction of Harry's place this farmer comes bobbing along on his tractor. He gets up to us sitting there with the truck and the trailer, stops and says, "Howdy, you folks lost?" I said no, we weren't lost, we were just going to try and pull this trailer in to our property.
Then he started looking kind of familiar, and I realized he was Jack from up the road. I thought, why mess around, and told him I'd actually just been thinking of coming over to his place to see if he could give us a hand pulling this in. I really didn't like the looks of the road. Then he says, "Well you wouldn't have got me at my place. There's nobody there. Sure, I can pull this in for you, no problem at all." Then I started thinking and asked him, "Say, did by any chance my wife send you?" I thought maybe you'd phoned one of the neighbors and they'd gotten a hold of him to come over and help us. But he says, "Nope, nobody called, I was just heading this way. Haven't been home." Anyway, we just unhitched the trailer off the U-Haul truck, hitched it onto his tractor and he started tearing right up the road with it. He hauled it all the way down to the lake and even set it in position in that nice spot we told you about, it looks great. He was going like a maniac, Ro and I could hardly keep up with him in the truck. Anyway, after it was all set up I offered him fifty bucks and he said no, that's way too much, but I made him take it anyway. So we're all set, hardly had to lift a finger. Can you believe it? Lovey, are you sure you didn't call him? That was way too weird!"
This completes my story- almost. The next morning, when the two happy campers woke for the first time to loon song and sparkling waters in their new digs by the lake, the day dawned as bright and beautiful as befitted Oma's 87th birthday. We had all forgotten the date in our recent preoccupation.
for listening to my very long story, and for all the wonderful stories you have
shared, so much more amazing than mine.
Did you feel a touch or experience any physical contact from the deceased? Uncertain
Where and how were you touched? in the centre of my chest, by a seeming electrical current
Was the touch familiar? unfamiliar; please see description
Was anything communicated by the touch? not immediately
Is there any possibility what you felt was from any other source present in your surroundings at the time of your experience? no
Could you sense the emotions or mood of the deceased? at the funeral, possibly exhilaration
Describe: at the funeral, possibly exhilaration
How do you currently view the reality of your experience: Experience was probably not real
Describe in detail your feelings/emotions during the experience: on one level, joy and gratitude; on another, confusion and doubt
What other attitudes and beliefs about your experience do you currently have: Joy
Was there any emotional healing in any way following the experience? Uncertain
Describe: each experience would rescue me from despair for a time, but it always wore off
Did the experience give you any spiritual understandings such as life, death, afterlife, God, etc.? Uncertain
Describe: I'm afraid I've simply interpreted events that have other, rational explanations, selectively because of my emotional need. If not for that, I would say my experiences were life-changing.
Did you ever in your life have a near-death experience, out of body experience or other spiritual event? Uncertain
Describe: Once during an emotionally intense moment when I was trying to express how much I loved my sexual partner, I felt an "electrical" surge of the same sort as described in one of my experiences but much briefer and less powerful, seemingly emanating from my chest. He seemed to feel it.
To the best of your knowledge, did the deceased, during their life, ever have a near-death experience, out of body experience or other spiritual experience? Uncertain
Describe: the deceased and I never spoke of such things since she knew I was "thick" in these matters
experience dream like in any way?
Did you see a light? Uncertain
Describe: in one of the experiences, an object seemed to be bathed in a light of undetermined source
Did you have any changes of attitudes or beliefs following the experience? Yes
Describe: I'm more amenable to the idea of spirituality than I was before, but still unable to "make the leap"
Has the experience affected your relationships? Daily life? Religious practices etc.? Career choices? not at all
Have you shared this experience with others? Yes
about the same as my own, except for my daughter who seems to have complete
Have you shared this experience formally or informally with any other researcher or web site? No
What was the best and worst part of your experience? the best, that it gave me a thin hope. no negative issues.
Has your life changed specifically as a result of your experience? Uncertain
Describe: possibly, I or some of my family members could have been killed or seriously injured
Following the experience, have you had any other events in your life,
medications or substances which reproduced any part of the experience?
Did the questions asked and information you provided accurately and comprehensively describe your experience? Yes