This entry, posted by Creekhiker yesterday, prompted me to tell you a story I’d planned to save for later in the year, for the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. I’ve told this story to almost everyone in my family, and I’ve often told it to others when they experienced the loss of a loved one. I can’t explain it and won’t attempt to label it. All I know is that it happened to me at a time when I was wide awake, and it changed forever the way I think about death and eternity.
This is a photo of my granddaughter with my grandmother, Lola, whom we called Mammaw. Mammaw was 91 when I took this picture in her home in May of 1988. Before the end of that year she would have another birthday, face a losing battle with cancer, and be confined to a nursing home because of the debilitating effects of the morphine she was prescribed to control the pain of her illness.
Until she was 90 and her family insisted she stop driving, Mammaw made the rounds each Sunday morning to pick up younger members of her Sunday School class who needed transportation. She took care of her home, dusted (not washed) her old Chevy as needed, visited with neighbors and family, and was a vital, active individual. For as long as I can remember, she was the consummate positive thinker.
I grew up living in Mammaw’s home, along with my mother and sister. When my mother remarried and we moved from Missouri to Texas, Mammaw and Packy, my grandfather, followed us about three years later. A few years after that I was the one to move away with my husband and family.
In the late 80s, after my children were grown and my husband and I had parted ways, I lived in Baton Rouge in a townhouse apartment. Mother visited me there numerous times, but Mammaw never did. She and Mother both told me that Mammaw wanted to come with Mother, but Mother was afraid the trip would be too hard on her. Despite Mammaw’s protests, she stayed home.
On December 4, 1888, Mammaw died. She’d been in a tremendous amount of pain. As much as we grieved her loss, we were relieved that her terrible suffering had ended. I went to Texas for the funeral, then returned to Baton Rouge and slipped back into my routine.
One morning, about two weeks after her death, I stepped out of the shower, dried myself off, and stood in front of the bathroom mirror to put on my makeup for work. I was thinking about the day ahead of me when I suddenly had an uneasy feeling that someone was standing behind me in the cramped bathroom space. It was such a strong feeling that I looked over my shoulder...and there was Mammaw, smiling a huge smile. “I finally got here,” she said.
I was stunned. I knew Mammaw had died, but I could see her. In fact, as I stood there gawking at her, I became uncomfortably aware that I was still naked from the shower. I felt embarrassed and tried to cover up with my hands, then I felt ridiculous for being embarrassed in front of someone who couldn’t possibly be there.
Mammaw was wearing a dress I remembered, its gray flowers outlined in black and scattered across a white background. I couldn’t see her shoes because nothing existed below the approximate area of her hemline. The rest of her was complete. She appeared to be in excellent health and a few years younger than her actual age. She was translucent, rather than transparent, and a soft light seemed to both surround her and pass through her.
I didn’t know what to think, but an overwhelming sense of happiness came over me. Then I watched her begin to move, still smiling, toward the closet that contained the water heater. She passed quickly through the closed door and then was gone.
I needed time to decide if I was losing my mind, so I didn’t tell anyone about Mammaw’s visit until a few weeks later, when I went back to Texas and talked to Mother. By that time I’d decided to accept the experience as the gift it was, whatever it was, because it made me so happy.
From that day forward, I’ve been unafraid of death. I’m not in a hurry for it, mind you, and the idea of dying painfully is frightening, but the thought of passing from this plane of existence into the next one holds no fear at all.
Most of the time, when I tell this story, I expect it to be greeted with disbelief. I try to relate the experience in a neutral way, just reporting what I experienced without attaching any particular belief system to it. If there’s something about it that gives a person hope, I’m delighted, but I also understand if it's met with skepticism.
What’s surprised me most is that for every person who has raised an eyebrow after hearing this story, someone else has responded with a similar tale of their own. Whatever I experienced, there's apparently a lot of it going on.
I'm confident I'll see Mammaw again one day. If it happens at her place, rather than mine, I’ll smile my biggest smile and tell her, “I finally got here.”