Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lola, traveling light

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, be confined to a nursing home because of the debilitating effects of the morphine she was prescribed to control the pain of cancer, and face a losing battle with that 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.”


  1. What a relief to hear this has happened to someone else! It was my biological father. He had never met my youngest child, never visited my house here in Ohio, I have only one picture of him, and it was in an album packed away. One morning Katie came downstairs and said an old man woke her up and kept calling her Kathy. We poo pooed her and she went on her way. Several weeks later we were moving some things around in storage and came across the album that had that one picture in it. "that's him, mommy" she said, pointing at my father. Katie was 3, too young to make this up.

  2. Wow, Kat! The more of these stories I hear, the more fascinated I am. It's almost as if St. Peter meets our deceased loved ones at the Pearly Gates and hands them a travel pass. Thanks for sharing your own story.

  3. What a wonderful gift!

    No raised eyebrows here. I have my faith and my belief that we don't know the half of what is possible.

  4. I keep an open mind about these things. I've often thought that my dad's ghost has never shown up here because it would scare the daylights out of us and he wouldn't want us upset. But sometimes I feel his presence, and at the risk of sounding like a fool, sometimes I think he tells me where to find stuff in the garage.

  5. Sunflower, I've since lost my mother, my stepfather and my father. Sometimes I've wondered if they could have visited like Mammaw did if only they'd tried harder.

    Janet, that doesn't sound foolish to me, but I remember how sheepish I felt when I first started thinking my deceased mother was directing me to good parking places.

  6. Velvet, the details in this are amazing. And yes there is a whole lot of this going on. My best friend regularly sees her father-in-law and he has not feet either! She even smells his cologne and cigar.

    Your story about your Mammaw is so touching... she REALLY wanted to come visit you. Thanks so much for sharing this. Holly

  7. Two things: "... dusted (not washed) her old Chevy" gave me an enormous grin.

    Not seeing anything below the hemline. Did you ever meet Dad's brother, my Uncle Peter? George Rodrigue was a friend of his and Rodrigue once told me that he never paints a spirits' feet because he believed they no longer walk this earth. I heard his voice when I read your memory. Slight chill of recognition.

  8. Wow! I've heard you tell this story before but never with so much detail. I really never understood the "I finally got here" comment until now because I didn't realized she'd never been able to make the trip to Baton Rouge. I just thought she was referring to heaven.

    What's striking me so funny right now is the hard-headed, strong willed, quiet determination Mammaw had (that seems to run through all of the females in our family)that enabled her to get her way in the end - no matter how she had to do it! Don't you think we're all just like her?

    Love you,

    "The Queen"

  9. Oh, fabulous story...thank you for telling it so well! I really enjoyed it, and there are no raised eyebrows on my part. It happens often with me!

  10. Velvet, what a touching story to share. Like Sunflower said, I think it is a gift, and that we don't know 'the half of it'. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience.

  11. Creekhiker and Duly Inspired, thanks for passing along the information about the absence of feet. That's SO interesting, and I've never heard that before.

    DI, I never met your Uncle Peter, but I vaguely remember your father talking about visiting him one time.

    And my sister, The Queen, it's about time you showed up here! I'm so thrilled that you decided to join the commenters among us, and especially glad you did it on this post. I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts about Mammaw's determination ("Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets") and the way that particular character trait has worked its way down through the women and girls in our family. The word "no" doesn't really mean "no," does it? It just means we have to regroup and approach it from a different angle.

    I love you bunches!

    Marion, it happens often? Have you written about it, and, if so, can you send me a link? I'm dying for details.

    Jackie, it was a special moment I'll never forget. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about it.

  12. What a lovely story Velvet, it gave me goosebumps just reading it.“I finally got here.” How wonderful. Thank you for telling this.

    I haven't seen anyone, but I have felt a presence and know someone is with me. I would love to see my mother again. No raised eyebrows here either.


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