(A chapter from Heartmind Wisdom Collection #3)
Kneeling in front of an overstuffed living room chair, I bellowed down the hall for the umpteenth time, “I wanna see Nana!”
“Well, you can’t. Children aren’t allowed in the hospital.” Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, Mom puckered her lips and kissed a Kleenex.
Flopping my face into the cushion, I went back to screaming throat-stinging loud and pounding the seat of the armchair with my fists as I thumped the tops of my feet against the hardwood floor. All of me hurt. But I didn’t care. I had to see Nana.
“Why do you want to see Nana so badly?” my mother asked, alerting me that she was now standing next to me and what my siblings and I referred to as the duck chair.
Thinking there was a chance I’d get to see Nana, I glanced up, wiped at my tears, and went mute. I had no idea why I had to see Nana.
Mom collected a photo of our family that was tucked into a frame that had a tiny plastic fern on one side and resembled a rather slim aquarium minus the fish. After kissing each of us kids on the head, she left.
Sadder than I’d ever before been, I got off the floor and curled up in the overstuffed armchair that Mom had recovered in a material adorned with the Mallard ducks Dad claimed were good eatin’. My eyes burned like there was soap in them, my ankles ached like I’d been skating in wrong-sized skates all day, and my red, swollen fists throbbed like my heart had jumped half in each one and was trying to get out so it could mend itself back together like Humpty Dumpty.
Nana died the next day.
When I was nine years old, my father lost his boat building business as a result of the crooked actions of his so-called partner. My parents sold the three-bedroom house Dad had built on Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario, and moved our brood to the outskirts of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Far less than rich, the six of us moved into a well-ventilated shack with one decent-sized bedroom and one walk-in-closet-sized bedroom. We three girls got the big room. My brother slept on a fold out couch in the living room. Mom and Dad made do with the closet.
Though my older sister and I took turns picking fights with and trading pals, as the years rolled by, Crystal was the neighborhood friend I valued most. She had mesmerizing green eyes the size of chestnuts and shoulder-length curly hair like Shirley Temple’s. I’m not sure why I liked her best; I just did.
The weird thing about Crystal was that her family lived in a small apartment that was attached to the funeral parlor where her dad worked as the director. As soon as she could do so without us getting caught, she took me downstairs to the dimly-lit gray-walled showroom where a couple of dozen satin-lined coffins were waiting, lids open, for someone to sleep in them for eternity. They looked comfy enough, but I couldn’t decide which would suit me best. Maybe the one lined with blue satin; blue was my favorite color.
When we met, though I knew about death because Nana had died and because our dog Mike had been put to sleep after he got a bone lodged in his throat and no one could get it out, I wasn’t entirely certain what death was all about. One thing that I did know for sure was that eventually whomever or whatever you loved went somewhere forever, maybe Heaven.
Mom and Dad did their best to help us kids understand that dying wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, which was why Heaven was only a possible final destination. Mom was raised Catholic and occasionally mentioned some places called hell and purgatory, where you didn’t want to go but would if you misbehaved too much. Then there was the whole business of Armageddon and judgment day that I learned about at a Saturday afternoon Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible school picnic.
I went to the picnic because Mom wanted us to learn about different religions, and because I thought it’d be fun. Which it was, except for the scalding sun beaming down on my hatless head and the foaming dark-brown liquid with bits of white stuff floating around in it that they served in a tall glass at lunch. Certain it had either gone bad or was poison, even when the other kids drank theirs, there was no way I was gonna drink mine. When I later told Mom about it, she said it was an ice-cream float.
As President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed by a maniac when I was seven years old, I also knew that no matter how famous or important you were, there was no escaping this trip to Never, Never Want To Go There Land. At the time, I was in grade two and had made friends with a classmate who’d emigrated from the United States. We were both too young to fully understand the significance of the tragedy, but that didn’t stop her from crying when our teacher told us about it.
For the next several days, everyone talked about how sad it was that the U.S. President had been shot. People felt bad for his wife and kids. Even the man who lived inside our radio was upset and talked about it a lot. We didn’t have a television, but if the pictures on the front page of the North Bay Nugget were an indicator, the people in TV Land were probably sad too.
When preteen age, after the nice lady I was babysitting for was killed in a car crash, fear of dying settled into my gut like a bunch of glued-together rocks. Two doors away from our home, the woman and her family lived in the nicest and biggest house of the five that made up what my older sister and I had dubbed the boondocks. On that ill-fated day, she planned to leave at 7:00 a.m. to drive up island to visit friends, and then drive back down in time to watch the local stock car races at Western Speedway.
As her mom was about to go out the door that morning, crying and screeching, the toddler wrapped her pudgy little arms around her mom’s legs and clung on. Her mother and I were shocked. I enjoyed babysitting the little girl, and she seemed to really like me. Her mother often went out, so neither the woman nor I could figure out why the little girl was suddenly so upset. When her mother closed the door and left, the toddler collapsed on the floor and sobbed and sobbed.
Two hours later, I called her uncle and asked him to come over and help me calm her down. He couldn’t quiet his niece. When he tried to pick her up, like she had with me, she flailed her arms and screamed. Eventually, the poor little dickens fell asleep on the floor and we put her to bed.
When her mom didn’t come home at 11:00 p.m., I called the same uncle and asked him to spend the night with his niece so I could go home. We received the bad news early the next morning. The nice lady had been killed in a car accident on her way down island. Apparently, a drunk driver had swerved into her lane and hit her car head-on. The impact caused the steering wheel to snap in half and pierce her heart. I cried for hours. Everyone in the boondocks was sad for weeks.
By then, I’d learned about reincarnation. Upset about the nice lady’s death and acutely aware of life’s unpredictability, I spent numerous hours trying to decide what living creature I’d like to be on my next trip to earth. At first, I was partial to becoming an evergreen tree like the ones that towered over the golf course across the street from our house. Trees lived for hundreds of years and got to play outside day and night. Equally fascinating was that they could see for miles. I knew this because I’d once scurried up the branches of a cloud-tall pine until I was so high that my friends below appeared tinier than Crystal’s hamster’s pencil-eraser-sized pink and hairless babies. Going up the branches was hurry-up-and-get-there fun; coming down was take-your-time, heart-trying-to-thump-its-way-out-of-your-ribcage, scary.
When it dawned on me that trees were stationary, I decided to reincarnate as a seagull. Gulls could fly and liked junk food as much as I did. It sometimes took me years to catch on, so by then I had a job, my own place, and a couple of new best friends—Patricia and Patricia. To ensure they both didn’t answer when I asked a question, I called them by their nicknames, Patti and Trish.
To make sure that God, or whoever put the stamp of approval on one’s passport back to earth, was hyperaware of my decision to reincarnate as a seagull, when I was visiting the store where Trish worked and spotted a gigantic framed picture of a gull flying high in a brilliant blue sky, I bought it and hung it on a wall in my apartment.
Patti, Trish and I weren’t angels. Beginning with thinking it was a ton of fun to help the teenage boys from the Belmont Park navy housing complex turn over their neighbors’ garbage cans, and ending with underage drinking, we were brats. In between, there were games of spin-the-bottle and truth-or-dare where we took turns kissing each of the Belmont Park boys.
Like most teenagers, we took a lot of dumb risks. We hitchhiked day and night, and let friends drive us around when they were stoned or drunk. During the summertime, we snuck out late at night to smoke cigarettes on the pitch-black golf course. All three of us survived, but not all of our friends and family did.
Rick from the navy housing complex died in a car crash. Sharon, one of our friends at Elizabeth Fisher Junior High School, rolled her car off the highway, landed upside down in a ditch, and drowned. Patti’s dad got sick, and passed away. A few years later, her mom died from cancer.
From 1974 to 1980, I worked with troubled teens at the Victoria Youth Detention Centre. During the six years I worked there, at different times, after they were released back into society, about a half-dozen teens who’d spent time in the center were killed in car accidents or committed suicide.
Beginning with Nana, each death broke my heart. They were all good people worthy of a spot in Heaven. They were all deeply loved, and their families and close friends would miss them for a very long time. But not the rest of the world.
Unlike when President J. F. Kennedy was assassinated, following each of their deaths, there were no radio or television reports, no newspaper headlines, no lengthy write-ups about the contributions each had made to society. Instead, buried toward the back of the local paper, each one’s life was marked with an inch-long announcement that included the dates of his or her birth and death, the names of immediate relatives, and the location of the funeral service.
When young and there forward, I viewed this inequality as an injustice. How could one person’s life be less important than another’s? Dead or alive, why did the media celebrate one being and not another? Everyone deserved to have his or her contributions recognized, rejoiced, and remembered. Newspaper-wise, the space needed to properly honor each one was far more than an inch.
After I quit the detention center, I moved to Toronto, Ontario, where my older sister was studying law. During a discussion with my Aunt Nina about my having to find a job or go back to school, she asked, “What do you want to do for a living?” Without forethought, “I want to be a writer!” popped out of my mouth, surprising her and me.
After reading a zillion True Romance magazines, at age fourteen, I had penned a short story and sent it off to the publisher. Crafting poetry was delightful child’s play, and I’d enjoyed studying English in school. Past that, I wasn’t consciously aware that I wanted to be a writer. Obviously, my subconscious had been keeping secrets from me. Either that, or an extraterrestrial being had been flying overhead on its way somewhere, and overheard my conversation with Aunt Nina. When she asked her question, it chose a random card out of the earthly occupations deck it kept in its bag of fool-the-humans tricks, and slotted it into my brain. Regardless, my mind and soul were aboard the become-a-writer ship that set sail in my heart.
Over the next year, I lived off savings and diligently worked at becoming a romance novelist. My first manuscript off to Harlequin, I banged out a second one on the old Olivetti electric typewriter that once belonged to my mother. Bottles of liquid White Out and reams of paper consumed my budget while writing consumed me.
The next year, I took a part-time job as a cocktail waitress at Peter’s Backyard restaurant and bar. During the day, I wrote. Evenings and nights, I carried trays of drinks over my head as I smiled and excused my way through a packed room of partiers. When Harlequin rejected my first novel, I pouted in bed for a couple of days; when they rejected the second, I quit writing.
After my sister completed law school, the two of us moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. A waitress I worked with at the Bayshore Hotel introduced me to the Mary Kay Cosmetics business opportunity. Shortly after achieving pink-car status, my sister and I started marketing non-run hosiery via our own direct sales company. After a few years, she returned to practicing law, and three new partners and I expanded the home party-plan business across North America. Year six, Pelican Publishing purchased the rights to my book Direct Sales: Be Better Than Good–Be Great! Year eight, we sold the business and I started running singles dances for the over-forty crowd.
For the next fourteen years, I earned a decent living organizing bands and venues for Saturday night dances. It was a ton of fun, and I thoroughly got a kick out of telling people that I partied for a living. Having had my how-to book published, my ego recovered from Harlequin’s rejection of my manuscripts, so between organizing and partying, I resumed writing romance.
My yearning to become a romance novelist wasn’t all that followed me into that career. Much like my work at the youth detention center, people I cared about died one after another. Stomach cancer took Rob and his contagious laugh into the next world, where I’m positive he’s still making jokes that send his fellow deceased into hysterics.
Like nobody else, Rob could poke fun at someone so that they saw the humor in their own flaws, and laughed. His ribbing of me came with actual pokes. Often, he’d sneak up behind me, lightly poke both sides of my waist and call me spongy.
One day when a bunch of us were on a packed Skytrain headed into Vancouver, he jumped up at a scheduled stop, and in a deep voice announced, “Everybody off!” Most of the non-singles-club passengers stood up and prepared to exit. Those of us who knew him roared with laughter. Everyone sat back down.
Rob met Susan at a club function. Except for their height and attractive facial features, at first consideration, they were opposites. She had thick, long brown hair; his hair was thinned and short. He was gregarious and outgoing; she was shy and introverted. What, it turned out, they did have in common was lots of children and a love of wrestling each other. At least it seemed that way when a bunch of us spent a weekend at a lodge near Squamish, B.C. I still chuckle when I look at the photo of the two of them wearing pajamas, each with the other in a leg-lock, and lying on the floor killing themselves laughing.
A couple of years in a row, about two dozen of us headed to Harrison Hot Springs for a camping trip. As the organizer, I chose that area because Harrison Lake is beautiful, and if we didn’t feel like cooking, we could eat at one of the nearby restaurants.
One night, after a few of us had snuck off to a local bar for drinks and dancing, I went back to the campsite early and tucked Susan’s kids into their sleeping bags. About two hours later, I heard Rob and Susan outside the tent. She hated camping and in her drunken state was refusing to crawl into their tent in case there were bugs in there.
As Susan and Rob weren’t big drinkers, the next morning, I teased her about having had a few too many. Laughing, she shared how as she and Rob staggered back to camp, the police had stopped them and asked if they were planning on driving. Rob responded, “I can hardly walk. How the heck would I drive a car?”
A couple of weeks before he died, Rob invited his closest friends from our club to his and Susan’s place. He’d appeared frail and skinny. “Hey,” he said as we walked through the door. “Don’t I look great! My Jenny Craig diet’s working wonders for me.”
Within a few short years, cancer claimed Arnold, Arnie, Gil, Jeannie, and more. Steve’s love of beer was what got him. Wally’s heart gave out while he was playing ice hockey. Eugene, a dear friend and my roommate, had a heart attack and died in our backyard.
When Eugene died, I wrote a short story about him, and gave copies to the dozens of grief-stricken friends at his standing-room-only funeral. One of the kindest people to ever grace the earth, Eugene loved to make people happy.
One day, I spotted him washing his fancy red convertible while wearing a clown outfit. “Why are you dressed that way?” I asked, a chuckle in my belly. “I want to make people laugh,” was his reply. I nodded and left him alone to continue his mission.
Eugene feared death, so we often talked about our beliefs about the afterlife. During more than one heart-to-heart, we promised each other that, provided it was possible, the first to die would come back to tell the other about eternity. Forever a loyal friend, Eugene kept his promise.
A few months after he died, Eugene appeared in my dream to warn me not to make a residence change I’d been contemplating. In my dream, we were sitting on a bench in the forest exchanging telepathic thoughts about missing each other. After a while, Eugene stood and walked toward a part in a thick hedge. “Wait, wait,” I hollered. “You promised to tell me what it’s like to be dead.” Eugene looked back toward me, a sweet smile on his peaceful face as he said, “It’s really nice.”
The next day, I told my good friend Patricia Connor about my dream. After I shared that Eugene had left my dream through a part in a hedge, she asked, “Where were you?” It was an odd question, but one I was certain had a purpose.
“We were sitting on a bench in a forest,” I answered.
“His soul must have truly visited you,” Patricia said. “When I was counseling Eugene for anxiety, his safe place was a bench in the forest.”
Though I continued to sometimes dream about Eugene, and said hello when he often came to mind, he never again visited my dream in spirit-form.
It was years before I realized the connection between my childhood tantrum when I couldn’t see Nana and the young tyke’s tantrum when her mother left and the little girl somehow knew that her mom was never coming back. Evidently, children are more in tune with their spiritual knowings than most adults.
Eugene is one of many deceased beings that have made their wishes, regrets, and thoughts known to me. If we were all more aware and certain of our everlasting soul-to-soul connections with departed loved ones, though we’d still miss them in the physical world, there’d be far fewer tears shed when people we care about return to the spirit world.
Having lost countless friends and a few family members to the eternal side, one summer’s eve about two years ago, I sat in the backyard saying hello to one spirit pal after the other. For more than a half hour, memories surfaced as familiar faces floated before my mind’s eye. When I couldn’t recall any more departed chums, feeling melancholic, I stared into the darkening sky. It was then that a drop of water fell into the corner of my right eye. Startled, I glanced up at the tall evergreen overhead. The tree was crying for me; the Universe was letting me know that my loved ones were nearby.
As an inspirational author, it warms my heart that ages from now, when someone reads about my friends and family, my loved ones’ spirits will echo forward. I also teach inspirational authorship. Helping others craft their literary legacies affords me absolute joy. Every morning, seven days a week, it’s my privilege to awake before dawn, throw on a pot of coffee, and then spend numerous hours absorbed in my own or someone else’s life-gained wisdom. It also warms my soul, that like me, one story at a time, authors around the globe are honoring their own and others’ lives with far more than an inch.