He was walking across his living-room when it happened. Of course, many wouldn’t believe him when he spoke of it later.
They’d just smile, nod their heads, “Really? Uh-huh,” they’d say, but they didn’t believe, no, not really. Of course, they were polite, they’d listen—okay, so let’s get to what happened. Frank was crossing the living room on his way to the kitchen when he passed the painting. It was of his mother, Dora, which he had done about six months earlier. He’d shown it to her. He didn’t think she liked it. It was her expression she commented on.
“People have told me I wear an expression like that sometimes,” and then, “I don’t think I want it here, why don’t you keep it at your apartment?” His dad, Walt, took one look at the portrait and said, “Yes, that’s mother.” The painting was done in oil on a canvas panel, medium-sized, 14″ x 11″.
It showed her sitting on a white lawn chair in the lanai by their little grape arbor. She wore a cream-colored sweater, and her expression was universal, which really means no particular expression at all, neutral. When someone looks at it, they tend to put their own meaning into the expression, which largely depends on how they are feeling at the time. Ah! Let’s get to the point. Or as they say—cut to the chase.
Here’s what happened, exactly. Frank was walking across his living room. He passed the painting of his mother when a bright white light shot outright at him. It was a bright flash, like a pulse coming out of her eyes. He was surprised, to say the least, and said out loud, “Gosh, mom, it’s like you’re here with me.”
That was the sensation he experienced at that instant like she really was there with him. The next thing he knew, the phone was ringing. He answered. After establishing his identity, the caller said, “This is Surrey Memorial Hospital. Your mother is in critical condition. We don’t know as yet if she will respond to treatment and get better. Should she lose consciousness and needs to be put on life support, we want to know your wishes.”
Frank looked over at the painting and tried to come up with a response. “If my mother couldn’t regain consciousness, I wouldn’t want her just kept alive by life support. I wouldn’t want her to live like that.” “That’s fine. Your father said the same thing; he wanted us to give you a call and check. We just needed to know. Thank you,” the call was ended. Soon he was speaking to Walt, making arrangements to come up to Surrey and visit her in the hospital. Walt told him she was still conscious, but the doctors were having trouble diagnosing the cause of her illness.
From Seattle, he drove north on I-5 towards the border. Frank couldn’t help think about the light, the white light that came from the painting. He pondered the event. It reminded him of other times when another world had reached out. Years ago, he was doing Tai Chi alone in a garage where he lived in California. He was very depressed over a breakup with a girl. As he went through the movements, a voice spoke to him in the top of his head, as though it was right over him so close it was inside his skull. A voice he did not imagine but seemed to be imagined for him.
“Who is this Frank Felson guy, and what’s he up to anyway?” asked the voice. First, he was terrified, like a demonic force had taken him over, then he began to smile. A strange little smile, because he recognized the voice. It was kidding him about taking life too seriously. This voice was an old friend, one he hadn’t heard in a long time—why not even in this lifetime, but another! And at that moment both his mind and body knew reincarnation was real, that the spirit/soul never dies, that we are just actors on the stage of life playing a role.
One day it will end, and we will go on to another. It was as if a very heavyweight had been lifted off his shoulders, and he felt such freedom, such a lack of fear– it was wonderful! As the years passed, he had other experiences and didn’t doubt the spiritual world existed. Now, with this light, was his mother’s spirit reaching out to him?
In the afternoon, he crossed the border and arrived at the hospital. Many of the relatives came down from Kamloops to see Dora and help Walt at home. They were glad to see Frank, and all took turns holding his mother’s hand. She seemed okay, but the doctors were concerned over certain conditions. Her blood was weak, and her internal organs were not functioning well. They decided to give her fresh blood and see if it made a difference. It did, but the improvement wouldn’t last.
Then tiredness and finally, a lackluster mood would return. On a previous visit home, Frank watched Dora sitting in her chair, just staring into space. “Mom, what are you thinking about?” he asked. “Oh nothing,” she replied. Nothing? His mother never said nothing. She always had a thought, a comment, an opinion to make about something she was thinking—not nothing! He knew there was a serious change in her behavior, and when she could barely get out of her easy chair, almost falling back into it, he sensed the time was coming when he would lose her forever, and he began to prepare himself.
He stayed for a week and helped Walt watch over Dora at the hospital. He told her of the light from her painting. She didn’t know what to say about that. Her condition remained uncertain, but her health, over-all, seemed to stabilize, so there was talk of her returning home. This talk got traction, and soon the hospital specialists were telling Walt to prepare the house for her return. Frank and the cousins started a massive clean up to make more room in case she would be in a wheelchair.
Walt, so exhausted from the last couple of months worrying and looking after his life-mate of 56 years, didn’t think he had the energy to continue providing home care. So they faced a new situation: Dora would have to go into a facility where she could get support. Walt couldn’t tell her. He was ashamed, but Frank understood. So it was up to him to break the news.
He sat at her bedside. She said, “How long am I going to be here? I’ve been here so long now.” She’d been hospitalized for two months. “Mom, I need to tell you something. It’s about you leaving the hospital.” She listened wearing that expressionless look, that universal look. “Mom, dad is so worn out he’s worried he won’t be able to provide enough support for you at home. You’ll need to go to a special facility, a place where you can get daily care.”
She seemed for an instant about to say something like, ‘I don’t understand’, but instead looked away and didn’t say a thing, no emotion. It was hard for him to tell her, to see the listless reaction to his words, this woman who’d given birth to him, this woman who was such an important part of his life, and now to see her near the end, not knowing what to do or what will happen.
The next day the hospital announced they wanted to do more tests. His mother would not be going home soon. Frank thought he better get back to Seattle, back to the recruiters, and finding the next graphic design job. So, he departed. The cousins remained a few more days to help out. Then they left as well.
Two weeks went by. Dora was still in the hospital. Frank was ill with a virus and staying bundled up in the apartment. He was walking across the living-room by mother’s painting, and once again, it happened, another bright flash of light from her eyes to his. He thought, ‘Oh, mom!? I guess the phone’s gonna ring any second.’ It didn’t. It took an hour before it rang, Walt was on the line, “They don’t think she’s going to make it—can you come?”
“Dad, I’m pretty sick, sore throat, I can hardly talk. I don’t know,” Frank’s voice sounded really odd, like a cartoon character, a cross between Micky Mouse and Donald Duck. It would be hilarious if it weren’t for the circumstances. “Look, I’m going home, and I’ll call you in a half-hour,” said Walt.
He realized no matter how sick he felt; he had to go. This was his mother for God’s sake. He must go. When Walt called again, Frank told him, “I’m coming up. I’ll leave within the hour, go straight to the hospital, see you there.” Soon he was heading up the freeway. The Canadian Border Officer gave him a suspicious look when he heard his high pitched Daffy Duck impersonation. “My mother’s in the hospital. I’m trying to get to her in time before she goes.”
The officer handed back his passport and allowed him entry. It was not a long drive into town. He was quiet in his thoughts. Arriving at the hospital, soon, he walking into Dora’s ward, where Walt sat bedside, holding her hand. Frank rested palms gently on his shoulders, Walt didn’t turn around, he knew it was his son. Then he stood up. “Take her hand; she knows we’re here. Give it a little squeeze, she’ll squeeze back.”
Frank sat and took her hand. She was sitting upright. Her eyes closed, an oxygen mask over her mouth, she seemed in a coma. Then he leaned into her ear, “Mom it’s me, Frank, I’m sick, and my voice is almost gone, sounds funny, but I’m here. Your painting sent out the light again. It communicated with me. I love you, Mom, I love you.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. Suddenly she moved, though her arms stayed at her side, her upper body bucked and lunged forward.
She’d heard him! She’d heard her son. He sat with her a while, then Walt came back in with a doctor. “Frank, this is Dr. Dalawari. He is going to explain mother’s condition to you. I’ll stay with her; you go have a talk with him.”
Frank did as he was told. He and the doctor slowly strolled down the corridor and sat on a couch together. Dr. Dalawari began, “Your mother’s internal organs are not functioning well, and her blood cannot hold enough vitality to support them. It is unlikely she will ever regain consciousness. She would have to be kept on total life support until her organs stop functioning, and she dies. This could be days, weeks, months, or longer. We have agreed to withdraw support and let the body slowly shut down of its own accord. She’ll drift into a deeper sleep until she passes.” Frank just nodded he understood.
That’s all he could do. They both sat for a while, then slowly strolled back. Entering her ward, he saw dad, still bedside, who said, “You must be tired from the trip. I’m going to talk with her nurse, and then we’ll go home and have some dinner.” Walt left the room. Frank leaned in close to her and said, “Mom, dad, and I are going home to get some rest, but we’ll be back in the morning. Please hang on.”
The house was quiet. It was 5:10 am when the phone began ringing. Frank woke and got out of bed. He stood in the hallway, looking at Walt holding the receiver against his ear. “Yes…Okay…Thank you for letting us know.” He hung up and looked at Frank. “She passed at 5:04. They say we can come down and view her body; they won’t move it for an hour. We can also collect her things. What do you want to do?” “Let’s go down now,” he replied.
Dora’s body lay still on the hospital bed. Father and son stood a respectful distance, then they approached. The son walked up and gently caressed her forehead. The father sat down and looked at his wife for the last time. Later, he was to tell Frank he thought he saw her eyes open just for an instant the moment he entered the room. Frank didn’t see that, but he noticed the hunch in her back was gone. Her body was straight, no more tension, the tension accumulated from a lifetime, for it lay so soft and peaceful.
He felt a tidal wave of emotion roll over him, ‘Oh mother, you were so full of grace, yet mischievous, and seemed to have something you kept hidden from me. In my dreams, you’re always much younger and agile as you dance around me like a whirling dervish, not as I remember you, not at the last, when you could barely get out of your chair, so heavy, out of shape.
You just wanted to sit in that chair, watch your TV shows and eat your little candies. The ones you kept out of sight from those around you. The ones a diabetic shouldn’t eat. Oh, mother, I miss you so. Your picture on my bureau, us standing side by side, my arm around you, and I remember—you raised me, cared, scolded, taught, helped, listened, and understood me better than anyone, and still you are such a mystery. Such a beautiful mother, who’d send her guardian angel to watch over me.
The angel is still watching. Thank you for all your love and kindness. I never made it up to you for all you did. I never gave you grandchildren, or a daughter-in-law, or enough praise, enough love, expensive presents, I never gave you all you should have had. I can only remember you with such longing and fondness. That’s all I can give you in return for the life you gave me.’
Thanks for this story, Angie. My own mother is failing and I’ve been pondering how she will pass, so your story resonates with me very much. And it includes Canada! So special for Canadians who love our country and love to see it referenced and thereby appreciated by others. Keep up the good work!
My distinct pleasure, dear Maya.
I’m a fan of Canada myself. Maybe because it compares so positively with your southern neighbor
I wish you and your mother well – I’ve recently been through a similar process with my mother of 96 years old – may she rest in peace.
Such a lovely tribute to your mother. Lucky for you, she lived to be 96. My mom passed 20 years ago and it still feels like yesterday. Because I started writing late in life, my mom never got to read any of my writing. I wish she had. She was a romance fanatic and read all True Stories. She read so many, I thought she would be able to write some herself. But, her passion was sewing, alterations and reading. Thank you for publishing my work. Maybe, she is up there reading me. I wish you and your family peace and good times.