I am 26 years old. My mother has brought my grandmother out from Colorado to live with her in an effort to cure her stomach cancer. My mother beat her diagnosis of breast cancer into remission using home remedies, belief in them, and sheer will. It was obvious that she felt that she could best serve her Mother by keeping her in our home, close to her and her grandchildren. The doctors had given her only a few months to live after they removed an enormous tumor. My Mother’s faith in herself and God was my Grandma Mary’s last hope.
At first my Grandmother was happy to be with us, but as her pain increased, and my Mother’s remedies and our love proved to be no match for the cancer attacking her, she just wanted to go back home to Colorado. It broke our hearts to hear her beg to let her go. She just wanted to go back to the home that she had made with her beloved Peter in the small coal mining town of Trinidad. It made sense to me then why she wanted to go. She was suffering and didn’t want us to watch her slowly erode. More importantly, the comfort of being in her home with it’s familiar surroundings, and the ghosts of those others that she was soon to join in death, was her last wish. This wish proved to be the thing that haunted my Mother most after my Grandmother passed away. She always wondered if she had done the wrong thing by keeping her in California.
I remember the night she died. She was laying in bed and had been unresponsive for 2 days, not eating or drinking. Just short, quick breaths marked the fact that she was still with us. I tried to give her a sip of water because her lips looked so dry, and she began choking and coughing. I felt like I had nearly drowned her and just kept saying I was sorry, over and over again. I laid there next to her frail body for an hour before going to bed. Several hours later my Mother woke me to tell me she had passed away. I walked into the room to see her, crawled in next to her again and just lay there, crying and saying goodbye.
I’m 38 years old. I get a call from Dad that Mom is in the hospital. She was experiencing acute pain in her abdomen, but they didn’t know what the cause was. They wanted to keep her overnight for observation. I raced to the hospital to see her.
Mother was there, smiling at me through eyes that looked a bit frightened. She told me not to worry, they think she just pulled a muscle. Still, the circumstances and symptoms had the doctors baffled and they wanted to keep her as a precaution. I stayed a while until she got me to promise to go home to help Pop make some dinner.
My father was always a craftsman in the kitchen, able to pull random objects and create a culinary experience that was always a joy. Delicious, as my wife would always say, but not necessarily healthy. Too much cream and butter. I remember enjoying the meal, helping clean up with my wife, calling my mother at the hospital to check in, and then we started heading home with our young son.
About a mile from our house I started to feel sick. So sick that I made my Wife stop the car. I leapt out onto the shoulder and projectile vomited several times. Linda was alarmed and we all wondered when the rest of us would fall ill from some kind of food poisoning. At home I declined rapidly, and a high fever set in. Still, Linda and Aidan felt fine. I lay there in bed, shivering. We discussed what I had eaten over the last 24 hours, but it was clear that I hadn’t had anything other than what my entire family had eaten. The illness was a mystery. For about an hour I went through a routine of jumping out of bed, staggering to the bathroom and ejecting fluids in some fashion from my body, all the while wracked with shakes and fever.
The next day I was still sick with a high fever. My Mother was feeling better and was going to be released from the hospital. Linda had made plans to visit friends in Sacramento weeks in advance of this day and was ready to cancel the trip. I insisted that I could take care of myself and not to worry about me. Somehow, I got her to leave with Aidan, leaving me alone in the house.
I woke again several hours later, still shivering. I am not sure why, but I felt compelled to leave, to go to my childhood home. I rolled out of bed, dressed, found my keys and drove away.
I got to my parents house in the mountains, which was always a beautiful place to be. Redwoods and pines, the gardens, the clean air. All of it familiar and inviting. I found where they kept the key hidden and let myself in. I remember drinking a glass of water and heading to the back bedroom where my Grandmother passed away. I looked down at the bed where she died, “Gram. I’m really sick. If you’re here, I need your help.”
I slid under the covers and fell asleep.
Hours later I woke. The house was dark and still. I was soaked in sweat. The fever had broken and, although weak, I was already feeling better. I was able to find my way to the kitchen and make myself some dry toast, let myself out the way I came and started for home.
A few weeks later Linda and I are sitting with good friends, talking about all of the things you talk about with friends that you haven’t seen in a year. Somehow our conversation triggers Linda’s memory of what happened to me that night; My mothers hospitalization, the vomiting, the fever.
Natalie listened to the story, and said, “You had a lowlife attach to you.”
“What’s a lowlife?”, I asked.
Natalie is a Reiki healer. She got quiet for a moment. She began to tell me that sometimes spirits that are lost or malicious, hang around in places like hospitals. They sometimes attach themselves to the ‘bright light’ some people create around them. That one had attached to me. A very bad one.
I scoffed and told her that it was just food poisoning.
She slowly closed her eyes, and they started to flutter. As a tear trickled down her cheek, she described what she saw that night. She described my grandmother being there, helping me fight the lowlife. She mentioned an American Indian Chief, watching over me. The funny thing was, I hadn’t told her about how I drove to my Parents home, or that I had asked my Grandmother for help. I told her then about how I had felt compelled to go there, and she looked at me like she understood. Still, I asked about the Indian. Who was he?
We finally decided that it must have been an ancestor. Generations ago on my Fathers side of the family, I knew that we had some Cherokee blood.
About a week later, I was back at my Parents house for one of our Sunday dinners. I got up and walked to that back bedroom. I wasn’t sure If I really believed the things that Natalie had said. Mostly I like to believe that they are true, that some part of those that pass from our lives into death are still with us. That the purpose of life, love and our everlasting souls a greater mystery than we can imagine.
I stood there in the room alone. I told my Grandmother out loud, “Thank you”
As I turned to leave the room, on the wall over the bed, was a woodcut my Uncle Norman had given my father many years before he passed away. Woodcuts were a hobby that they both enjoyed.
I stared at my Uncle Normans woodcut. It was a profile of an American Indian Chief in full headdress.