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Spirit Stories: In Your Own Words

"Goodbye" was really "Hello"

By: Donna J. Wade

Mom and I were great pals until I left for college, when our relationship turned to the "oil on water" variety, because my voyage of self-discovery during those years led me to the realization that I am a lesbian. No brag, just fact. Mother reacted to this news like I'd cut out her heart with a butter knife.

Throughout the ensuing years, she took denial of my sexual orientation to an art form, holding onto the hope that one day, I would meet the "right man" and settle down, refusing to accept that the "right man" for me was another woman. Steeled with the courage and venom that several shots of Jack Daniels provided, she berated and ridiculed me, hoping her revulsion would change me.

All it did was make me move as far away from home as I could get. We didn't speak for over a decade. Every letter and book I sent to try to help her understand was returned unopened. So, like so many other folks like me, I created my own "extended" family in Los Angeles.

When mother was 49 (I was 32), a congenital aneurism burst in her brain, and I flew back to Atlanta after my step-dad told me they didn't expect her to live through the night. She not only made it through the night, she survived the subsequent brain surgery, and began a slow recovery, despite the partial paralysis of her left side.

Thankfully, one thing that didn't survive this medical crisis was the vindictiveness that had characterized our prior relationship, and in the next ten years, we mended fences and became best pals again. Though told her life depended on it, mother couldn't give up cigarettes. The family refused to buy them, but she found a local cab driver to bring them to her while dad was at work. She hid them in the bottom of the coffee canister, in the lining of old winter coats, the bottom of the Kleenex dispenser, and the bottom of the vacuum cleaner bag. We never found all of her hiding places until after her death, despite the repeated "search and seizure" missions dad conducted.

Two weeks before Christmas in 1995, my step-dad called and said mother was back in the hospital, her prognosis dismal. Thirty years of cigarette addiction had turned her lungs the consistency of cardboard, and there was nothing further the doctors could do for her. I arrived in time to spend two full days with her. The night she crossed over, I sat on the edge of her hospital bed and sang her to sleep. Between the songs and my tears, I told her it was okay to go into the light. She passed December 17, 1995, and I finally understood how it felt to have your heart ripped out.

After the Catholic service and burial, I returned to the cemetery and burned sweetgrass and sage over her grave (which my family labeled "Indian voodoo"), thanking the Great Spirit for the life of this extraordinarily willful, fun-loving and often-frustrating old dame from whom I'd sprung. Though she'd never acknowledged my longtime companion, I believed that once on the blue road of the spirit realm, she would gain the understanding that had eluded her on the earth plane.

I'd believed in life after death since my maternal grandfather visited me in the cellar of my grandmother's house three years after he passed. After my grandmother passed, I asked mom if she believed our loved ones can visit us from beyond, and she told me that grandpa appeared to granny every day after he died, standing next to his closet, until she moved from their house into a small apartment.

My flight back to LA was delayed in Memphis due to a lightening storm. And when I dashed OJ Simpson-style to catch my connecting flight in Las Vegas, mother's favorite city, I laughed at the irony that I had no time to drop a few quarters in the slot machines she so loved. Though scheduled to arrive at 3:20 in the morning, the flight delays, and luggage briefly missing in action put me back home closer to 4:30 AM.

Much to my surprise, my partner was awake and waiting for me, and she had an amazing story to tell. We have three very large dogs, who bark when someone comes through our front gate. My partner said that she awoke about 3:45 AM, sensing a presence in our bedroom. She said she was going to congratulate me for getting into the house without disturbing our canine companions, but when she opened her eyes, it wasn't me standing beside my side of the bed, but a being of light. Mother had come to say good bye, to both of us. I think I talk to mother more now that she's crossed than I ever did while she was alive. I constantly feel her spirit around us, and she occasionally confirms her presence...usually by sending me a jolt of energy followed by goosebumps as I talk to her in my head while watching Crossing Over with John Edward.

After her stroke, she would forget the 3 hour time difference between LA and Atlanta, and would call me when she got up at 7AM, which is oh-my-god-early on the West coast. This year, on my 48th birthday, the phone rang at precisely 4 A.M. I was not surprised that no one spoke. Mother was just calling to say hello and happy birthday.

Donna J. Wade

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