Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Another death, and a story about afterlife
News has filtered through the ether that Debbie Reynolds has passed away, just about 24 hours from the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. They are reunited in the hereafter.
While 2016 has been a one for the records for deaths, when I heard of Debbie's passing, I am reminded of the events of November 26-27, 2011, when something similar, much closer to home happened.
I have written back then of the events in 2011, just check the annual index at the side. You can't mess with those dates. Maybe, if you read this, you'll see what I mean.
First off, you know by now that Cookie has a very deep respect for genealogy - its is my passion and my obsession. And I was raised at my mother's knee, so I was her captive audience for all the tales of her youth, and all of the farming families in that community where she grew up.
By the time I was 10, I knew those families well enough that its wasn't much of a stretch for me to step back from 1972 to 1932 in my imagination. Mother's roots run deep in that part of Ohio, and in eight generations, we are either related, or family friends. Their were no strangers in that part of our state.
But, I am my father's son as well, and that means I am a skeptic, and I have an even shorter view of bullshit and bullshitters than the old man had.
But back in that November, 2011, the husband and I were at home, and he had the day off.
I got a call from Karin, who is a distant cousin and a fellow genealogy hobbyist. She called to say that another woman, Lucille, who was my mothers age, and who was Karin's mother's cousin was at the local hospital as her daughter had had an "episode" and was on a ventilator. Out the door I flew, as the hospital was just five minutes from our home in Columbus.
Lucille was in her 90s. On her mother's side, we were related through Mom's paternal grandmother. On Lucille's father's side - an even more distant connection - but on my mother's paternal grandfather's family. I knew Lucille growing up because when we would visit my grandfather in the nursing facility he was in at the end of his life, I would also visit Lucille's parents and their eldest daughter Jean, who was paralyzed in an auto accident from the neck down.
Jean was just about 17 when the accident happened in 1937. Before 1930, sedans built in the US were still built with some wooden sub-members with steel encasing the outside. Roofs on these sedans had large cutouts on top that were about four by seven feet. To enclose the roof on these sedans, wooden cross members were factory fitted, and then a canvas top was stretched in place. Owners then used a dressing on the canvas to keep the fabric weatherproof. Only custom sedans had full steel tops as it was an expensive stamping given the technology of the 1930s. It wasn't until 1936 that automobile manufacturers got really serious about making all steel bodies ALL STEEL. GM came out with its "Turret Top" sedans with steel roofs and everyone else finally gave in.
But the car that Jean was driving was one of those pre "Turret Top" sedans. And on a Sunday, the three girls were on their way home from church choir practice when the car Jean was driving hit a patch of loose gravel and the car fishtailed into a curve. The impact was so strong that Jean was flipped out through the canvas roof of the sedan and her body thrown into a barbed wire fence, snapping her neck.
Lucille came too and found her leg bleeding very badly - she took off her belt and tied off her upper thigh and then applied direct pressure.
Only Mary Joan, the 10 year old sister didn't have any visible injury, she was talking, but felt light headed.
Their mother was working in her kitchen when she heard the wreck and she and her husband tore out and down the road. Other farmers who had heard it were on the site and the sheriff was on his way.
While everyone fussed with Jean and Lucille, Mary Joan started going down hill. She died shortly after getting to the hospital. The coroners report showed a ruptured spleen and lacerated liver.
For the rest of her life, Lucille took a backseat to Jean's care. And when Jean's parents could no longer care for themselves, let alone her, that care fell to Lucille.
And Lucille had her own problems. He husband, a devilishly handsome man, suffered from debilitating bouts of depression. Pam, their daughter fought with pyschosis. And the son that followed Pam was born profoundly retarded, Lucille being exposed to rubella by one of students before she knew she was pregnant.
She had watched her sister die, her son die, her father die, her mother die and her sister.
Pam was all she had left.
That late afternoon in 2011 we sat with Lucille. Her friends had driven her the sixty miles from home while Pam was life-flighted to Columbus. The doctors wanted to meet with her and she asked me to join her two friends and herself in the meeting. We sat, we asked clear questions, hard questions and we made sure that Lucille heard those questions, and comprehended the answers.
When the doctors left, we were silent. Lucille began to speak. She said that she had dreamt about Mary Joan every night of her life after the accident, and that the dreams had stopped after Pam was born. And she said that the Monday night before, she got up in the middle of the night, which was unusual because she slept through the night soundly, but she got up because something told her to look in on Pam. So the 90 something mother made her way down the hall and looked in on her 60 something daughter who was sleeping soundly.
"Then I went back to my room and felt like I had to look out the window, I don't know why. And there, in the next door neighbors front yard, was girl, about ten years old, dressed like Mom and Dad used to dress us in white cotton dresses. Here hair was bobbed like we used to wear our hair. And she must have been cold. Why was she out by herself? I opened the window and called to her, but she turned and went into the dark."
Then she got quiet for a minute. She looked up at me, eyes drilling into me and said "Cookie, you know who that girl was don't you." It wasn't a question. It was fact.
And I said, as fact, not looking for something to say but said "It was Mary Joan, come for Pam."
Lucille thought for a minute and said "It was Mary Joan."
Pam died early the next morning, about four hours after coming off the ventilator. Karin, the cousin who had told me that Pam was at the hospital stayed with her until she was gone. She also made plans with Lucille to pick her up the following day to go to the funeral home and make arrangements.
That Sunday morning, no one answered the door at Lucille's. They found her dead, in her chair in the family room.
When I told events of the night that at the hospital during the eulogy, I said that there was no way for me or anyone else to know that Mary Joan came for Pam, and for Lucille as well.
Lucille's life was one of loss and victory over death. But God in his wisdom gave her sufficient strength to live through what she needed to live through to see the people around her shepherded through their lives, then she could rest.
Perhaps this is what happened with Debbie Reynolds. Perhaps, it was her job to nurture and protect not only her talent, but the talent of Carrie Fisher too. With Carrie's departure, Debbie too could pass on.
None of use knows why we are here, how long we'll be here or what our real purpose is. Sometimes. we're lucky enough to get a hint of what it could be.
I do not believe in ghosts, but I believe in something greater than all of us, just as much as I believe in the reliability of math or science.
In Lucille's life, and her death, and in Mary Joan, I found my answer.
I am grateful to have that veil lifted that one time.
And I hope that Lucille and Debbie are enjoying one and other's company.