Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Ah, but I was so much older then….
    I’m younger than that now! (Bob Dylan, My Back Pages)

    I don’t know what happens when people die
    Can’t seem to grasp it, as hard as I try
    It’s like a song I can hear that’s playing right in my ear
    That I can’t sing – but I can’t help listening… (Jackson Browne, “For a Dancer”)

    I can see that it’s going to be a lot tougher with Mom that it was with Dad. Maybe it’s because both of my parents are now gone – that whole “Now you’re an orphan” syndrome? But, I don’t think that’s it. That’s not what I’m feeling. This past week, I felt closer to Chris than I’ve ever been, and I suspect that might be something that helps to compensate for the loss, well into the future.

    Maybe it’s knowing that we still have another service to plan and coordinate? With Dad, the Arlington thing just happened. We didn’t need another service, since the service after he died had everyone there, and Arlington was just like icing on the cake. With Mom, Arlington is going to be the main event. We don’t even know when it will be, and won’t know for weeks. But, it’s going to be the opportunity for the whole family to grieve together, and to celebrate her life. So, this is going to go on for awhile. I’m trying to get used to that. I’m not there, yet.

    When Dad left, some amazing things occurred, not least of which was Sam Brown. Sam was that guy who just showed up in our lives at the right time, kind of like Stu showed up right as Mom was making her final lap. Sam had been a member of the congregation that Dad, Mom, Kathy, Jonathon and I all had belonged to for the last year of Dad’s life.

    When Dad’s baby sister, Jeannie, died, Dad was distraught that he hadn’t gotten back in time to be with her in her final hours. They’d had this special connection. They were both battling their respective cancers at the same time, and they were committed to being there for each other. Dad and Mom had gone down to Florida for a vacation with their best friends, the Lindemann’s. Dad had rushed back up when he got word that Jeannie was going fast, but didn’t make it in time. He was so concerned that she felt alone and abandoned at the end, without her big brother there by her side.

    I had been with Dad at both services. The first one was at the Georgetown University Chapel in D.C. After Dad had driven all the way from Bradenton, Florida, to D.C. and missed Jeannie, he drove Mom home to New Jersey, picked me up, and we turned around and drove back to D.C. for her first service. Jeannie was a nun, and had been the Chaplain at the university’s hospital. She was especially effective working with parents in the neo-natal ward of the hospital. I’ll never forget Dad standing in that reception line, as hundreds of people came into the chapel to pay their final respects to Jeannie.

    Dad, whose own cancer had already metastasized into his bones and was beginning to feel a lot of pain in his legs, stood there for over an hour and a half. They just kept coming, and Dad kept talking to them. Who knew that our aunt, the nun, had touched so many people? Then, Dad and I had driven out to Pittsburgh together for her service in Baden, where the home of the order Jeannie'd belonged to was, and where most of her family were. He and I had gotten even closer on those trips, if that was possible, than we’d previously been. He had confided many things to me.

    Sam Brown was this quiet, unassuming man, very calm, very peaceful man, very deliberate in his speech and his actions. Once a week, Sam had a talk with his Mom. His Mom had been gone for 20 years, but Sam still chatted with her regularly. Sam did not know Dad very well at that point. He came up to him after Sunday Service, the week after Jeannie’s services. “Mother reported that she had a visit from your little sister, Jeannie. She had a message for you.” Dad looked at him, not knowing what to make of this guy, and for once in his life, was speechless. Sam went on, “She said to tell Jimmy that her final day was glorious, and that she was surrounded by friends, and that he should not worry about me. I’m doing great, and looking forward to seeing you when you come over.” Nobody ever called Dad “Jimmy”, except for his baby sister, Jeannie. Sam would not have known this. This gave Dad a great deal of comfort.

    After Dad had passed over, at the Sunday service following his Memorial service, which Sam had sung “The Prayer of St. Francis” at, Sam came up to me, in his shy way, and said that he had a message for me. “Oh boy, here it comes”, I thought. I still didn’t quite know what to make of Sam. I liked him a lot, he was so calm, so friendly, so self-assured in a very humble way. Sam handed me a couple of Cassette tapes and said, “I had several visits directly from your father, Peter. I haven’t done anything like this in years. It was so intense, and so moving, I recorded what happened right away, so I wouldn’t forget any details. I want you to have these. You’re father really loved you a great deal”

    On the tapes, Sam rehashed his conversations with Dad. He was right – it was incredibly intense. He described to Sam how excruciatingly painful his last two weeks, especially, had been, but also how the overwhelming energy of the people around him, and the love he felt, carried him through the pain, and made it all tolerable, even joyful. It was amazing. There were pieces of information he conveyed, through Sam to me, that no one else could have known about. Things Dad and I had talked about that neither of us had ever talked with anyone else about. They were on the tapes. He talked at length about what it was like “on the other side”, what his experience was like from the time he “arrived”, to the point he was at, now.

    This whole experience left me with an overwhelming feeling of joy, and I took away from it that death is not necessarily a bad thing, and that it can be a beautiful thing. His death was a beautiful, almost joyous experience. It was certainly joyous that his pain was over, and that he was “home”.

    Ah, but I was so much older then – I’m younger than that now. This past week, I have found myself revising my feelings toward death, and what happens afterwards. For so many years, I’ve been sure of it. After Dad, I was so sure that I knew what happens, based on Sam’s tapes, the story of his talking to Jeannie, and my own experience with Dad, both before and after he died. Now – I am not so sure. I have my doubts. I really don’t think this is a good or a bad thing – it just is. It is where I am at, now. I may be taking a slightly more agnostic approach to the whole thing.

    As we were driving Chris to the Myrtle Beach airport on Tuesday, he said that we should try to get hold of Sam Brown to see if he’s heard from Mom. The last I heard about Sam, he was paralyzed from the neck down, and wasn’t doing well, at all. I don’t think he’s going to be able to help us. We’re going to have to sort through this one on our own.

    Maybe it’s because I wasn’t there when Dad died, and I was with Mom. I’ve never been with a person as they died, before. I’m the only one who saw her after she died. There wasn’t a viewing. She didn’t want that. When Dad died, I was at a hockey game with my friend Chuck when I got paged, and I rushed home. Since Dad didn’t want a viewing, either, we took a video of our washing his body down, and showed it to the rest of the family when they came in. I did take a picture of Mom, but I haven’t shown it to anyone. No one has asked, and my thoughts have been that it’s better for them to remember the last time they were with her, to hold onto that memory.

    I have the day on the beach with her. The games of Mah Johngg we played in that last month. The weeks that I spent living with her, helping her get around, just keeping good company with her. These are most precious memories, ones that I will cherish for years to come.

    But, I do also have the moment she drew her final breath. It’s not an easy one to shake. It’s there, along with the rest. I still haven’t figured out where it all goes, how it all fits. It’s o.k. – it’s not like it’s driving me crazy or anything. I also have her urn on my mantel above the fireplace. I managed to make it all the way home to Virginia from South Carolina, with all of her old furniture and everything else under the sun in my car or in the trailer I towed, without losing Mom. I know she would be proud. I forgot my laptop, but not my Mom!

    I’ve simply noticed I am no longer so sure about what happens, where we go, and all of that. I just don’t know. And, I’m o.k. with not knowing. What I do know is, life does go on. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, do what’s in front of you, and keep doing it. This first day back home might well have been the toughest one I’ve had, yet. Things are hitting me, here, that didn’t hit me when I was down there. I’m really feeling the loss, this time.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.