What Dead People Hear & Say
Before my father’s big retirement dinner on February 18 in Manhattan we stopped to see my mother at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. We needed a map to find the plot in the 400 acre urban graveyard. We also brought a shovel to clear the snow from the flat markers in the Jeanne family plot. (The Jeannes were my father’s mother’s people from Jersey City via France and England.)Turns out we didn’t need the shovel, the shrubs and tall trees had kept the snow off. My sister Suzanne placed a bouquet on the grave. Well, it was actually winter clippings from my mother’s garden on the farm 150 miles North of the city. We sort of stood there, thinking, like you do in cemeteries. Then my father decided to speak to my mother. He stood over her plaque with his arms crossed and said that while her body was gone, he wanted her to know that her spirit lives on. He said it was nice to talk with her when he was re-designing the vegetable garden last summer to make it smaller, and easier to care for. "I felt you very close then." He proceeded to each plaque in the plot, talking with his father, “Hi Pops,” and his grandfather, “You raised me during the war, and you were tough, but I was your favorite,” his grandmother, “Grandma, I never met you, as you died before I was born.” And then his mother, who was bi-polar, “Mom, you were really two people…” and then to his brother-in-law. “Dave, your big moment was at the Battle of the Bulge, and I thank you for that.” Before we left he circled back around to my mother for a few more words. “Sweet Sarah, I want you to know that I have been taking good care of the dogs, but they are getting up there, and may be joining you in heaven soon.” He said he would miss her at his retirement party that night, as many of their old friends would be there.
The next day, at lunch on the upper East side near my sister Kathleen’s apartment, she said that my father’s lady friend, the hospice chaplain, had told him that hearing is the last sense to leave us. “Maybe he got confused and thought she meant dead people can still hear you,” Kathleen said, and laughed, a little. Then she said, “I talk to Mom all the time. Especially when I’m golfing." I told her I talk to her in my garden. “Do you think she hears us?” I asked my sister. We weren't sure, but we agreed that we do feel better after we have talked with Mom because we know what her answers would have been. Which may be what my father meant when he said that our mother’s body is gone, but her spirit is still close.