"Connections" - both in life and in death.

I do not know what your beliefs are about an afterlife, or supernatural encounters, or ghosts, or spirits, or heaven or God is, but let me tell you three stories that I am unable to explain. These are actual events that occurred in my life - so you will have to take my word for it that they are indeed true.

First of all, I have always been close to my grandparents. The love I have for them in my heart still lingers on well beyond their lives here on earth - for all of them. At an earlier age, I was particularly close to my mother's parents. We had names for them - Mémère and Pépère (or Pep for short). My grandparents got those names because their oldest son (My Uncle Dan) was the first to have children (my cousins). Dan lived in the Northern boarder city of Madawaska, Maine. Madawaska is across the St. John River from Edmondson, Canada (a predominantly French-Canadian city). According to the 2000 US Census bureau, over 83% of the residents of Madawaska speak French in their homes. My Uncle (while not French) married a woman who was from the area, and therefore spoke both French and English. My cousins (who have a few years on the next oldest grandchild) called my grandparents Mémère and Pépère, and it stuck with ALL their Grandchildren. From Dan were Janice, Cindy, and Dean. My Uncle Greg was Gen, Bob, and Mark, and from our family were my sister Denise and myself. All eight of us called them Mémère and Pépère.

I lost my paternal grandfather at an early age. I was five when he passed away. I have some memories of him, but unfortunately not as many, or as detailed as I wish I did (though) get some of my interests and hobbies from him - and I know that is where they came from - but will be a story for another day. Grandpa's death was my first experience of a death within our family, and was to be the last for many years. As I mentioned before, this happened when I was five years old. I do not even remember much of the experience except two things. THE FIRST - My grandfather had a heart attack. He was in the hospital and must not have been doing well. My dad tried to take me to see him, but a "Nurse Ratchet" (i.e. "Bitch") said that I was "too young". (It is funny how thirty years later - the memory of that hag trying to keep me from seeing my grandfather still makes me think of her a as a bitch.) Anyway, my father tried reasoning with this woman, but it did not work. He and I left, and as we walked down the hall, he quietly told me he told me we were going back, and to squat down, walk close to him, and when he reached the nurse's station, to hide behind the desk. He distracted the nurse, and snuck me into Grandpa's room. (This was/is probibly the first and last time in my life that I can think of that my dad was deceitful with someone - and kudos to him for doing it) That was the last time I saw my grandpa. THE SECOND - I remember that after he died my sister and I were allowed to go to his wake. During the wake, we lifted one of grandpa's fingers, and let it fall back down. All I remember is that it was cool, rigid, and the color was "not right". (In other words - I did not fully comprehend death at age 5, but who does?)

I think because I lost my 1st grandfather at such a young age, I became particularly close to my Pep. We spent a lot of time together, and I have NOTHING but fond memories of spending time with him. My Pep was a Policeman for the University of Minnesota Police Department. I believe this is where I got my interest in law enforcement. (I also "blame" my Mémère too - in a different way and for a different reason - Remind me to tell you that story too!) Ok. Back to the original purpose of this post.

I remember the day. It was a beautiful spring day outside. I was in elementary school (sixth grade). I was playing outside at recess, when something overwhelming washed over me. I could not explain it. I had an immediate need to get away. I needed to be alone. I found a quiet grassy field in the far back end of the school yard, and sat. I spent my recess out there just sitting and feeling melancholy, picking at the long blades of grass that surrounded me. A couple of my friends came out to me and asked if I was ok. I remember telling them I was fine, but just wanted to spend some time alone. When the bell rang, I headed back to school, and never gave it a second thought. When I arrived home from school that afternoon, and the only thing out of the ordinary was a neighbor (who had kids our age, and was not unusual to see at our house) was leaving just as we got home, and Dad was home from work early. My parents walked my sister and I into the living room, sat us down, and said "Today was such a beautiful day". I do not know how, or why, but I instantly knew what had happened. I knew Pep had died. I did not know when, or how, or why - but even without the words having been said, I knew. All I remember was an overwhelming crushing feeling in my soul. I got up and ran. I ran as fast as I could. I burst out the front door, ran to the big birch tree in the front yard and tried climbing up to one of the two low branches that I used to climb up to as a kid. I think I was trying to run away from what I knew to be true. My Dad had followed me out a few moments later and while I sat on the branch, he confirmed what I already knew, brought me back into the house where my parents comforted me, and filled me in on the details - but the details were not important. Pep's death was unexpected. He was not even ill. He had some heart damage as a child because of a bout with rheumatic fever that caused a small hole in his heart. On that "beautiful" spring day, he was playing cards at a local senior community center when he went into cardiac arrest. He collapsed and died. Believe me or not, but at the same moments my grandfather was passing away, I was at recess - feeling that immediate need to get away and be alone. A big part of me died that day, and I somehow "knew it" before I actually "knew it". I miss my Pep even now, as an adult.

After Pep's passing, I spent even more time with my Mémère than before. It was not unusual for me to spend a week at a time at her house during the summer (a couple of times a summer). I spent weekends, and long weekends with her too. Mémère and I were very close, and I loved her, and spending time at her house very much. Well, it was only about a year and a half or so after Pep's passing that we got the bad news about Mémère's diagnosis of terminal cancer. I don't think I even knew what cancer was. I just knew that I was told that Mémère was going to get very sick and would be dying soon. (You would not have known she was sick from just looking at her.) So her dying was as "expected" as a loved grandparent's death can be for a young boy. I'll spare you the long drawn out details here, but Mémère lived in her own home as long as she could, and when she could not live alone anymore, my parents took her into our home. She stayed in my sister's room, (I did not realize until just a few years ago that my parents actually sat my sister down, and asked her if she would be willing to let Mémère stay in her room. My sister slept on a hide-a-bed in the basement during this time. (I do not know if my sister knows how much respect I have for her for making that sacrifice for Mémère. I would have too - without a second thought - But they choose Denise's room, and asked her first.)). When Mémère first moved in, she was able to walk, talk, get around, etc. She did spend a lot of time in bed, but it some ways it was like having her around. As time went on, she became less and less able to do these things, and the time did come where Mémère was pretty much sleeping all the time. She would not wake for you if you went into her room, would mumble nonsensical things, and (for all practical purposes) was unconscious. She was in this state for a while, so having her there in that state was the "norm" around the house for a while. After a while, (as embarrassed as I am to admit this) I stopped peeking in the room to say hello, goodbye, etc on a regular basis. But one day, out of the blue, on my way to catch the school bus, (Knowing full well that she would not be able to respond to me) I stopped into her room, gave her a kiss on the cheek, told her goodbye, and that I was leaving for school. When we got home from school that day, Mom and Mémère were not home. Mémère had taken a turn for the worse that day, and Mom had her taken to the hospital. Later that afternoon / evening, she passed away. I do not know why I chose that day to stop in, give her a kiss and say goodbye (at the time thinking goodbye, I'll see ya when I get home from school). But I think somehow, on some level I "knew" that day was my opportunity to say goodbye in a different sort of way.

After having lost Grandpa, then Pep, and finally Mémère - I had one grandparent left. Over the years my Grandma and I had grown close. We too had a special bond. I would help her around her house. Stop by a see her after school. I took her grocery shopping (something my Mémère had always dreamed about - she always told me she could not wait to have me come and pick her up and take her grocery shopping..), and we went out for hamburgers. Both Grandma and I got older and older. She was less and less able to live on her own, and the time came when she had to live in a nursing home. I was fortunate enough to have her close to my work. I was able to take my break, and go visit her. (Until my employer "re-evaluated" our break policy - after which I could not - as we were not allowed to leave the property). Again, by this time Grandma had been close to passing away a couple of times, but each time she rallied back to almost where she had started from (each "close call" deteriorated her health a little more). But the time came where she was going down hill, and we knew it would not be much longer. I was on a set of days off, and had gone to visit Grandma. She was unusually tired by this point and "spending time" with her was pretty much sitting next to her as she slept. On this day though, she did wake for a bit, and we got to visit, even for a brief few minutes, but it was Grandma, and we talked about what we always talked about - how nice it was outside, how much she loved me, and how (when the time came) she was going to watch over me. The next day, my Dad had called and said that if I wanted to see Grandma one more time that it would most likely have to be that day. I stopped up, and both my Uncle Ron and my Dad were there too. We had lunch at the nursing home, and each spent time with Grandma. While sitting next to her, rubbing her hand, for just a few seconds she opened her eyes, and I cannot explain to you what it was like, but with complete clarity, she communicated with me (just by looking into my eyes) that everything was ok. It was a overwhelming feeling in my heart that she knew it was her time, that she was comfortable, how proud she was of me and my family, how much she loved me and (as always) she would be watching out for me. It was the most peaceful feeling I have ever had. She closed her eyes, rolled over and went back to sleep. As far as I know that was the last time she opened her eyes. It was no surprise to me when my Dad called me and told me she passed away. I felt good. Not good that she passed away, but good that she was somewhere better. Free from crippled and worn out body that she was in. I was able to spend the next day with both my Uncle Ron and my Dad as they made the arrangements at the funeral home. The timing could not have worked out better. Everything worked out perfectly. I was on days off (which are next to impossible to get at the last minute where I work), I got to have a last visit with grandma, got to be with her the next day when she "told me" (with here eyes) that everything was going to be ok, and got to be there for both my Dad and my Uncle while planned for Grandma's final arrangements.

As I look back at each of these experiences, there is no doubt in my mind that in some way, on some level, and in some fashion, I had "known" what was going to, or what had already happened to some of the people I have loved the most, and ment the most to me in this world...


  1. It must have been the particular set of grandparents we have because I feel so much of that too. I'll have to tell you more stories about memere the next time we talk.

    You know that I, too, was very close to memere. In that talk that mom and dad had with me, it was actually memere that asked me if it would be ok to remain in my room. She told me over and over again how much it meant to be in my room, and how good it made her feel to be surrounded by all that pink! I remember being so happy to give that to her. I think my connection with her since then has something to do with that, and of course the years of wonderful times before that.

    You know that not seeing Grandma before she died was absolutely heart wrenching for me...two days before she passed away I had a dream where mem and pep were standing at a train station where I was meeting them. In the dream it had been like 20 years since I had seen them, but they were living...like this was a reunion of sorts. I hugged and hugged them. Memere looked me straight in the eye (still just as vivid today...) and said in her distinctive tone that make no mistake, she knew exactly how much I missed them, how much I thought of them, and what they still mean to me today. I really think it was God's way of telling me that even though I couldn't get to Grandma in time, she would know how I felt in my heart. I still remember how mem and pep were standing in the dream, what kind of day it was, and what the station looked like. (Oh...I am also sooooo grateful that you told Grandma that I would play piano for her.)

    I think Grandma has given me some extra presence because I couldn't get to her in time. Mom brought some clothes of hers down on her last trip. In the pile was the old white sweater of hers that she used to put on me for our walks to St Peters. Out of the blue after mom left, Jonah was napping in our room. Somehow, he woke up and found just THAT sweater in the closet, and curled up with it on the bed. He even had his arms in the sleeves. Sounds crazy, but it was like Grandma was hugging him. The strange part was just before that happened, I was missing her quite a bit and asked her if she knew how much I still thought of her. This also happened on Uncle Ronny's birthday. Coincidence? Figment of imagination? Powers of suggestion? I can't think that is the case. I think was her, plain and simple. Remind me to tell you the cardinal story also.

    I loved reading those stories about our grandparents. Weren't we blessed? Oh, the happy memories we have. Dime fares for the bus, selby-lake bus with pep, filled date cookies, the box of candy bars, Brackett Park, puzzles with Grandpa, Young and the Restless with Grandma, browning butter before scrambling eggs with Grandma...I think of the memories my little guys are creating right now in MN, too. Wonder what they will blog about someday? :) :) :) (Maybe your kiddos will remember Auntie Neise's ice cream treat at 10:30 am on the way to the train...JUST BECAUSE!)


  2. Or perhaps...

    Being "left behind" at the Light Rail Train station??

    (snicker, snicker, sincker)

  3. FOF,

    Thanks for sharing the link to this post. It was a special read tonight.



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