I call it “the year of hell.” It started in May when my uncle died unexpectedly. A few days later my mother had a fire in her house, leaving it uninhabitable. (Thankfully, Mom was able to move back in at the end of the summer.) In September a very close friend of our family died after a months-long battle with cancer. A few days later, it was Mom. An aunt who had been in a nursing home left us about two months later. She had been in very ill health, but still, it was another. Then, before a year had passed, one of my younger brothers was gone.
Our father had died four years earlier, and I had always liked to imagine that he was with my grandparents and his brother and sister that had gone on before him—but I was never certain that I actually believed it deep down inside. A couple of things happened during that year of hell that made me doubt it less.
Our mother had had heart problems for several years and, because of some very concerning symptoms, had gone in for some tests. I called her in the evening two days later to find out if the results were back—they weren’t. We had a nice conversation and I said I’d talk to her, as usual, on Saturday. My brother called early the next morning to tell us Mom had died. He had found her on the couch the next morning, looking as if she were asleep—with the phone lying next to her. Mom had always been afraid of serious illness and, if her heart were giving out, she probably would have ended up in the hospital undergoing all kinds of procedures that would have terrified her. I believe that Dad came to get her before that could happen.
Our brother Michael, who was 36 years old, had Down’s Syndrome and had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart a few years earlier, but I think we had all put that out of our minds. My youngest brother had him home for the weekend, as usual, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But sometime during the night Michael packed all of his clothes—even his pillow—which was not something he usually did. Early that morning my sister-in-law found him on the floor among his young nieces and nephews (whom he loved dearly)—it looked like they were all asleep. But Michael had left us. I have little doubt that somehow Mom and Dad told him he was going to come be with them, so he figured he’d better pack his things.
So this is what I believe—I believe that there is so much more in this world than what we can see and hear and touch. I believe that love is one of the strongest forces in our universe. I believe that the soul does not die. And I believe that Mom and Dad and our brother are together…somewhere.
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