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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Near Death Experiences, Part IV

When my father was dying, there was very manner of ghost and goblin and corpse lying about hither and yon, sitting in chairs, going through the closets, whatever. Now I didn't see them, but my dad would tell me about them and motion with his eyes their exact location.

"There's a dead body over there."

"Oh my! Where?" I would ask.

He'd motion with his eyes and I'd peek over into the corner. Of course, I'd see nothing but my dad would give a knowing nod.

Every once in a while, I'd ask who they were. "Who is it, do you know?" And he'd never answer, always shrugging instead, trying to pretend he wasn't the least bit interested in the dead body. But he always was and I'd catch him keeping a close eye on the body or bodies while pretending to do something else.

I first realized we were headed into the realm of Dying one afternoon in mid-September. I'd spent the day teaching and doing coursework for that (&%$%*&^ PhD (may those people NOT rest in peace). I was commuting a 90 mile trup each way, so I could also take care of my dad, and I'd just driven in. The news that day was mixed. My dad had finally quit speaking Spanish, much to everyone's relief. Unfortunately, he'd switched to German which he actually knew (unlike Spanish).

See, both of my grandmothers were very fond of marriage and had a number of husbands. One was German, although we were carefully instructed to call him Pennsylvania Dutch.

It was from this grandfather that my dad learned German.

Mind you, I don't know a word of German. Well, a little. But nothing to write home about.

In any case, I showed up at the hospital and everyone was happy that he'd finally stopped speaking Spanish (???), but the nurses pulled me aside and warned me that, although he was no longer speaking Spanish, he was now speaking gibberish.

I went to his bed and sat down next to him. He greeted me in German and began reciting poetry in German. Needless to say, I didn't understand a word but I was able to excuse myself for a moment ("can you hang on for just one second, I have to go pee!" I think was the excuse), and I slipped out to the nurses' station to inform them that no, it's not gibberish, it's German.

Which as far as they were concerned was the same as gibberish.

I was really enjoying the German. He was telling stories and reciting poetry and making scientific sounding exclamations.

Then suddenly he whispered for me to look! and motioned with his eyes to the end of the bed.

I looked. I saw nothing. But I said "Aha! Hmmm. Well, what about that!"

He whispered "There's a troll down there!" and gave me that knowing look.

I don't remember much more of that evening except that he was being exceptionally charming and entertaining, but was leery of the troll.

Some hours later, the real descent began.

It wasn't that he was in pain. It wasn't that anything physical really happened to him.

But it was as if this carefully constructed equilibrium he'd been able to maintain suddenly went haywire. It was like watching someone being sucked into an invisible whirlpool, except that they weren't actually spinning --- but that's the only way I know to describe it.

He had a few moments of clarity before he went, and was screaming at me "Are you going to be okay?" I said yes, yes, I'm going to be okay. "Are you girls going to be okay?" Yes, yes, we'll be okay, don't worry about us, just do what you need to do.

The troll was the first sign. After this point, there wasn't a day that passed that the dead weren't among us. Sometimes, it was the Shawnee. Sometimes, it was his sister and his little brother who'd died years and years before. Every once in a while, his mother was there. And all kinds of old friends, long departed, were dropping by.

My mother was never clearly identified as one of the visitors. But my parents were profoundly private people. So it's my suspicion she was there and my dad simply considered it none of our business.

These kinds of experiences are common among the dying and have even been named Near Death Awareness. I am profoundly grateful we never tried to shut him up or get his mind off all the bodies and ghosts and goblins. He would switch easily between us and them, and i could usually tell what they were doing by where my dad's eyes were.

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