Three sisters tell their stories…
JUDITH AND HER MOTHER, ESTHER
Judith, as told to her daughter Rachel in a taped interview …
I remember getting a phone call from my sister Barbara telling me that my mother had had a fall at the club, when she and George [stepfather] had gone down there dancing. It’s a club where they used to go every Saturday night. Anyway, they took her to the hospital.
My next memory––I’m trying to separate it from what Barbara and Susan have already told me––I’m trying to remember what it was for me. Some of the things were actually mistaken ideas that I had because I was quite removed from the whole thing. Susan [sister] was down there through it all, as was Barbara [sister], as was Tommy [brother], and I was up here [Maine] through most of it. I was just down there for a couple of days.
Anyway, Barbara called again on Wednesday and said that Mom had had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and that they didn’t expect her to live through the day and that Susan and I ought to come down as quickly as possible.
Had there been any warning? When we talked about it afterwards, Tommy or Barbara said her blood pressure had been up. She had seen the doctor for her blood pressure. I can’t say the doctor hadn’t taken it seriously enough, but he hadn’t given her any medication or anything for her blood pressure and it was quite high. And of course her blood pressure was high in the hospital before she had the stroke. It was way up there. Barbara quoted me the number, but it was years ago, and I don’t remember what it was.
Anyhow, I got in touch with Susan and we went to Massachusetts right off. It was a strange trip; it was a quiet trip; it was a peaceful trip. It was probably mid-morning when we were driving down, but it felt like dusk. It had the quality of removedness, probably because we didn’t know whether she was going to be alive or not when we got there. I was going with the conviction that she was going to be all right, that she would survive this stroke. I don’t remember how I knew it, whether it came in prayer or what, but I knew it. I felt very strongly that she would be all right, and that I was to tell her that and that God loved her. What else, I don’t know, but I felt I had this whole message to give her.
Susan and I went right to the hospital. I remember that Tommy was in the hallway. I don’t remember if Barbara was or not. We knew that she was still alive because she was still in the room. So we went in, and my memory is that I went right to her, knelt down beside her bed, and started to speak in her ear. And she was comatose, deeply, deeply comatose. All I remember of what I had to tell her was just what I told you: that she was going to survive this, that she was going to be all right, and whatever else God wanted me to tell her. I really did feel like a messenger, y’ know?
Then after I finished telling her, it was like a curtain dropped. That was the end of the message. Bing! Just like that. So I knew it wasn’t my message because it had a beginning, and it was just pouring out of me, and it came to an abrupt end. And when it ended, then these tears leaked down from her eyes. As comatose as she was, her spirit had heard and registered.
Then I saw what she looked like. Up until that point I was so completely absorbed in and taken with what I had to say to her that I really didn’t even see her. Then I saw her. She looked very grotesque. Her head was huge. I guess it was full of blood and fluids. The aneurysm in her head had burst. That’s why she was so red. When I registered what she really looked like, I went over to the other side of the bed and I cried. It was terrible to see her looking like that, nothing like herself.
I remember Barbara and Tommy being in the room. There were some people coming and going. The doctor came intermittently, and every hour she survived, he seemed more and more amazed that she wasn’t dying. She did live through the day. I remember being at home that night at George H.’s house, and I particularly remember Susan so bereft, very sad, almost despairing. I remember her saying something like––she may have even said this: You never miss the water til the well runs dry. And, If only she can survive, then I will … Susan had that sense, Please God, let her survive. She really felt despairing. That’s who I remember from that night, Susan.
I suppose the next day, Thursday, we spent at the hospital. I have no memory of that at all. I was in touch with home because you were very sick. Very sick. You had a staph infection that I told you about. I had hated to leave you. You were that sick. And I knew your father was stressed out because he had the other two as well.
Anyhow, I called from Grampa George’s house to Providence, RI. There was a charismatic community down there, and I asked them to pray for my mother. So this whole community, they were praying for my mother. It was wonderful to be able to do that. That was new to me at the time. I think I must have called J., and she spread the word. She was living in Providence at the time. She invited me to come down to their prayer meeting on Friday night and to pray there for my mother in the context of the prayer meeting. And I was welcome to stay at her house.
I did go to Providence Friday night, and I did go to the prayer meeting. Afterwards, J. invited me to go and pray, if I wanted, in one of the prayer rooms, and there was a Maryknoll missionary there. I prayed with him. I said I wanted to pray for my mother. So I told him what had happened. My memory is that he prayed quietly, and he said his feeling was that she needed inner healing. Not so much to pray for the aneurysm to be healed as to pray for inner healing. I guess she had a need to forgive, whatever. I don’t know. I shouldn’t presume to say.
So he prayed for her for inner healing, and I felt very good about that. While we were praying, J. had a word in scripture about the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment and her hemorrhage stopping. I was really impressed.
When I left that meeting, I remember walking around Smith Hill with J. and I felt like I was two or three feet off the ground. I was so happy. I felt absolutely sure my mother was going to be all right. There was no doubt in my mind that there was a miracle, and I was thrilled, I mean really thrilled. I was exultant. We visited some people and then we went back home, and I got to be about two o’clock in he morning. But I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I just wanted to get back to Barbara’s house and tell Barbara that Mom was going to be all right. I just knew it.
So I got up early. It must have been about 5:30, had breakfast with the family and was on my way. I drove up to Oxford, I came into the house, and I hadn’t slept at all, and I was very excited. And I said, “Barbara, listen! Listen!” I told her about /praying with the prayer group, about the word that J. had gotten, and what the priest said, and so on. And she said, “Listen to this.”
And she told me what had happened during the night to her. She had a vision. She woke up from sleep. She had a vision of the side view of a head. She saw the veins. Being a nurse, she knows what the structure is in there. And she saw this aneurysm, and then she saw it close up, just like that. She knew it was my mother’s head. But, then, I don’t know if she went back to sleep or not; she had this exact same vision that night three times so that she could be sure that this was real, that she wasn’t imagining it. It’s what happened in my mother’s head: the aneurysm had closed.
It seems to me it was Saturday, that day, that I came back to Maine. I was sure she was going to be all right. Barbara and I went to the hospital early. Was she out of intensive care? I remember she was in a private room, and we went into the room, and Sylvia was there. I was so happy to see Sylvia. This is a woman who had lived downstairs from us and who had been my mother’s friend when I was a little girl. She was kind of crouched down beside her, and she was stroking her arm, like this. And she was speaking to her in Finnish. My mother’s head was turned toward Sylvia. It was like she recognized her first language. She was still comatose, or supposedly. So, I told her about going to the prayer meeting and praying for her, and about J. getting this word. And I asked her would she like to hear the word, and she nodded her head. Her eyes were closed but she was able to nod her head.
Oh. I don’t know if it was before or after, Barbara or I asked her, do you know that you’re healed, and she nodded her head and tears came down from her eyes. She apparently had experienced what Barbara had seen. I know I’m projecting to some degree, but we asked her, do you know that you’re healed, and she nodded her head. And I said, do you want to hear the scripture that came to J., and she nodded her head again. So I read the story about the woman touching Jesus’ garment and being healed of the hemorrhage, and again tears came down from her eyes. Then I told her I was so sure she was going to be all right that I was going back to Maine. I must have told her you were sick and that I had to go back. But I didn’t have any compunction about it at all because I knew that she was healed.
So I went back to Maine. Susan stayed down there. Over the next couple of weeks she just improved completely. She had no paralysis at all, She had her speech, her vision, everything. She could eat and drink, walk around. And this was someone who was supposed to be dead within hours after she had that first massive hemorrhage. I was delighted. I was sure she was getting better. She was, as a matter of fact.
It was a Sunday, this probably would be around the end of August, and I talked to her in the hospital. It was the last time I talked to her. It seems to me it was the first time I talked to her too while she was in the hospital. I was writing her letters. Anyway, I called her on the phone, and all her brothers and sisters were with her that day. They just came up from the Cape to see her. I remember her saying ,”Helllo, Juuudy,” like that, and it was weird, because her voice sounded very low and she spoke slowly and deliberately. There were no mistakes in her speech, but it sounded different. I don’t remember anything else she said except, “Helllo, Juuudy.” It sounded so different.
The next day she went in for an angiogram because the doctor wanted to see what was going on in there. It turned out she was one of a very small percentage of people who was allergic to the dye they used. So that triggered another seizure and sent her into a coma. And she was in that coma for about three or four days. I don’t remember much about that time. I knew that she wasn’t going to die; but I didn’t ever know that she was going to die.
I was geographically removed from this so I didn’t see the progression and degeneration. Well, the degeneration didn’t come. She was so well that the doctors decided this is the time to do this angiogram and find out what’s going on in there. How come she recovered like this?
Anyway, she had the coma, and she was in the coma for three or four days and then she came out of the coma, but Barbara said she wasn’t herself. She said that she’d go in and out of time, you know, back and forth, like she was talking about going down and getting Barbara’s kids Christmas presents, like little kid toys and stuff. Of course it was August, right? She had the chronology of the kids’ ages all mixed up. So she was really kind of out of it. And Barbara said that when she would come in, my mother reached up and just stroked her face very gently, like that. And that wasn’t like my mother. She was not a touching person at all.
My next memory is when I was at prayer meeting, the night of September 5, a Thursday. I was coming into the kitchen for refreshments afterwards, and I had this incredible feeling of exaltation. It was again like walking on air. I was so lifted up in my spirit. Something was going on but I didn’t know what. I said to somebody, I don’t know what’s going on. There’s something wonderful happening in the spiritual realm, but I don’t know what it is. I was really high. I was very energetic, and I could hardly contain the energy I was feeling, and there was some reason for it but I didn’t know what.
When I got home, your father was standing in the doorway waiting for me, and when I got down to him, he said, “Jude, your mother died.” What I had been feeling was her passage from this life to the next life. In some spiritual way, I felt I had accompanied her, not consciously, you understand, but …
It was very confirming when I put things together. I mean I didn’t take time to put things together immediately, that that’s what was happening, that that’s what I was feeling. I felt very sad, and I remember sitting in the Windsor chair against the door in the front room while Dad told me all the details he knew.
He went with me down to the wake. You kids didn’t come. I don’t remember you kids being there and I don’t remember who took care of you. Imagine that? I was pretty self-absorbed at the time. Anyway, we drove down and went to the wake, the second day of the wake. I did not go in to see her in the coffin. I did not want to. I felt very happy. I really felt the true feeling that she had passed to better life, and the high didn’t really go away for me right through the funeral. My brother was upset with me. What’s the matter with her? How come she’s so happy?
I remember turning around during the funeral. Barbara was sitting behind me and there was something said, maybe it was during the eulogy, and turning around and giving her a wink and a smile because we understood something we’d been privy to. Something spiritual we had shared about my mother. We saw what the meaning of it was. Everybody was unhappy that she was dead. I just felt a spiritual joy. That’s all I can call it.
It was a very nice funeral. It was a Mass of Resurrection, which was all in white. It was an incredible contrast to my father’s funeral, which was all black, dreary, gloomy, and the choir sang the Dies irae, which is the most depressing thing about death and judgment. But this was joy. Death really is going into the next life.
After the funeral, I only have a vague memory of going to the cemetery. We went back to Grampa George’s house where we had a luncheon. I remember my mother’s family there, and that was really nice being with them. I mentioned that I was pregnant at the time and I thought it would be really nice to have a Finnish name for the baby. I think I was talking to Aunt Hannah, and the only name I could come up with was Katrina. Katrina turned out to be Joshua.
Anyway, we came back after the funeral, and I think it really hit me about three weeks later. I was at my obstetrician’s, and I was sitting on the table, and Dr. C. said to me, “Well, how are you?” or something like that. And I said, “My mother died,” and I burst into tears. So she stuck her head out the door and said to the nurse, don’t bother us until I let you know. She closed the door, and she stayed with me, and she talked to me, and she said that her mother had died within the last year also. So she was able to talk to me because she understood how I felt. I was seven months pregnant at the time. That’s my memory of when I really broke down. I had that supernatural joy at the time of the funeral, but the human sorrow didn’t really hit me for some time. I really missed my Mom.
Over the years there has been a gradual healing. I’m aware of my mother. Things remind me of her. One of my favorite things I remember about her was her collecting those goose feathers down at the old house. We were taking care of the S.’s geese that summer, and she had come up for a visit. Before she went home, she collected all those goose feathers and about a week or so later, these wonderful Indian headdresses came in the mail. I thought, that’s who my mother is. Nothing went to waste. She saw a use for everything. She was remarkably clever, extremely clever with her hands. She could do anything. She made jewelry. She made Christmas ornaments from tin cans. She sewed most of our clothes, beautifully, cut our hair, made ends meet in extraordinary circumstances, was very faithful in friendships. She was the most Christian woman I ever met, the most Christ-like. What she did, she did quietly, unobtrusively, without self-consciousness.
As you know, she had that ability to find four-leaf clovers. That’s where I got it from. We’d often go out for ice cream. When the Dairy Queen opened we were up there every week. To get there, we had to cross Gold Star Boulevard, which is a pretty busy street. And there was a greensward in the middle with some trees and some grass. So we’d go and get our ice cream cones, come back across, and we’d stay on the green and eat our ice cream while my mother looked for four-leaf clovers. There were lots and lots of patches of clover, and she’s always find some. Her bible was full of them. That’s one way I connect with her, through four-leaf clovers. I can’t see a patch of clover without thinking about her.
I’ve had a lot of dreams about my mother, and the first one I had was within a week of her death. I saw her rising up, looking a way that I had never seen her look, which was probably at the peak of her perfection at 26 or 27 years old. She was just very beautiful, young and rosy. And I saw her, as I say, rising up to what I suppose was heaven.
There was a period I was dreaming where I knew––and this still happens occasionally––what was going to happen to her, as far as the stroke is concerned. And she doesn’t know, and I have the burden of this knowledge about her.
My favorite dream I’ve had about her was the William Carlos Williams dream. She was an artist who didn’t fully develop her artistic talent in this life because there wasn’t the money or the time or the circumstances that she could do that, that she could give herself permission to do that. When my father died, she had an insurance policy, and she sent away for a Famous Artists School kit. She did her lessons very faithfully and she may have learned something from that, but it wasn’t the development she was capable of. Her free-hand drawing was really nice. I wish I had a portrait she did of me when I was about seven years old. She did portraits of each of us.
Getting back to the dream. My mother was talking to Sylvia. Her friend Sylvia died about five or six years ago. So here was my mother with Sylvia, and again, my mother looked very beautiful, young, perfect, perfectly perfect in her human perfection. She was holding a handful of sketches. I could see them. I was standing over in a removed place, watching the scene, and Sylvia was talking to her about the sketches. I could see them clearly enough to know that, Oh! I like that one. It was a picture of a bed-sitting room, and it was like it was alive coming off the paper. And it was a rosy hue. It was almost like a––I can feel it in my fingers when I talk about it––like a vibrating hue.
On the bureau of this bed-sitting room was a burst of beach roses like they have on the Cape. It’s a very simple flower, a very fragrant flower. They’re wild roses that grow on the beaches, and of course she was from the Cape. The color of the roses was what was repeated. That was the rosy hue that overlay everything––the bureau, the bed, everything.
Then William Carlos Williams appeared on the scene, and I knew it was William Carlos Williams. And he chose that one, that sketch. He was going to choose from among the pictures and I guess critically assess it. It was just his choice of that and then the dream was over. I understood after the dream that learning goes on. What she didn’t develop on earth, she’s developing now and will continue to, in love, with her friends, and with an artist. There are artists available to her. William Carlos Williams is an artist with words, and yet, in his artistry, in his creativity, he’s helping her to learn. I love that dream. It said, no ability dies.
I certainly do think she continues to exist. My only testing of those waters was that jumper I wasn’t able to finish. I mean I know about the communion of saints and I believe in it, but I didn’t really turn to her. One day, I had this jumper I had cut out and about half finished, and I had it lying around the house for about two years because I couldn’t figure out how it fit together. I studied it and I couldn’t figure it out. So, it came to me on this particular day I was doing some cleaning, Hey! I think I’ll finish this jumper. I thought I would ask my mother for help, test this thing and see if she can help me. So I did that, and I addressed her in these words: If you’re in a position to do anything to help me out here … because she understood how things went together, because she was such a wonderful seamstress; if anybody could help me, she could.
So I sat down at the sewing machine, picked up the things, and it was as though my fingers were magic. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing. I just put it together. I sewed it right up, finished it in that little while. I choose to believe that my mother was available to help me in that.
My mother lives in me. I don’t know how it works. It’s quite mysterious. I believe in her living in me and yet living there. Somehow she can help me out. I’ve also prayed a few times to her, talked to her, about you kids, when there’s been a need because I can’t imagine anyone loving you kids more than she does.
I should say that I feel more and more like my mother as I get older. Her steadiness, her quietness, her absolute truthfulness, her truthfulness in me, not settling for anything less than her straight truth. She was real straight. There wasn’t anything that was untrue in her as far as I could tell. I had great respect for her, and I admired her integrity. And I guess I modeled my life after hers; and in people, I look for what I knew in her, as far as someone I can trust with myself. I look for that integrity and that’s the primary quality I like to see in people, that truthfulness.
Judith was 30 when her mother died, and 45 at the time of this interview.