My Mom has always had an awesome sense of humor. Her finest moments occurred when she was able to pull off a trick on someone that involved some delicate balance of mystery, surprise, fear and humor. This would make her laugh like a schoolgirl.
I do not share this humor with her. I have never liked tricking others; and I do not like to be tricked myself. Maybe it was the dark gray rubber mouse she stuck in the silverware drawer on April Fools’ Day when I was ten, but to this day, I do not like to be frightened. When we would drive around the countryside, as a child, she would point out flowers, and give me their names; but she would also point out the abandoned barn where Mr. Brown hung himself.
She had a flair for all things spooky. I still share her interest in mysteries, and we watched episode after black and white episode of Perry Mason, and Alfred Hitchcock together. But, unlike her, I watch with the lights on, instead of off.
The night the nurse woke me with the call to tell me to come to the hospital right away, I noticed that my digital alarm clock said 111. I found myself repeating this time on the clock whenever I told the story of my Mom’s death to family and friends.
I arrived at the hospital alone, and was privileged to be alone with her for a couple of hours before she died. She was medically sedated, so she was unable to talk. My emotional state in those early first moments was pure panic, dread and horror. As I sat with her, though, I was literally struck with an overwhelming, powerful presence in that hospital room. I use the word powerful here, because I felt as if my head was being split apart; yet this felt amazingly good. My head tingled. This presence thankfully melted my state of panic, dread and horror into one of calm, and partial acceptance.
My brother, at the time, was driving over an hour to make it to the hospital. My Mom’s nurse, skilled in the art of monitor-reading, kept coming into the room to express her worry that my brother wasn’t going to make it in time. That thought never entered my mind. I was calm, and knew everything would work out fine. When he finally did arrive, my Mom’s vital signs showed a slight peak, before she eventually left us, three minutes after he entered the room. She died at exactly 2:49.
This presence stayed with me through the rest of the night; as I climbed into my car alone and drove home alone in the dark. Without it, I don’t think I would have been able to function. It was hard to sleep the next night. I turned the box fan on to pull out the heat in the room, and to hide the sound of my sobs that might eventually wake my children. This is the box fan that has sat on our window, unmoved, for so long that it holds an embarrassing film of dust. The fan lulled me to sleep. Then I heard a crash. I jumped up to find the fan lying face down on the floor, the blades still spinning. I crawled back to bed and noticed the time. 2:49.
A few weeks later, I was still seeing 111 everywhere. I finally googled the number. Hundreds of entries came up, explaining that the number 111 means that angels are very near. I also found entire books on the subject of spirits, guides and angels and 111.
Her husband, Merlin, died (not my Father) six weeks after her death. We drove the boys to the viewing, and came back the same day. It had been a long day. We put the kids to bed, and I went to bed soon after. My husband stayed up to watch TV. Alone in my bed, I suddenly began to sense Merlin was there. Although there was no need to be afraid, the surprise of this feeling frightened me, and I feared for my children. I remembered learning in Sunday School, a long time ago, that whenever you feel you are in danger, immediately say “Holy Spirit,” and it will frighten any evil spirits away. I did, and I felt the presence leave as quickly as it came.
The next morning, my husband shared that while he was flipping through the channels, he found an opera on PBS, and it was pretty cool, so he started to watch it. “Guess what it was called?” I don’t know. “Merlin,” he said.
I finally found a 3-day weekend to take the kids back to my Mom’s so that we could begin the process of cleaning out the house. The task was much harder than I imagined. The boys were bored; they wandered through the house and pulled out sewing needles, crochet hooks, and unwound balls of yarn and dangled them down the steps. Finally, the boys fell asleep, and the house was filled with peace and quiet; I planned to really work hard and fast to get the job finished.
However, as soon as the house became quiet, I began to feel as if someone was watching me. You know, that creepy feeling. The Dansk statues of old people that I had seen hundreds of times, suddenly looked sinister. My Mom’s collection of paperback mystery books suddenly looked like works of nonfiction. I looked for my cell phone to call my brother to find out if he was still up, and could he come over to keep me company. Where was my cell phone? It was gone. We disconnected my Mom’s phone soon after Merlin died. I kept looking for my cell phone, and it was gone. I couldn’t grab my keys and take off; the boys were sound asleep.
I decided to keep working. Hands shaking, my armpits sweaty, I just focused on the task at hand. I took stacks of books from the shelves, moved them to boxes, wiped down the shelves, and moved to the next cabinet. Then, the stack of books behind me fell. I turned around, and across the room, I saw the pile of books, tumbled on the floor, and there was not a soul in the room.
I went back to pick up the books, as if nothing had happened. Then the lights flickered. I started to look for new light bulbs, matches and candles, just to be prepared. The flickering stopped. I heard noises outside, and then I remembered my Mom telling me about the times she found footprints in the snow outside her window in the morning. This was too much. I crawled into my Mom’s bed, where my two little boys were already sleeping, and I tried to wait for daybreak.
I heard a box fall from the other room. Finally, I said out loud, “Mom, I know you think this is funny, but I’ve had enough. You need to stop now.” The house quieted, and I fell asleep. The next morning, I found my phone in a box I had packed in the garage. I had wrapped the phone in newspaper with a glass vase.
A few weeks later, my brother told me that he and my Mom had a running joke about $2.49. It was based on some Saturday Night Live skit they watched together years ago. And after that, they would see the number 249 whenever they would go somewhere together. It became their running joke. I share the number 111 with my Mom. It’s our running joke.