On Halloween, when children are dressing up like ghosts and goblins, I think it is important to remember that those who have left this life have not left our lives– they watch over us.
This is Marta’s story:
My Uncle Jim was diagnosed with cancer in late April of 2008. He had been rushed to the emergency room because he suddenly had an excruciating pain in his kidneys. He and my aunt thought it was kidney stones; four hours later they were told it was cancer, and it had already spread. It was already in his bone, his lungs, his liver, and his kidneys. You see, my uncle did not know anything was wrong; he was already in constant pain because he had MS, so when symptoms of cancer arose, he did not notice because he always felt discomfort and he always felt pain. He was in Florida at the time, so Marta and her family flew down to help my aunt close their winter home and bring Uncle Jim home to see his primary doctor.
The doctor at home confirmed the diagnosis. After some soul-searching and reflection, he decided to deny treatment. They were not going to be able to get rid of it, so chemotherapy and radiation would only make his final days that much more painful. He wanted to enjoy his family up until the end. However, on May 9th, he was rushed back to the hospital because in such a weakened state, he contracted pneumonia– his lungs were full of fluids. He spent almost a week in the hospital while arrangements for hospice care to facilitate making his final days comfortable.
Marta and her brother Chris took turns staying at the hospital through the night with him. They wanted him to be comfortable, but they also wanted to be in his presence as much as possible. Just to touch his skin and hold his hand was important. One evening, my uncle was lucid and Marta felt she needed to talk to him.
“Dad, you have been the best father to me. I have been blessed by having you in my life. You have taught me kindness. You have taught me strength. Most of all, you have taught me to love. I love you Dad, and I will miss you so very much.” Tears streamed down her face because she knew he would not see her daughter grow; he would not see any other grandchildren. She cried because she would not be able to learn from him anymore. She cried because soon, she would no longer hear his voice.
She continued, “Dad, what are your wishes for after you are gone.” She squeezed his hand. It was the hardest question she ever asked someone, to admit that death was near.
“I want to be laid out at Golubski. I want my funeral to be a celebration of my life.” He looked her in the eyes. “Marta, I want you to promise to always keep the cottage in the family.”
“Dad, I don’t want to talk about money and property.”
“I do. I built that cottage out of love. I built it for our family. The future generations are our family. I want the children to grow up there like you did.” He paused for a second to catch his breath. Even conversation was laborious for him.
“Marta, when you are at the cottage, look up at the sky.”
“When you see a bird flying over head…”
“And it shits on your shoulder, that will be me.” He smiled and she laughed, brushing tears from her eyes. Her father always had a funny sense of humor.
Within a few weeks of that conversation, he passed away. The funeral did not focus on his death, it focused on the man he was in life. Marta actually spoke at the wake, and she told the congregation gathered the bird story. We all laughed, and everyone looked at each other and nodded their heads. “Yes, yes,” we all agreed. “That would be Jim.”
A month later, we were at their cottage. Marta’s mom, my Aunt Pam was having a difficult time without Uncle Jim. They had been married for over thirty years, and their love was strong. She felt hallow without him. Marta and Aunt Pam took a walk so they could talk and cry together. A half hour later they returned, still crying, but laughing, too.
While they were on their walk, a bird flew over head, and wouldn’t you know, it shit on both of their shoulders!