A Message from Beyond

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
May 11, 2017

Last week in “Bolivia: The Witches’ Market,” I wrote about my parents’ mystical leanings. They’d both experienced phenomena not easily explained and were confirmed believers in an afterlife, certain you could communicate with the spirits of the dead. They passed their beliefs on to me, in my father’s case, perhaps unintentionally. Not so my mother.

When I was still quite young—no more than 8 or 9—she taught me how to make a rough approximation of a Ouija board. We wrote the numbers 0 through 9, the letters of the alphabet and the words “Yes” and “No” on paper, cut them out and arranged them in a circle on a smooth flat surface. In the center we put a small juice glass, bottom side up. Then we each placed the fingertips of one hand on the base of the glass and waited, breath held, for a communication from the great beyond.

And boy, did we get some doozies. Mostly my mother’s dead suitors. There were kind of a lot of them.

Even after I moved away from home, we still found time to do “the little glass” during our visits together. We didn’t stop until my mother hit her mid-70s and fell into the black hole of dementia. After battling the disease for the better part of two decades, she died 2 ½ years ago.

Anyone who’s had a loved one with dementia knows what a horrible struggle it is to witness. We can only imagine what it is for the sufferer to endure it. We watch our loved one become increasingly withdrawn and fearful, cast adrift in a terrifying world that has moved on far beyond their comprehension. Our hearts break the first time our loved one fails to recognize us. Once we’ve been forgotten entirely, we feel ourselves dangerously close to being cut loose from our own moorings, as a tiny part of us—the unique and special part the loved one knew and cherished—ceases forever to exist.

I know some of my readers have been in that same boat with me. Because sadly, dementia is not at all unusual. And we have felt each other’s pain.

When she died, I didn’t mourn. I’d done that years before, when the real Eloise died. The real Eloise, who was funny, smart, inclined to be dramatic, a great (and sometimes outrageous) conversationalist, a cutthroat bridge and Spite and Malice player, fiercely and competitively retentive of every fact, factoid, sound bite, or trivial snippet she’d ever learned. Over the years of her illness I’d eventually accepted what happened to her, and found it harder to remember her as she’d been before. So much of her life had been lived as a suit of empty clothes.

And that seemed to be the depressing, but unremarkable, end of it. Until last week when I decided the time had come to sell some of the jewelry she’d left me.

That day, Glen and I went to the bank and sat in the tiny locked room reserved for safe deposit box holders to examine their goods in private. As we sorted through my mother’s things, he put the items I wanted to keep back in the safe deposit box; the rest went into a shopping bag, which we would take immediately to the jeweler’s. I already knew what I wanted to do with most of it, so the sorting went pretty quickly. But then I opened a small, black fabric-covered box. Inside was a baroque pearl ring.

I told Glen the ring’s history. One of Mother’s jilted suitors had given it to her in the mid-1960s. After their breakup (which the man was quite bitter about), she kept the ring. (Readers who knew my mother will be nodding their heads right now and saying, “Yes, that sounds like Eloise.”) Since she never did wear the ring much, I was unsure of how much it might have meant to her. Should I sell it or keep it?

I stared at the box for a few indecisive minutes. Then, in desperation I looked up at the ceiling and said, “I don’t know what I should do with this, Mother. What do you want me to do?”

Glen gave me a startled look. When the ceiling didn’t answer me, I closed the box and handed it to him. “Put it in the bag. I’m going to sell it.”

A couple of hours later we were nearing the end of our appointment with the jeweler when it dawned on us the pearl ring wasn’t there. Every other piece was out on the counter but that one. So we looked in the shopping bag. We shook it. We repeated this several times, even though there was clearly nothing in it. We looked on the floor. We opened all the little boxes and pouches we’d brought, now empty of their rings, brooches and earrings (much of which had “a charm bracelet-y quality,” according to the jeweler). We did this even though none of the containers looked anything like the small, black fabric-covered box. Puzzled, we finally decided Glen must’ve put the ring back in the safe deposit box by mistake. It was still at the bank.

At home later that afternoon, I began removing the empty boxes and pouches from the shopping bag. There was nothing for them to hold anymore, but I’d saved them because they mean more to me than their contents ever did. Some are marked with the names of jewelers in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore—places my mother and I had visited together. They conjure memories the two of us made long ago.

Guess what was one of the first items I pulled from the bag? That’s right. A small, black fabric-covered box. I opened it to find this:

For a moment all I could do was gape at it, stunned. Then I smiled.

My mother’s physical presence is no longer intact, but her spirit is. She’s herself again.

Yes ma’am, I got your message. I’m not selling the ring. I promise. And I’m so happy you remember me now.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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15 comments on “A Message from Beyond”

  1. This is a remarkable story. Thank you for writing about it and sharing such a personal and deeply touching experience. Happy Mother's Day to both you and Eloise. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Claire. Wasn't it something? I still can't get over it, but the answer to my question was crystal clear. Happy Mother's Day to you, too!

  2. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman, a free and bold spirit, and that is a fabulous ring! While your novel sounds fascinating, I can't wait to read your memoir!!! Happy Mother's Day!

  3. what a lovely memory and what a gorgeous ring.
    Your mother was a delight to know so glad you can"communicate"
    Happy Mothers Day to you!

  4. I wish I had such wonderful memories of my mother. Unfortunately, I don't.
    Fortunately my own daughters do!

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories. Happy Mother's Day!

  5. Hi Susan,

    Loved your beautiful post about you, your mother and her jewels! You don't have to look far to find someone with a story about Alzheimer's or dementia. Every story has similarities: the pain of losing someone close, the truths that come out in unexpected ways, and the love that underlines it all.

    In my case, my relationship with my mother was strained, on a good day. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say she hated me. The irony is that when she succumbed to Alzheimer's, she forgot all her grudges. Her painful memories evaporated. She became really sweet and loving to me and my sister.

    My brother sent us a video of her today. It was so endearing to see her holding a baby doll and chattering away about how cute and precious he was. She was radiant, her love for that inanimate object so real. Her mind is in another realm, but she is so happy and full of love. Isn't life so interesting?

    Best regards,
    Cynthia Hamilton
    (your friend on Twitter)

    1. Cynthia, first I want to thank you so much for reading and for commenting on the post. Next, I want to tell you how sorry I am for what must've been a terribly painful time with your mother. How sad that it came when you may have needed her most in your life.

      But now she is happy. And it took Alzheimer's, of all things, to bring that about. What a strange and miraculous outcome. It sounds like her transformation has helped you come to terms with your earlier relationship. I don't know that I could've ever forgiven what came before. You're a far better woman than I am.

      I am privileged to know you, even though it's only through Twitter thus far, and I'm honored that you've shared this much of your story with me.

      Thank you, Cynthia. Life is indeed interesting!

      Susan

  6. I love this story -- it particularly appeals to my weirder side! As you know, I share the experience of living so many years watching my Mom just kind of melt away -- like a chocolate bunny filled with caramel: one little hole and slowly everything seeps out of the center. The shell is still familiar, but the 'her' is not there. Fortunately, my Mom could still laugh so sweetly when other people were laughing, even after she had lost the ability to understand the joke.

    1. Oh my goodness, Barbara, what a lovely description of the last years you had with your mother. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post--especially that it appealed to your "weirder side." Sometimes I think all I have is a weirder side, but it does make life interesting! 🙂

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