February. It all happened in February. Strange how a lifetime of bitter-sweet memories can be filled into that one month.
Rex-T and I first got together in February 1996. Then in February 2004, we lost the IVF baby we had tried so hard for and wanted so badly. That night, as we were still trying to come to terms with our loss, my mother called us to return immediately to Singapore as my father had taken a turn for the worse. Dad passed away a few days after that; my account of that time is on the Psychic site ("My Dad Came To Visit Me").
In February 2012, my mother-in-law, Florence (all names mentioned have been changed) left us after a long and excruciating battle with debilitating strokes, serious falls, Alzheimer's and then a lingering bout of pneumonia. It came as a merciful release; her quality of life had deteriorated, and she needed stronger and stronger painkillers. Among the hardest thing to endure is to watch a loved one in pain and not be able to ease their suffering.
On her last night with us, I sat with Florence by the hospital bed and listened to her laboured breathing. Rex-T had gone for a walk. It was close to 11:00pm, the lights in the wards had already been dimmed. But the nurses were understanding and let us have this time with her. They told us that she had not recovered consciousness for a while. In all probability, she might not even know we were there.
I remembered Florence had always expressed a wish to hear me perform when I was with the acapella singing group, but her failing health prevented her. I softly sang to her; it was from Enya's "Amarantine" album: "Long, Long Journey".
"Where the road
Runs through the valley,
Where the river flows,
I will follow every highway
To the place I know.
Long, long journey
Through the darkness,
Long, long way to go;
But what are miles
Across the ocean
To the heart that's coming home?"
To my surprise, Florence opened her eyes and partly turned her head towards me, and then closed her eyes again. It could be my wishful imagination, but I thought her breathing seemed a little easier as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
Early the next morning, the duty nurse contacted us just as we were about to leave for the hospital. Florence had just gone peacefully. As if it was on a cinematic cue, the heavens opened in a torrential deluge. As we struggled through the crawling Sydney traffic, barely able to see the road, I made Rex-T chuckle with my wry observation that this was the appropriate scene setting Florence would have picked for herself. She did love to make a dramatic impact - bless her.
Our fond memories of her buoyed us and helped us through that harrowing day. We remembered what a strong personality Florence was, bringing up 3 boisterous sons as a young war widow. She had prided herself on being very proper and English, like her parents. No embarrassing displays in public for her. She would deem it unseemly.
As Rex-T went to find parking in the pouring rain, I went into the ward alone to sit with her once more. A curtain had been drawn around the bed. She looked so peaceful; the tiniest hint of a half-smile on her face, the sheet pulled up and tucked neatly under her arms. The hospital staff had placed a perfect pink rose on her chest. It was a sweet and thoughtful gesture.
But it was clear to me that the essence making her uniquely Florence had moved on from its mortal shell. I patted her hand on the sheet and said a prayer for her. I wished her well and for God to grant her peace, and freedom from pain and sorrow.
It was 2016. I was upstairs in bed when I was woken up by the insistent ringing of the extension phone at my bedside table. Reaching out, I grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle and answered it.
'Hello lovey!' Florence's voice sang out clearly.
'Hello,' I replied, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
'Is Rex there, lovey? Can I speak to him? Oh, by the way, your father's here with me and he says "hello".'
I handed the cordless phone to Rex-T, who was in bed next to me. I can't remember what he said to her, but I smiled to hear them talking. He was laughing and having an animated conversation with his mother. It was the most wonderfully natural thing.
Then I was wide awake. I sat bolt upright in bed and thought, 'Wait a minute, there's something wrong about that scene.'
I suddenly remembered. What the...!
I rarely remember my dreams. I'd tried to keep a dream journal in the past, but I kept falling back asleep before I could finish writing all the details down. Then when I awoke again, I could hardly remember a thing.
That dream of Florence had all been so real. It was all so strange. I hadn't even thought of her in years.
But it had definitely been Florence. That was her voice. It had the same cadence, the same lilting cheery note she used to sing out. Funny, vibrant Florence; before the strokes, heartbreak, dementia, and her failing health stole all the laughter and light from her.
And stranger still, what was that about my Dad saying "hello"? My parents and Florence had only met briefly once, before Rex-T and I were even married.
I turned to check on Rex-T. He was still fast asleep and in the same position as in the dream before I 'woke' him to talk on the phone.
I shook him by the shoulder. 'We just had a message from your Mum.'
We discussed my dream at length. Rex-T was cheered by the dream visit. It was a good sign; his Mum was happy and checking on us.
The following day, Rex-T's elder brother, Payne (Bro-P from "A Lesson From The Prankster") rang up. Among his usual litany of woes was a broken ankle. Nothing peculiar about that - apart from the circumstances.
Payne had slipped and fallen the day before on the footpath at the back of the house. It hadn't been raining that day. The path didn't have an uneven surface, nor was it slippery. He had safely used that footpath several times a day, for over 60 years.
Now Payne still lives in the house that Florence had meant to be divided equally among her remaining 2 sons and the only daughter of her oldest son (Alan or Bro-A had been gone for some years). But less said on this matter, the better. It's a sore point.
Interesting coincidence: Florence had tripped on the same spot and gotten quite badly hurt some years ago.
'It was Mum.' Rex-T announced to me, the moment he got off the phone. 'She gave him a little "push" to tell him do the right thing.'
'Could be your Dad or Alan?' I thought of how Kate, Alan's widow still felt his presence around her house.
'Too subtle for them.' Rex-T was certain that his father would have dealt Payne a lot more than just a broken ankle.
I happened to glance at the calendar on the wall and realised the date. It was February, a few days after Florence's passing.
'Most likely your Mum,' I agreed.