October 4, 2007 my family and I received a phone call saying that my grandmother wasn't expected to make it through the night. We gathered around her bed in the nursing home and prepared to wait out the rest of the night.
As it got closer to midnight, family members started leaving. Pretty soon, there were only a handful of us left. Eventually, my grandma's breathing became more labored. The sound that came from her chest simply wasn't natural. It is the sound that nightmares are made of, literally. My aunt told us that it had a name, "the death rattle".
About 15 minutes after the nurse left, the door to grandma's room opened and then closed by itself. There was a large window at the other end of the room, but it was closed. So there was no chance that a cross breeze had manipulated the door. We all just looked at each other, not quite sure of what we just witnessed.
It was almost 2 am when we gathered around her bed to say a prayer when the door opened and then closed again. Nobody was near the door and we didn't see anybody come in, but it felt like someone familiar was among us. A few minutes later, grandma took her last breath.
The next day, we had gathered to be with my Grandpa at his house. Apparently, nobody had told him about the night before.
I mentioned that the door opened and closed twice on its own accord. He said that his dad (who died about 50 years ago) had come to him around 2:00 that morning and said "its okay. I'm taking Molly Ann home..."
That night, I had a dream that all of my cousins and I were in grandpa's living room. He was reclining in his chair and grandma was standing at his feet, staring at him. I looked at my sister and said "grandma is here. Do you see her?" She didn't know what I was talking about and nobody else in the room had noticed. When I looked back at grandpa, he was lying flat on the floor and grandma was helping him up.
Fast forward six months.
My grandpa's health continued to decline. Saturday night, I was taking a shower when I got a phone call. Grandpa wasn't expected to make it through the night. We needed to come say our goodbyes. The family gathered around his bed and waited. Around 11:30, he opened his eyes and looked right at me.
"Well, hello dear..." Then he looked at my cousins and said hi to them, too. When my uncle told him that my aunt was there, grandpa looked as though he didn't hear us anymore. He looked up at the ceiling, as if there was some sort of unspoken communication between someone we couldn't see. Then he closed his eyes and I left. The next morning was Easter. How fitting that he died on the day that signifies resurrection.
A few days later, my six year old son and I were visiting my aunt in my grandparent's house. My aunt had pulled out the hide a bed for us to sleep on and she slept in her parent's room. All night long, I could hear people pacing up and down creaky floorboards in the hallway. They would start at my grandparent's room and continue on into the bathroom. The path they were treading wasn't six inches from where I was.
Someone stopped right by my side of the bed, as if to see who was paying them a visit. I couldn't see them, but I could tell that they were there, regardless. (Anybody who has been wakened by a child hovering inches from their face as they stand silently by mom and dad's bed in the middle of the night knows what I'm talking about.)
I sat up; thinking maybe one of my cousins came in. When I moved, the noise stopped. I lie back down and almost fell asleep when the boards started creaking again.
I lay awake, not wanting to disturb them, still not quite sure that I was actually hearing this. But I was definitely awake as they carried on with whatever it was they were doing. When I rolled over to see if I could see who it was, they stopped. I got the impression that they were trying to be quiet so they wouldn't wake the kids (meaning me).
The next morning, I woke up at 6:00 so I could get ready for work. After I woke my son up, he stood right by the couch, not budging an inch because he was so scared. He had slept through the entire night and didn't seem to hear what I was hearing, but when it was time for him to get up, he begged me to go into the bathroom with him because he didn't want to go alone. As far as he was concerned, we couldn't leave that house fast enough.
Later that day, my aunt asked us if we would stay the night again because the house felt so empty without grandpa there. Matthew goes "No, I don't like it here. The children wouldn't let me sleep..." We just looked at each other like "did you hear what he just said?" First, the three of us were the only people in the house that night. Secondly, neither one of us mentioned anything to the kids about what the adults had noticed because we didn't want to scare them. My son saying that pretty much solidified what everyone else had witnessed.
An hour before we got there the night before, my 20 year old cousin was in the detached garage in the back yard. He swears that he saw a little girl dressed in a prairie gown, running through solid objects around the garage. He couldn't hear her, but he could tell that she was laughing.
A couple of days before that, my aunt and a couple of my cousins were going through my grandparent's personal effects when they heard little girls giggling in the living room (the same room where my son and I slept on the hide a bed.) They figured it was their children playing, but when they walked in to check on them, nobody was there. Their girls were outside playing, nowhere near where the sound had come from.
My birthday was two weeks after my grandpa died. Of course, I was sad and couldn't stop crying. I hadn't really had a good night's sleep since my invincible hero died. If I couldn't sleep, I couldn't dream. Then the night before my birthday, I fell asleep and my grandpa came to pay me a visit. He wasn't the way I remember him at all. He looked nothing like "my grandpa", but I knew who he was.
When I saw him, I cried and threw myself into his arms. I started hugging him and kissing his smooth cheeks. He was missing his trademark beard. "Oh Grandpa! I miss you. I miss you and I love you. Oh, I miss you! I love you! Wait. Can I say that? Is that okay?" See, my husband was next to me in my dream (he's in the Middle East in real life) and I felt a little awkward hugging and kissing on this man that is my age. My grandpa laughed his unique laugh "Yeah, that's okay..."
My grandpa, my husband and I are Army to the core. So why would my dream be any different? The three of us played infantry in the river next to his house. My grandfather hadn't been able to walk in years. Now here he was running through a river with an M-16 in full battle rattle, having a ball.
I don't believe that it is a mere coincidence that my grandfather came to me on my birthday. I think he wanted to comfort me and knew that I needed him. The next day, I had an overwhelming sense of peace and I could finally smile. I didn't see him before that day and I haven't seen him since. But, I know he's doing alright.