Have you been contacted by someone who crossed, someone on the other side? I have and I believe all of us have. Some simply recognize the contact, some choose to rationalize the contact and some do not even notice the contact. Read my story; it is not easy to rationalize it or ignore it! Indeed, for me, it is impossible to do so.
On January 4, 2003, my husband and I were returning from a couple of days of play; it was late and dark and we were talking non-stop as we always did-even when there was nothing to say-as we drove toward home. The subject of crossing over and death came up; I had lost five relatives in the preceding thirteen months and we talked about where they might be. What they might be? How they might be? Death conversations were never macabre with us; they always seemed natural and open and inquisitive. This night's exchange of ideas seemed a little more serious, but not 'scary' serious, just 'interestingly' serious. Ron and I had been married forty years, less about three weeks and, at some point in the discussion, we made a pact: "The one of us who found ourselves first on the other side would attempt to contact the one left behind," a small concrete sign that life does indeed go on.
That brief exchange of ideas and promises between two healthy adults with plans to live many, many more years re-surfaced within a fortnight and with surprising clarity. Hear my story.
We traveled a lot and wherever we went, we collected spoons. Over the last several years, we took thirty to ninety day trips and, for our last year together we rolled along in an Alfa Gold Fifth Wheel. We worked as camp hosts, birded, hiked, built trails, went sightseeing, hit the casinos and collected spoons. Ronnie died nine days before we were to leave on a thirty day trip to Australia and New Zealand to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. Anticipating the spoons we would collect had made the planning of it more intriguing. Our collection of spoons began in 1974 in Denver, Colorado, the first of many vacations we would share with Bets, my mother in law. She bought a spoon rack for me to display spoons commemorating the sites we saw. Spoons from every ghost town, National Monument, National Park, restored fort, every place we visited graced that first rack and I guess the collecting of spoons transfused our blood, Ronnie's more than mine. Over the years, he selected and purchased eight more spoon racks with capacities varying from twelve to forty-eight and displayed them on our living room walls. Everywhere we went, we searched for the perfect spoon to perpetuate that specific spot in our minds.
The one rule was: Never display any spoon unless we had visited the place, a rule set aside when Jessie, our grand daughter, brought us three from her European trip. Still, those spoons hung separately on a row segregated from the ones saluting our incredible times together.
During the summer of 2002, Ron and I talked a lot about our spoons as we wandered from place to place across the Midwest from Mall of the Americas to Glacier National Park and, at every stop, we bought another one, twenty-one in all-the most we had ever collected in one year. We relived in our conversations those times past already memorialized by spoons on the racks at home. We returned home in November to place our new spoons on those racks and visualized the ones to come 'next year'. Reservations were made at two Australia National Parks, there would be spoons from there; the casino in Melbourne where we would spend our anniversary night would offer a special spoon; Jessie told the innkeeper at the Tasmania bed and breakfast of our hobby and he promised to have one ready; and she even convinced the horse ranch where she worked to have something to add to our collection.
About five thirty in the afternoon of January 6, 2003, Ron and I walked our dog. We'd had a busy day, me packing for Australia and Ron running errands for the office. Ron was more tired than usual, yet we both laughed when he said, "Those girls at the office don't know I'm retired, or they just don't care!" About half way into our mile and a half loop walk, he became lightheaded and sat down to rest a minute. I told him I would drive over to pick him up after I finished the walk and Niki and I continued down the trail. From about two hundred fifty yards, I saw he had crossed the creek and was walking toward the locked car. "Why?" I thought. "I had the keys. Why didn't he wait for me?" When I looked over again, he was lying on the ground. I raced toward him, thinking he must have tripped or perhaps he was dizzy, lost his balance and may have hurt a knee, an ankle. A couple reached him first. He was lucid, not in any pain-I asked him and he said "no-just very weak and lightheaded..." I backed the car and the couple helped him in; he thanked them and was dead less than a full minute later. He never struggled, gasped for breath or expressed any indication of pain. He simply stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital; based on what happened, doctors speculated electrical imbalance, cardiovascular disease, a stroke, and, in the end, the death certificate listed 'heart attack'. No one asked to perform an autopsy; didn't seem necessary. Certainly it did not to me. He was gone and the 'why or how' didn't matter. I signed to donate his organs as we had agreed long ago and knew he would be pleased to know someone would see with his corneas, maybe the only usable donation.
I was lost in a fog of disbelief, as were our kids, grand kids and all of the people who loved him. Ronnie and I enjoyed the 'being together' of being married and I could not get my mind around the thought of not having Ronnie next to me. Once, just a few months before, in Deadwood, South Dakota, Ron and I became separated in one of the casinos. Thinking I had left the building, he went down the street and, when I realized he was gone, I panicked, consumed by an unreasonable fear of losing him. As I dashed from building to building in search of him, he searched for me. When we saw either other, I burst into tears and, though I felt foolish, I couldn't stop the tears of relief; he understood and held me for a minute. Maybe that was a precursor of things to come. The same horror and terror multiplied a thousand, a million times devoured my spirit that Monday afternoon and grew to a massive hole in my heart five days later, Saturday morning, the day of the memorial service.
Our kids, my brother, John, who was to do the eulogy, my niece, Peggy, my sister-in-law, Becky, and a couple of friends, arrived early that morning for coffee and to prepare for our formal goodbyes. While the others sat in the living room, John and I sat at the kitchen table talking, reminiscing about how Ronnie had added so much to both of our lives; John made notes as he put together his farewell tribute. The sound of something hitting the floor in the living room pierced the heavy air that surrounded us.
A spoon had fallen from the top rack.
In the twenty-five plus years those racks hung on that wall, never had a spoon fallen. Most of them could only be removed when turned at certain angle. Peg called out, "Aunt Olevia, a spoon fell..." Chill bumps covered my arms as I reached to pick up the fallen spoon-from Tombstone, Arizona, a place we had visited so long ago. Without a voice, Ronnie spoke to me and I heard him as clearly as if he sat across the room. "Ann, I've crossed; the tombstone of my life has been set. You will go on and we will still travel together..." Becky said, "Look. The spoon next the one that fell is moving..." Indeed it was swinging back and forth and I got a chair to climb up to look-Australia? How could that be? We were never in Australia. Australia was just a place we planned to visit together.
I don't know the source of that Australia spoon and it doesn't matter how it found a place in our spoon collection. Ronnie spoke to me-to us-that morning. He let me know I was not alone, that he would stand beside me even as I stood at his tombstone and that he would continue to travel with me. I experienced a peace unknown that week and that peace remains with me. It got me through that day and every day since. There have been dozens of other reminders of Ronnie's continued presence in my life, but none clearer or more opportune than the falling of the spoon.