65: My Mother’s Warning

65: My Mother’s Warning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

My Mother’s Warning

What a happy and holy fashion it is that those who love one another should rest on the same pillow.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

My mother and father met on a ship to Japan when they were in their mid-twenties. My mother was from the Midwest and my father from Washington, D.C. He was in the Army and was being stationed in Japan. My mother was starting a secretarial job for the U.S. Government. They fell in love and were married in Japan about a year later.

Like all marriages, theirs had its ups and downs. My father focused his life on a military career. He put himself through college, flight school, officer training school and graduate school. When I was young he was stationed in Korea and then Vietnam. Both of these assignments required that he be separated from my mother. My mother, like all good military wives at the time, stayed home and took care of my brother and me.

It wasn’t easy for her. In Vietnam, my father was a helicopter pilot who regularly flew into war zones to extract other personnel who were in danger. Between his service in Korea and Vietnam, as well as the rest of his career, my father became highly decorated. As I have always understood, he earned every medal and award given by the Army, except the one that is given when a soldier dies in the line of duty.

Beginning in the year 2000, my father began developing a series of cancers. The first was pancreatic cancer, for which he was his doctor’s “miracle” patient. In 2006, even though he had never smoked cigarettes, he developed lung cancer. Again, he beat the cancer. After the lung cancer, my mother confided in me that, emotionally, she could not go through another bout of cancer with my father. Watching him deteriorate and silently suffer was too hard on her.

In March 2008, I received an early morning phone call from my parents’ home phone number. My first thought was that my dad was sick again. I felt relief when it was his voice on the line. But, my relief was short lived; he was calling to let me know that my mother had passed away during the night. It was either a stroke or a heart attack; we never found out for sure. The night before, she had a pain in her neck and they went to the emergency room. The hospital released her after a brief exam. My parents went home and eventually to bed. My mother passed away sometime before morning.

Three months later, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Without my mom, he did not seem to have the same will to fight this cancer as he had the others. He had a lot of physical issues as a result of this latest diagnosis and I decided to spend some time with him to try to help him.

One day, I drove the ten hours to his house, arriving after dark. I spent time talking with my father before we both went to bed close to midnight. Before I went to bed, I turned on a nightlight of my mother’s, which was in the guest room where I was sleeping. The nightlight was a ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary. My mother’s name was Mary. She was raised Roman Catholic but had converted to the Episcopal religion as a way of meeting my Baptist father halfway. The Virgin Mary had remained important to her throughout her life.

I had been asleep for about an hour when I heard my mother’s voice calling my name. I thought it was my imagination or a dream. A few minutes later, I felt an insistent tapping on my shoulder. I pulled the covers over my head in an attempt to ignore it. Again, my name was called in my mother’s voice and my shoulder was tapped, as though someone was using three fingers to tap me. I heard my mother’s voice saying: “Leslie, get up. Your father needs you.”

I was scared. My mother was dead. I should not have been hearing her voice and I shouldn’t have felt someone tapping on my shoulder. The nightlight lit up the room enough for me to see I was alone.

I got out of bed and turned on the room light. I calmed down and then realized that I should check on my dad. When I walked out into the hall I saw him right away, lying on the hallway floor. He had been trying to go to the kitchen to get a drink and had fallen.

I helped him up and back into his bed. I never told him about the voice that had woken me to find him there.

A few months later, he passed away. My parents were both buried in Arlington National Cemetery. My father’s funeral was an event to see. Tourists visiting Arlington stopped to see who the important person was who was being buried. They saluted or put their hands over their hearts.

My parents loved each other dearly. Was my deceased mother looking out for my father that night? It has been seven years since then and I have never heard my mother’s voice again.

~Leslie Carson Marlowe

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