30: The Message

30: The Message

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

The Message

We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death.

~David Sarnoff

I woke up with an uneasy feeling. Something was niggling at me — a thought swirling in my mind that I couldn’t quite grasp. I looked at the clock on my night table, remembering that I was due at the office for an early meeting. I jumped up and went into the shower. My throat began to constrict and my stomach cramped and churned. A sure sign of an impending anxiety attack. Why? What was bothering me? I didn’t know, but I was definitely experiencing discomfort.

Snatches of a dream surfaced as I headed towards the subway station. Parts of the dream came to me as I sat on the train. In the dream I was walking on a street in Brooklyn and I saw two of my mom’s dearest friends heading towards me. We greeted one another, and her friend Tillie said, “We’re looking for your mom, but she isn’t home.”

“Oh, she’s probably at the grocery store. Why not wait in the lobby? I’m sure she’ll be home any minute. It’s getting dark.”

“Okay,” Tillie and Ann answered in unison.

As I left them, I thought how strange it was to see them. I couldn’t recall for the moment whether they were still living or had passed away.

I woke up.

Instinctively, I knew this dream was symbolic. A sense of foreboding engulfed me. I felt chilled and my hands were cold. I was having trouble breathing. My windpipe was closing. I concentrated on calming myself, visualizing my throat relaxing and attempting to take deep cleansing breaths, as in yoga.

My brain kept telling me this was important. That it was one of those dreams I needed to pay attention to and understand. I felt anxious and pressured, my body’s way of signaling this was significant.

I exited the train and slowly climbed the stairs to the street, conscious of my ragged breathing. At the top of the staircase, I was seriously gasping for air. My shoulders felt heavy, as if I was carrying a heavy backpack.

I hailed a taxi to go the three blocks to my office. Think! Think! Think! What was the message? It was urgent I understood the meaning.

No sooner had I sat down at my desk, my assistant said, “Wendy’s on the phone.” Wendy was my mom’s aide and companion. She was with my mom from early morning to after dinner.

“Wendy, hello. . .”

“Mrs. L., something’s terribly wrong with your mom. She’s sitting up in bed, wild-eyed and scrunched up by the headboard, but she can’t see me or hear me. She’s talking, like foreign. I can’t understand anything she’s saying. I don’t know what to do. It’s scary seeing her like this. What should I do?”

Oh my God. I was an idiot. How much more crystal clear could the message have been? Tillie and Ann were letting me know they’d come to escort Mom to the other side.

“Wendy, I want you to hang up and call 911, immediately. I think she’s having a stroke. She’s speaking Hungarian. Make sure you have them take her to Lutheran Medical Center. If they give you any problems, call my sister and let her speak to them. I’ll call Dorothy and let her know what’s going on. I’ll meet you at the hospital. Call them now!”

I dialed my sister, Dorothy, who was a nurse at Lutheran, and only fifteen minutes away from Mom’s apartment. After I hung up with her, I called my husband Alan. His office was on the same floor as mine. I told Francine, my assistant, to cancel everything on my schedule.

By the time we reached the hospital, Dorothy was standing by the bed as Mom lay there with her eyes closed. She remained unresponsive to our voices or touch.

“The doctor believes she’s had a massive stroke. If she survives, she’ll be in a vegetative state,” Dorothy whispered to us.

I continued to hold her hand, stroking her forehead as I talked quietly to her, trying to will her to respond.

We had her moved to a private room and we took turns being with her for the first week. When we weren’t with her, Wendy and her mom stayed with her. We wanted someone who loved her to be there as much as possible.

Both Dorothy and I agreed that it would be far better for her to leave us than survive in a vegetative state. Mom was fiercely independent and never would have wanted to live in a suspended state.

On Friday, the end of the second week, I woke up crying. I called my sister and told her we were going straight to the hospital. “If you have anything to say to Mom, do it now. She’s leaving us at sunset tonight.”

“Did you have another dream? Or are you feeling something?” Dorothy asked.

Over the years my sister had become accustomed to hearing about my dreams and premonitions.

“Both Dad and Aunt Belle died on a Friday night at the start of the Sabbath. Mom’s going to join them tonight. Call your girls and tell them to be there by the afternoon. I didn’t have another dream. It was more an awareness and sensing. I was crying when I woke up.”

“Okay, I’m not going to argue with you, you’re always right when you get like this. See you later.”

As the sun began to set, we gathered around her bed, each saying our final farewells. We told her she could let go. “Everybody’s there waiting, Dad, Belle, your mom and poppa, your brothers and friends. Tillie and Ann are waiting to greet you and guide you across.”

I bent down, whispering in her ear, “Mom, we love you and if you are ready to go, we are ready. It’s okay. Go with our blessings and love.” I kissed her cheek as I squeezed her hand.

We formed a circle around her. We held hands with each other. We held her hands. Wendy led us in reciting the twenty-third Psalm.

We watched her, heard her breathing grow slower and shallower. We hardly moved. Calmness permeated.

As the sun set and the Sabbath began, she quietly and peacefully left us.

~Margo Berk-Levine

More stories from our partners