I was just settling into bed when my phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it because I was already warm and comfortable, but I thought what many people think when the phone rings at night. Perhaps it's an emergency. It was my dear friend, Deb, in tears, telling me that her mother, Maggie, had just died. It was unexpected. Her mom had been in rehab, improving after having suffered a mild stroke.
Three weeks earlier, just before Easter, Deb had received a call from her sister that “Mom was acting strangely,” and so she left work to go find out what the problem was. When she arrived, her mother was frantically putting things in the oven. Things like paper plates and plastic cups, cutlery, half-eaten pieces of toast, canned goods. Deb kept asking, “Mom, what are you doing? You can’t be doing this!” Her mother just looked at her, then kept filling the oven. Finally, Deb realized that her mother didn’t answer because she couldn’t. She’d lost her ability to speak and she was clearly confused.
At the hospital, though, Maggie started coming back to herself almost right away. Her brain was already healing. For instance, she was irritated because she had to remain in the E.R. while a hospital room was arranged for her, and she missed her supper. When that room was ready, she was already starting to speak. When Deb asked where she was she said she was "in the pasta mobile" instead of the hospital, but they were actual words. And within hours, when the nurses asked her if she recognized her daughter her response was, “Of course I do," in that no-nonsense way she had.This was a woman I'd known for most of my life. She was an important part of my childhood. She was a Kool-Aid mom, the one the neighborhood kids knew would provide a safe harbor and a snack on a summer afternoon. She fed me comfort food when I was in junior high, a time when I desperately needed comfort. She was the woman who would brush the hair back from my teenage face, asking me why I wanted to hide. She was loving and always motherly, although I'm told she did get irritated when, at the age of 12, I pierced Deb's ears using a darning needle and ice cubes. But most of the time her eyes twinkled with good humor and that twinkle was back very quickly after her stroke. Within a few days, Maggie was transferred to St. Gabriel’s for rehab, and quickly became a favorite with the staff. She was a tiny woman. She weighed less than 80 pounds with her shoes on. But her love, her determination and her smile were huge. I’m told the staff actually fought over who would care for her. She was making good progress. She was 97 years old, yet, before the stroke, she still lived alone in her own home. And there was talk of her returning there when she had gained a little weight.
On April 19th she had a good day. She went down to dinner, ate well, chatted with people around her and then went upstairs with a CNA, a lovely, caring individual who helped her get ready for bed. They were chatting about the day, what they’d done, who had visited, what they’d said. All of a sudden, Maggie looked up at the ceiling, smiled, reached up her hands…and said, “Oh!” And she was gone. The nurse who was with her was absolutely convinced that she saw somebody; somebody she was very happy to see.
I speak often on death and near-death experiences and Maggie's experience is more common than you may think. We can't know whom she saw, but it was clear from the look on her face that it was a welcome surprise.
The idea of seeing people I've loved and missed is more than comforting to me. It's exciting. And it's proof to me that love never dies and Heaven is real.
Monica Hannan is a three-time Emmy-award-winning television journalist and Catholic Press Association-honored author. Her latest book, Gift of Death-A Message of Comfort and Hope is available on Amazon.com.