Print this page

Observations placeholder

Frankie comes back to help his dying mother Audrey

Identifier

011155

Type of spiritual experience

Hallucination

A description of the experience

From Opening Heaven’s Door – Patricia Pearson

One summer afternoon, I went to interview Audrey Scott, who was dying of cancer.  We hadn't met before, but she had invited me, through mutual friends, to come talk with her. The afternoon was suffocatingly hot, and I found her tangled in a light sheet on a borrowed hospital bed in the middle of her living room, squeezed in between some creaky couches and piled-high tables, her face hidden beneath a cooling washcloth, her body as slight as a bird's. It felt as if the house she had lived in for decades was quietly absorbing her.

Audrey lived in a cluttered bungalow in a tiny town, the property shaded by maple and pine, house cats languishing in the heat as an occasional car rumbled by. Audrey was fading in body-of a cancer metastasized to the bone-but at eighty-three, she remained sharply aware, and was preoccupied, on the day I came, with getting a book she'd written about some early adventures in her life back from the local print shop before she lost consciousness forever. She wanted to approve the final version.

I pulled a stiff wooden chair beside her bed and sat down. She lifted the washcloth slightly to appraise me with keen blue eyes. Her skin was smooth and translucent. The temperature was ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit, and her forehead was sheened with perspiration.

"l'm honoured that you've allowed me to come," I told her. We clasped hands, and regarded each other frankly. Dying has a tendency to dissolve all pretension.

We spoke for a few minutes about her book, its manufacturing costs and other pragmatic matters, as if we were meeting in a coffee shop rather than at her deathbed. "I don't want to just give my book to friends and family," she emphasized. "l want it to be a bestseller."

It was, apparently, a collection of her letters home from Europe when she'd been a college graduate making the grand tour, which had sparked a lifelong ardour for architectural history. She'd created a colouring book featuring the Victorian-era buildings of Brantford, Wayne Gretzky's hometown, which was a few miles down the road.

Was this comment about bestsellerdom a genuine lunge for glory at the end of her life or a wry joke? There was no way for me to know. I was learning about who she was just as she took her leave.

"What do you want people to know about dying, Audrey?" I asked.

"There should be no fear," she said without hesitating. She spoke declaratively, with a touch of impatience, hinting at a lifetime of answering the questions of her fourteen natural and adopted children.

“Life is laid out from birth to death; it's all just part of the process."

'Are you experiencing or seeing anything unusual?" I wondered, having bugged out the night before trying to figure out how in the hell to word this question.

She had repositioned the washcloth over her eyes, but now eased it back onto her forehead and studied me, a note of caution in her expression. "I see things twirling in the room," she offered. "It's quite pleasant actually." After a pause, she added: "My son Frankie has been visiting me. He sits there." She gestured toward an armchair to my left.

Our mutual friend, Judy, who had been standing discreetly near the window so as not to interrupt the conversation, reached up to the window ledge behind Audrey's head and selected an old, seventies-era varnished frame containing the photo of a smiling young man with thick, square glasses and flat bangs. This was Frankie, a boy that Audrey and her husband had adopted after he'd been disabled in a car accident. He died of cancer in 2002 at the age of thirty-five, Judy later explained.

I angled the frame toward Audrey, so that she could see too, but she evinced no interest, clearly feeling no need for nostalgic glimpses in picture frames if the young man had been sitting right here in the armchair. I tried to find a clear table surface where I could set the picture down, to no avail. I held on to Frankie, uncertainly.

"Is this a dream you are having, or are you awake?" I asked.

She shrugged, determined to remain pragmatic. "I don't think I can tell the difference, with all this morphine."

"Is he talking to you?"

"We've been talking about my books." Audrey's curiosity was so intent that she seemed to be listening even when she was talking She wasn't seeing or dreaming about anyone else, she said. Not her late husband or any of her living children or friends. No bears or Virgin Marys. For whatever reason, she was encountering Frankie.......

Audrey died, at her home, ten days later.

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities