Be forewarned: this isn’t about a haunted house, it’s about a haunted person. It’s about a strange thing that happened around the time of my mother’s death which has troubled me in the four years since she passed. I am writing about it mostly because I want to make sense of it. If someone could suggest a rational explanation that isn’t more preposterous than a paranormal one, I would glom onto it like a leech to a fleshy leg, but I suspect there is none.
In the last few years of my mother’s life, a marked coldness dominated her room—much more than the rest of the house. I had to buy her an electric mattress cover so she didn’t sleep so cold at night. The chill was so pervasive it stretched about five feet out of her bedroom door into a small adjoining den. Walking through the den towards her door you would hit a well-demarcated wall of ice. Being a mostly rational human being, I searched for possible sources of the chill, had the heating company check the vents, but none of us could find anything. And to test the existence of this wall of cold, I had my friends walk through the den to see if I was imagining it, but they felt it, too. Even the skeptical one.
The day my mother died, I brought her home for hospice to that bedroom. She arrived at noon and was gone by about eight that night. Two remarkable things happened after she died. First, five to ten minutes after she passed, our cat (who had not gone into her room once the cold stuff started happening) came to the foot of her hospital bed and started rolling around, showing her belly and acting coy as she did when my mother talked baby talk to her. The second thing, which I didn’t notice until the next day, was that the cold had completely disappeared. No wall of ice emanating from her door, the bedroom the same temperature as the rest of the house. And it has never returned in the four years since, even in the coldest parts of winter (which in L.A. is a relative thing, but you catch my drift).
What haunts me is wondering what caused this. I am certain there are no lingering spirits in this house, nothing sinister. I have lived in a genuinely haunted house—and that was sinister and creepy. I can tell the difference. Here, in my current home, there may be the occasional transient spirit—something of a lifelong pattern for me—but nothing sinister-creepy. So, I don’t think there was anything evil in my mother’s bedroom sucking the life/heat out of the place. I sometimes wonder if my mother, who was herself a force of nature, was sucking the energy out of the room in her fierce determination to stay alive.
See, Mom had two incidents of possible near-death experience in her later years. There was the time in her late eighties when she got a severe blood infection and almost died. She told me that one night she woke up in the hospital and three shadowy figures stood in the corner. They didn’t speak aloud, she said, but in her mind. They told her that if she wanted to leave this life at that time she could go, but it was up to her. She told them she wasn’t ready to leave, and they said she could stay but things would get much harder from that point on. She survived, and things did get much harder. Maybe a year after this incident, her shaky kidneys finally failed and she had to start dialysis. A year after that, she had a stroke. We were lucky in that it didn’t affect her mind, nor was she paralyzed in any way, but it severely affected her vision and her sense of balance. Though she was still strong and remarkably flexible for her age, she could no longer stand upright without a walker or she would fall right over. She had to go into rehab for three months and came out of it with her fighting spirit intact.
She confessed to me, though, that her three shadowy figures visited her in the rehab center and offered her the same deal. Again, she refused, and again they said things would get much harder. And they did. Things were okay for a while, but the severe stenosis in her spine made things difficult. “I don’t know how she’s still walking,” said her doctors. “Determination,” I said. But in order to tolerate the severe pain, Mom had to go on opiates.
Thank the gods, she kept her faculties until the last month of her life, but the other thing that haunts me is the memory of her slow, inevitable decline. Yes, I know, the circle of life and all that crap—but it’s very hard to watch up close. In particular, there is my memory of the time the hospital fucked up and took her off her opiates then sent her back to the rehab facility after her being off the drugs for several days. The rehab facility couldn’t legally start the opiates again without a doctor’s authorization but it was evening by the time she got back there and she was going through withdrawals. The doctor on call was not answering his page. I held her in my arms while she writhed in agony for over two hours before the doctor finally responded and the drugs finally took effect. It was the most harrowing night of my life. Even sitting by her bed holding her hand while she died was not as harrowing because she was at peace then.
I tell myself she’s no longer in pain, she’s dancing now in the Summerlands—and I believe she is. But some things are not so easy to move on from. April 7 would have been her 98th birthday. My friends and I—those who were her adopted kids—always celebrate her birthday by going out to a restaurant she would have liked, but this Sunday I had to cancel our plans. I’d been suffering for days from some unspecified belly complaint. The symptoms were real but I can’t help thinking the source was somewhere inside my spirit.
Yes, I know she’s at peace now. She’s not haunting me. I’m haunting myself. I did therapy and grief counseling in the year following her death and that helped but I was still working then and distracted. Now I have time to contemplate things and I have been doing ancestor work lately which has been hawking up a bunch of stuff. This is mainly a good thing, as it’s helping me to process so many things that I pushed down and away. And these things need to be processed for my own soul’s growth. As I’ve often observed, once you entered Faery, there’s no going back. You must go forward to find your way out again. On the other side, things will be better, but in the meantime, I haunt myself. The scales drop from my eyes, one by one, and I feel lighter once I’ve faced things I didn’t want to look at before. Things will get better. Or so I tell myself. It’s easy to be fooled when you’re a mere mortal.
And I still would like to understand the icy cold that came and went. I probably never will—leastways, not completely, not on this side of the veil. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad.