TODAY is All Soul's Day -the day we honor our beloved Dead by praying for them. I figured it was as good a time as any to repeat this story that happened to me...
At the time this story happened, Ashley was about 10 years old, Bobby was about 6, Katie was about 4 and Maryjacqueline was about 1. We had neighbors who lived across the street by the name of Laura and Joe Carlson. They had a daughter Hannah, who played with Ashley, and so we knew them fairly well. Laura’s parents were both retired and lived in the same town. Their grandchildren called them ‘Oma’ and ‘Opa’. Laura’s mother was born in Poland, and married Laura’s dad when he was a young soldier in WW2.
Oma was the oldest of about 13 children and probably around 16 years old when Hitler’s bombs fell on her city. In the resulting panic and confusion, the entire family was split up. Oma spent the rest of the war going from refugee camp to refugee camp looking for her siblings. By the end of the war she had found every one – including her mother and the baby – and she managed to keep the family together. She met Opa after the war, married and came to the US. Laura was their only child.
A few years before I met Laura, Oma had come down with breast cancer. She was close to death when her siblings in Poland pleaded with her to come back and visit them. Laura and she went to the doctor for permission for Oma to travel. The doctor refused to give his consent; but nonetheless, Oma was determined to go. The doctor told Laura that she better be prepared for her mother to return home in a wooden box.
Oma landed in Europe, and her siblings immediately bundled her up and took her to the miraculous waters of Lourdes, France. Oma continued to spend the next few months there – visiting with all of her many family members. At the end of her visits, she flew back home. Once home, she and Laura made the trek back to the doctor. He was obviously surprised to see her; and sent her for testing. Laura told me later that she would never forget his face when he came in with the test results. He was white as a ghost she said, as he laid the results out in front of them. For there was absolutely no sign of cancer anywhere in Oma’s body.
It had plain and simply disappeared. A miracle.
Well, a few years went by and now we were part of their lives. Oma and Opa loved being grandparents, and doted on their two grandchildren. Unfortunately, they had very little in the way of material things to give them, as they existed pretty much on social security. But love more than made up for material lack.
Laura’s husband Joe had an interesting business. He and his father owned a large car dealership and also engaged in offshore shipping. Bob and I were just a young Navy family – and had no idea what ‘offshore shipping’ was – but hey, nothing says you need to know everything! We would see expensive foreign cars and huge yachts on trailers appear overnight, and within a couple days, be gone again – just another day in the neighborhood. Laura had never worked outside the home, and had never gone to college. She was just a regular wife and mother who cared for her family.
Until the day of the accident.
On that day, Laura was driving her husband’s dealership car when another driver, who hit her, totaled it. Laura actually had to be cut out of the car to be rescued. Miraculously, she was not badly injured. The rescue squad took her to the hospital, and laid her on a gurney outside the emergency examining room.
It was there that she was arrested.
In the course of about 5 minutes, she discovered that her entire married life was a lie. For you see, the very fancy dealership car – from her husband’s business – that she had been driving, turned out to be stolen. Her husband’s ‘offshore shipping’ business was offshore all right. It was ‘offshore’ where stolen vehicles were taken outside to international waterways, stripped and disguised – and sent back in as ‘foreign imports’ for sale in her husband’s dealership.
Pretty much the bottom fell out of everything after that. Laura’s husband and father went on the lam, and she filed for divorce. It was then that she discovered that absolutely everything she owned – house, cars, possessions – were in her husband and her father-in-law’s names. Joe filed the legal paperwork necessary – and had his wife and children thrown into the street.
I remember the day we helped her and the kids get their own personal items – clothing, etc. – out of the house before the sheriff came to lock the door. We were all racing in and out of the house trying to extricate as much stuff as humanly possible. I had Maryjacqueline in a backpack, and was grabbing everything I could. Oma and Opa were there too – with ashen faces. They were trying to help their daughter and grandchildren retain as much of their things as they were able. What they must have thought of their son-in-law, I can only imagine. They never said a word.
Suddenly, as I passed Oma with another armful of stuff, I saw her put her load down and sink into a chair.
“I don’t feel well,” she said.
Something about the way she said it gave me a dreadful feeling. Sure enough, once she went back to the doctor, we heard the grim prognosis. The cancer was back, and it was everywhere.
So began the slow and sad deterioration of Oma.
Throughout the months that followed, everyone was grief-stricken. Everyone, that is, but Oma.
Yes, she was heart broken that she would not see her grandchildren grow up; but she continued to tell everyone over and over:
“God is taking me home for a reason. I have no money to help Laura and the children; there is nothing that we can do for them. I know that God will use me to help them – and that is why He is bringing me home. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
Everyone was really too grief stricken to respond. As the months went by, Opa and Oma helped Laura find a nice rental for her family. They helped her look for, and get a good secretarial job. They walked with her through the divorce process, helping her in every way they could. They just couldn’t – as much as they wanted to – give her any financial support. They lived in a tiny mobile home themselves – they didn’t even have space for their daughter and grandchildren to live with them.
As Oma sickened, her work on a quilt for Hannah intensified. She was determined to give it to her as a lasting remembrance. She sewed many meaningful things into that quilt – things that she hoped would help Hannah remember her. She finally finished the quilt and lovingly gave it to Hannah. The next day, she took to bed – and within just a few days – was gone.
Laura afterwards told me of an amazing occurrence. As her mother slipped into a coma, she reverted back to speaking Polish. Neither Laura, nor her father, had any idea what she was saying. For a day or two, she kept gesturing and urgently speaking in Polish. They had no idea what she wanted. Suddenly, Oma’s sister arrived to see her. She walked into the room; and froze. Oma was doing her gesturing and urgent speaking.
“Heinz!” her sister whispered in awe, “she’s speaking to Heinz!”
It turned out that their brother Heinz had died years ago, and Oma was talking to him. She kept asking him to come closer, so that she could hold his hand.
Laura said it pretty much freaked everybody out.
Oma passed away shortly before we moved out of Florida. It was a year or so later that I got a phone call from Laura in our new home. Now it was her turn to speak urgently. Susan!” she exclaimed the minute I said hello, “do you remember what my mother said? What she said about ‘helping me out’ when she gets to heaven?”
I cautiously said yes; and then the story unfolded.
Apparently, Joe, her ex-husband, had finally gone off to jail a few months prior. It had been in the news all over the state. On the other side of Florida was a married couple that had gone to school with Joe when they were younger. They had no children; both worked, and were loaded with money. The husband showed the wife the story, and they both expressed surprise at what had become of their childhood classmate. Suddenly one of them noted that Joe had left a wife, and 2 young children, totally unsupported when he went to prison. They agreed that that was ‘so sad’; put the paper down and continued with their breakfast.
When they later called Laura, they explained that – since that moment – neither of them had gotten “a single minute’s peace.” They were both consumed with the thought that they just had to help Laura and the children financially. After all, they had the money, and what else were they doing with it? They were awakened with the idea at night, bombarded with the idea in the morning, interrupted with the idea at work. They simply, and plainly, could get no rest until they did something.
So they set up a bank deposit for Laura and the kids; and called her to let her know how much they had designated to go into it each month from then on out.
Laura was, obviously, speechless. But at least she was not also clueless. She had inside knowledge of exactly what was going on. And ‘what was going on’ was this:
“Sue, my mother is harassing the heck out of this poor couple – because that’s apparently what she went to heaven for.”
Who knew? Besides Oma, that is...
I think that we will eventually all know – that our work here is not finished – just because God brings us home to heaven. The ties are stronger than we know; the invisible cords are actually quite taut – and the joy – unspeakable...
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.