I recently marked the day, which would have been the 100th birthday of my mentor, friend and surrogate mother Sadie Nickerson, a powerful woman who had mastered adversity. However, time caught up with her 87-year-old body, and congestive heart failure was shutting her down. She had weeks – perhaps days – to live. But, I don’t want to think of that – I’d rather remember my last visit with her, and how her going into spirit strengthened my belief that life continues after we experience this transition called death.
July 17, 2001: All day long, I felt compelled to visit Sadie, who was in a nursing facility two hours away. Her gently wrinkled face popped into my mind when I was making my kids’ breakfasts, and thoughts of her came again that afternoon while I was telephoning a girlfriend and chatting over a cup of English Breakfast tea.
Each time I imagined her, the urge to visit was stronger.
That evening, I hopped into the car and drove through a light summer rain. I considered it a fortunate sign to see a parking space right in front of the nursing facility’s front doors, and sprinted through the drizzle into the building.
A grey-haired nurse looked up from her computer monitor and offered a bright smile. "Are you here to see someone?"
"Yes. Sadie Nickerson."
"Oh." The smile slid away. I didn’t need to be psychic to read the woman’s expression. "Are you friend or family?"
"A friend, but considered family."
She rose and asked me to follow her. Our footsteps clicked over the polished linoleum floor as we walked down a long hall. Dark, blocky letters were etched into the hard plastic name plates outside residents’ doors. Here and there, wheelchairs were folded against the walls. The stark beige walls seemed industrial, as if the hallway belonged in something built in Russia under Stalin.
I said, "She doesn’t have long, does she?"
"No." The nurse was business-like, yet not unfriendly. Her tone of voice suggested someone whose job dealt with death everyday, and had learned that forming attachments with people who were dying was a sure route to emotional burnout.
At the end of the hall, she took me into a plain beige room. Sadie lay on a bed, her covers pulled up to her chin. An oxygen tube beneath her nose snaked into a nearby respirator. Her breathing was punctuated by gasps. The side window was open; thankfully, it had been drizzling that day, for Sadie’s room overlooked the area where workers congregated to smoke. On some days, I’d had to cut my visit short because it felt like the air had been wiped with a dirty rag.
She smiled when she saw me, and her eyes sparkled to life. I pulled a chair beside her bed and held her hand for a few moments, and sensed her strength returning. We chatted about our families and how often her son visited. Then we gave each other readings. It was something we always did. Her message to me concerned my children. I wish I could remember her words, because they were the last she gave me.
Suddenly the wall across from me was dotted with soft white lights, like a collection of decorative china plates. But these oval lights were solid. And even though they were white, I felt they were faces looking into the room.
"Sadie," I said, amazed, "you’re surrounded by spirit people!" It was a magical moment, and I couldn’t stop smiling. "Sadie, everyone’s here for you!"
The lights were in a formation: Three rows of seven. Did that mean something? I hoped the spirit people would speak to me. But they slowly faded, and once again I faced a blank, beige wall. And then I was left with the feeling that I might have imagined everything.
I turned to Sadie. Her eyelids were fluttering, and I could tell she was tired. I stayed with her for a few more minutes, then squeezed her hand and said goodbye. I thought she nodded, but today I’m not sure.
The next morning, Sadie’s son telephoned. He’d gone into the nursing home to visit his mother, and found out she’d died around 6 a.m. He was distraught, and I, too, wished I’d stayed with her longer. A hole had opened in my life. I had just lost my teacher, my mentor – my best friend.
Then I realized I had been the last person to talk with her. But I wasn’t the last to see her – that honour belonged to all her spirit people on the other side of life.
If you have any questions or comments on this subject or on any other spiritual matter, feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please visit me again!