The house is on the side of a slight hill, granting us views of five miles or more, in all directions except East, where the rest of the hill is. It reminds me very much of the high plains above Parker Colorado where my mom used to live. The only things missing are the 100 yucca plants per acre and the Rocky Mountains in the West.
That morning, I was busy staining the short privacy fence between the house and garage. Construction of the fence was necessary to help block the fierce winds that often ripped through the space between the structures. In January, the venturi effect in this gap had amplified the wind sufficiently to smash our cast-iron gas grill into the concrete steps leading to the side door. That same night, the wind tore down the soffit underneath the short roof which attaches the house to the garage. The fence was a requirement after that, and so I was staining it to protect it from the coming winter weather.
Before starting on the fence, I had opened windows in the front and back of the house to get some fresh air moving and to give the cats some window sills to sit in. They love to let the air blow through their fur while watching for birds. Some of them watched me work as my mind wandered during my methodical brush strokes.
At least six weeks prior, I had gotten a call from my dad about my grandmother. The doctors said she was at death's door and all we could do was wait. It sounded like she only had days or hours left on this earth, but she was always a tough woman and had hung on, even with pneumonia, after the family disallowed putting her on a ventilator. Now, several days before this day, my dad had called to say that they had cut off all support except for morphine, so naturally one of the many things on my mind that morning was my grandmother. However, with everything else going on with the new house and with my job, I have to admit it was more of a footnote to my thoughts. I was thinking about her, but only in the back of my mind.
Her health had turned for the worse around Christmas. She'd had a stroke that affected the sleep center in her brain, so the doctors said she wasn't in a coma, but she just slept all the time. That news sounded to me like it meant she would never wake up, but by February, my dad said she was awake more and more, so my wife and I made the trek to the Chicago suburbs to see her, possibly for the last time.
When we were there, we told her about the house we bought in January. She said that she had heard about it and was proud. I think all she wanted in life was for her progeny to be happy and successful. As a kid, she always told me that I should go to college, often conceding in the same breath that she was too old to live to see me finish. She wasn't. Despite the fact that I spent seven years getting a four-year degree, she was still with us when I finished. I sent her a photocopy of my degree. Macular Degeneration had taken her vision, but when she received it, she knew what it was and who it had to be from. After that, every time I spoke to her, she would point out that I was the only one of her grandchildren to finish college, even though there were several older than me.
By the time we bought the house, her vision was too far gone to even try to send a picture so all we could do was attempt to describe it. That, too, was difficult because her hearing was so poor that most of the time she could only guess what we were saying. If I talked about something new to her, she really couldn't follow along, because she didn't know what to expect. So any time I worked on the house or yard that year, I thought of her at least once. I hoped she would one day visit, after she was gone. I planted over 25 trees that summer, put in flower beds, and as winter approached, I was determined to finish my staining project before it was too wet and cold. I wanted to have the outside of the house looking good, just like hers always did. Even into her early 80s you could find her pushing a lawn mower across her yard or a snow shovel along her sidewalks. She always said that it didn't matter how much your house was worth, just so long as you kept it clean and looking good.
I don't remember if I was finished with the fence, or just coming inside for a bathroom break, but when I reached the hallway it hit me. The air was permeated with the smell of Windsong perfume. I stopped, stunned. I tried to find a logical, earthly explanation for this, but there was none. Nothing in our house smells remotely like that kind of perfume. I stood for a minute, looking around, smelling the air and wondered if this was it, the visit I thought I might someday have. I never expected it to be tangible, but more like the assurance of the thought that once she was gone, she could "look down" and see our house.
The logical part of my mind started taking over. I looked to the cats to see if they were skulking around, eyes dilated, and ears back, intensely looking at an invisible nothing. No, they were still bird-watching. Also, my dad should have called if she had passed away. I had the urge to call him or my uncle right then, to find out, but I didn't. I knew my uncle Joe, her youngest, had been with her as much as humanly possible in her last weeks and years. He would be the first to know if anything happened. Instead, I just noted the time, around 10:30, and went on with what I was doing, wondering exactly what had just happened.
At about three o'clock, my cell phone rang. My dad called to ask me some inane computer question, such as, "The printer says it has a paper jam, what do I do?" However, he caught himself right away when he realized he had forgotten to call me this morning. He just said, "Oh, I almost forgot, Grandma's gone."
"When was this?" I asked, remembering the perfume and marveling at his absent-mindedness.
"About seven this morning."
I knew he would forget to call me – all I could do was silently shake my head and sigh. But in this case, it was OK. He'd remembered in time for me to make plans to drive to Chicago, but took long enough for me to receive the gift of a visit from the other side. If I'd been told earlier in the morning, then the perfume in the hallway wouldn't have had the same impact. I'm sure that this was orchestrated by those on the other side and wasn't an accident.
During the wake, and then the funeral, I had an incredible urge to share this story with my Uncle Joe, but every time I thought I would be able to, someone else walked up and started talking to him and the moment was lost. I felt in my heart that he had to hear this story, but I was fighting an inner battle. At a couple points in time, I almost convinced myself that it was unimportant or that he wouldn't understand. I even thought that maybe I could just email him afterwards. However, the thought in my head to tell him while we were there was almost a voice, and the voice kept on. I knew I had to find the right time.
After the full Catholic funeral, we all went to a catered lunch in a private room at one of the local golf courses. I thought it was the perfect end to the funeral. She always wanted us to eat, eat, eat. I made sure to stuff myself before we had to leave. We had to resume the vacation which was supposed to have started that morning.
As the food drew to an end, I knew I was running out of time to tell my uncle so I made the decision to just tell him. He was still talking to everyone that walked up, so this time, I stood in line. He talked for a while, and so I mentioned to my wife that I had to tell him and we will have to wait a minute so I can get a chance. She understood, knowing that we had both seen him constantly talking to people since his arrival at the wake the day before.
Finally, we were alone with him. I was nervous, but at least comfortable that it was private enough for me to tell the story. With a bit of an uncontrollable quiver in my voice, I told him that I had found a cloud of Windsong perfume in my hallway the morning she crossed over, before anyone told me about her passing.
"I tried to deny the experience at the time, but later in the day when I found out she was already gone, I knew that she had actually been there. I was so happy to know that she had finally gotten to see our new house." My emotion while speaking that last sentence almost choked me. I didn't have to explain it to my uncle. He knew that she was blind and nearly deaf towards the end and that there was no other way for her to see the house.
"Wow." His eyes welled up a little and he looked towards the ceiling before going on. "Thank you. Thank you for telling me about that. You hear about other people having experiences like this, but you I guess you don't expect it within your own family. I knew that she wasn't just gone, that she was somewhere, but this is like an actual connection." He called my Uncle Larry over and asked me to repeat the story.
Larry took a shuddering breath afterwards. "I'll have to tell Val. She's really into that." I knew word would spread. I hadn't told my other two uncles or my dad, but I hoped they would get the message. Within 20 minutes, we were in the car and on our way. I was relieved that I didn't talk myself out of it. Telling it in person was so much more meaningful. As we headed for the interstate, I drove with a sense of a mission accomplished.