The Outsiders

Our house activity climaxed with my beloved mom’s fight to defy death in her final months battling frontotemporal degeneration (FTD). New things started to happen which didn’t seem particularly paranormal as they involved tangible, organic creatures who were simply behaving oddly.

Specifically, the animals started to mobilize.

By this point, we had lived in our house for about four years and, during that period of time, we’d put a patio door in the wall of our living room and built a small deck outside which overlooked our tiny backyard (and, largely, our neighbor’s backyard).

When we later converted our dining room into Mom’s room, we placed her bed directly in front of the patio door so she’d have a view of the sky, rose bushes and our miniature backyard.

This worked out wonderfully. And, throughout the time we had this patio door, nothing weird happened, well, not in the back of the house.

Until the turn of the new year in 2017.

__________

While caring for Mom, when the weather was decent, I tried to get her outside as much as possible. And this didn’t change when she moved in with us.

Though, due to her physical decline, getting her up and into her wheelchair took literal machinery and a great deal of effort. But it was worth it. Often, Mom, Hemi, our mastiff, and I would just roll outside and hang out on the deck.

However, since my husband David had built a ramp which hitched onto the patio deck, Mom and I would also roll out into the big, bad world.

Again, this took a tremendous amount of effort and usually meant that, in two hours’ time, we’d be sitting in our driveway at a distance slightly farther than our front porch.

Worth it.

Yet, we’d sometimes go for walks in our neighborhood. I pushed Mom around in her wheelchair for as long as she seemed to enjoy it.

Mom had lost her ability to speak a couple years previous, and, with her inability to walk along with her limited use of her hands, she was really at the mercy of my desire to get “fresh air.”

At the same time, this is the same mom who dragged me out of bed on countless mornings to go do all kinds of outdoor activities and tasks I never wanted to do so, sure, this was surely a little payback for me.

But it was also what I felt she wanted.

And I spent many hours just rambling away to my mom. Hemi would sometimes ramble around and drool in the driveway, but she’d usually prefer to stay inside where she could safely sleep, hide in the bathroom and growl at the front door.

And those were our days.

During our outdoor excursions, I looked for other things to occupy my mind and one day I saw the largest bird I’d ever seen who just seemed to be hanging around our neighborhood.

I guessed it was a raven due to its absolutely enormous size and how it always seemed to be on its own.

It was just… gigantic.

Since it was an anomaly, I became very fond of this bird and would cheerfully call up to it when I saw it. I read about what ravens ate and would then compile and leave a small pile of berries on the side of the front walkway at the front of the house.

I figured if this scavenger lived in our neighborhood it was probably sick of eating Papa Johns.

I’d read that ravens were very smart, “positively conniving,” and a bit gossipy.

So I wanted to make a good impression.

And though the raven never approached or took any of the food I’d leave, I did see it as I’d walk to the nearby Walgreens to get healthcare supplies for my mom. I’d look up and see it sitting on a high branch on a tree or it would be perched on the top of a telephone post and then, on my walk home, I would see it somewhere else, perched high up in the air.

This thrilled me to no end.

And, being a thrilling, new topic, I’d talk endlessly about this raven with David and the respite caregivers and hospice staff and whoever else would listen.

I was so bored of talking about dying, death and ghosts. The raven represented an exciting change in subject.

But then weeks passed and I stopped seeing it.

And then weeks turned into months. Winter came and went. And I no longer saw the raven and it upset me but, as I was in a sustained state of feeling upset, its absence didn’t make too much of an impact.

And, during the raven absence, in December, my mom’s hospice nurse made the “Final Call.”

Final Call is a formality. It’s a motion made by a hospice nurse which means that the patient only has a few days left to live. Thus, all that should be done to make the patient comfortable should be done, pronto.

This call is based on physiological symptoms, behavioral changes and the practitioner’s experience.

When a hospice nurse makes the Final Call, they’re usually right.

My mom’s first documented “edge of death” scenario had played out years ago, back in the country house my parents lived in at the time. My dad had the pastor and his wife come over, and we all sat in the dark holding vigil while Mom lay silent with her eyes closed, refusing food and water and, basically, no longer providing much of a response to anything.

We called the Southern Care Hospice nurse and she was sort of vague and unhelpful. So we just assumed this was it. The pastor had seen some “edge of death” in his line of work and consented with the group decision that Mom was dying.

And then Mom woke up one morning and said, “I want to go to the zoo.”

And so we went to the zoo and life returned to its new normal and we switched hospice agencies.

And, years later, our final hospice nurse had soberly called “Final Call” in December 2016, as Mom again seemed to be on the edge of death.

David and I sat quietly, tearfully, and exchanged our Christmas gifts in the darkness of the space which had been our living room, allowing my mom to peacefully sleep, and mourned in a detached space. We made the appropriate calls.

But, a few days later, Mom snapped out of it and was all wide-eyed awake, smacking her lips and ready to eat.

I can’t quite emphasize how shocking this was to her hospice nurse.

But I’d seen it before and I was happy, but I also felt emotionally exhausted.

At this point, I wouldn’t have cared if the house fell down around me. I wouldn’t have cared if the clock jumped off the wall and started to walk away. I wouldn’t have cared if a fleet of stomping ghosts marched down the stairs and out the door.

“Good riddance to all of you.” I would have whispered.

But, in the months that followed Mom’s miraculous Christmas comeback, new weird things started to happen which were more “wondrous” than spooky and these events involved outsiders.

Particularly, animals and birds.

Birds kept trying to get into Mom’s room.

For example, chickadees would hang suspended in the air outside the patio door, fluttering, flapping, tweeting, impatiently looking in as if they were waiting for us to slide the door open for them.

Of course, despite the scene they were making, no one ever let a chickadee in and they’d eventually fly away in a huff.

But it wasn’t just the chickadees.

And this shit went on for weeks. It was new though so it amused me.

And it was a nice change from the birds always flying into the glass.

Maybe it was all coincidence and the birds had held a community meeting about how our house now had a patio door and it was, in fact, a transparent solid surface that could not be flown through.

And all these birds left that community bird meeting and came over to inspect the sliding patio door and/or yell at us for tricking them for so long.

Yet, it wasn’t just the birds.

One night we looked up to see that a black cat was sitting outside the patio door, staring in at us.

I like cats. And I didn’t think that I felt black cats are truly more spooky than other cats.

But looking up to see a large black cat who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, staring at us from the dark outside caused those of us sitting in Mom’s room to go “Augh!” when we saw it.

And it didn’t move. It just sat there and stared at us.

Again, we had lived in that house for about four years by that point. We knew our neighbors. We knew the pets they kept. And we had never ever seen a black cat in our neighborhood.

We had not seen any cat on our deck before.

It was weird.

But we shook it off and yelled:

WE DO NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO ENTER, CREATURE OF THE NIGHT!

Sure. Cats get around. I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends who have looked up to see a cat peering in at them from the other side of some window.

It was just the matter-of-fact way the black cat sat there that night and, of course, the ongoing situation with Mom that had David and I on edge.

I wondered if all the additional activity was due to my mom lingering on death’s door. Since she had returned from her December trip to the edge, the animals were now all wanting to get in to see the dimension traveler.

And, on cue, Mom started to decline once more.

And her experienced hospice nurse wasn’t about to make another Final Call because she was still spooked by how Mom didn’t die back in December.

Also, as she explained, we were doing literally everything that could be done to make someone comfortable. My mom was essentially freebasing hardcore medication and, since December’s fluke “edge of death,” I was fearful of her more fragile state and dramatically decreased our outings.

So we were feeling a bit lost, stuck and still.

It was good timing for something wondrous and awe-inspiring to occur.

It was a dreary afternoon when we saw a gigantic black object heavily fall from the sky and land on the patio deck railing.

It happened quickly.

Before our eyes, something blotted out the sun and superhero-landed on our deck railing.

I was sitting in my seat next to Mom, holding her hand, and David was sitting nearby in a chair, and I could hear us all intake breath at the same time.

It was the raven.

And it was even bigger than I had imagined. It almost seemed to fill the entire patio window.

I’d never seen the raven in the back of our house. I’d never seen the raven at the front of our house.

I’d never seen the raven that close.

And I hadn’t seen the raven in months.

So to have this gigantic bird suddenly land on the railing of our deck railing just outside the patio door… we were all open-mouthed and shocked. It was the biggest bird any of us had ever seen.

And it croaked at us. It was an unearthly sound.

It stomped its feet. It flapped its wings. It seemed to look each one of us in the eye.

And then it flew away.

And David and I just sat there as speechless as Mom.

I looked down at my mom, and she looked up at me and I honestly didn’t know how to feel.

But somewhere deep inside I was thrilled that the raven had come to pay its respects.

The raven was probably just coming from that bird community meeting but it was the coolest unexpected thing that ever happened at that house.

4 thoughts on “The Outsiders

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