October 15, 2012 I was rushed to the emergency room. I’d known that something was wrong for quite a while, but like our canine brothers and sisters, I managed to hide it quite well. I was sick. I was desperately sick.
I hadn’t told my family that I had been speaking with my mother, my father and Merribuck – all deceased. Merribuck, my beloved late, Border/Sheltie mix, was the first to visit me.
It was the beginning of October and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hide how ill I was for much longer. Understand that I come from a long line of people who just don’t like to go to the doctor. We’re a hardy group as a rule, but sometimes something sneaks up and knocks one of us for a loop. I was soon to be thrown.
I was sitting on the couch, gathering strength to vacuum, when I saw my Merri. I could feel the joy rise up within my heart. I’d missed her so much these past 19 years, and here she was, once again, my beautiful baby dog. Merri trotted over to me and sat at my feet, feathered, curved tail wagging, mouth open in that glorious smile she always wore in life.
To this day Merribuck is the sweetest soul I’ve ever met. Truly, God was in a good mood the day He made my sweet girl. She was always there to comfort me, there to share my joys and triumphs, and I know deep within my soul that she knew what I was feeling and thinking. We shared a bond that I have shared with only a few beings in my lifetime, my son being one, and so I was not that surprised to see her now…now that I was in trouble.
“My Buckaroo!” I cried with joy. “I’ve missed you so much, Little Love. I’ve always missed you. Do you know that I come to visit with you when I’m upset?” I asked her. (I always go to her grave when troubled.) “Have you come to “fetch” me?”
Buck gazed up at me with her beautiful smile and my heart clenched. My fingers itched to stroke her long, silky coat, and my soul longed to smell her sweet fragrance that I remembered so well. I could feel her laugh and say “Mama, you always were so funny” and with that, she jumped up beside me. I buried my nose in her neck, stroking her wonderful fur. “Sweetheart” I murmured,“ if it weren’t for our baby, I would love to go with you. I miss you so much. But my journey with him isn’t over. I have to stay for him.”
Our baby was my son Chris, born 20 years before. When Chris came home, I sat on the couch and allowed Merribuck to sniff him. “This is your baby, Buck. Your baby.” From that day forward, she never left his side.
Again I felt the telepathic connection “I know Mama. I miss you too, and I know when you have come to visit me. Haven’t you felt me with you? But right now you have to stay here with our baby.”
Merri continued to comfort me for a precious ten minutes or so and then left. As she jumped down from the couch I felt her ‘say’ “You won’t die, Mama. I came to tell you that you won’t die.” I once again endured the anguish of our parting, but felt better knowing that, indeed, we would be reunited someday…perhaps someday soon…but that for now, I would be allowed to stay with my beloved son.
I was knocked to my knees in mid-October. Chris was taking me to the doctor as I was now too weak to drive. He was begging me to go to the hospital, but I kept insisting that I was all right, just tired. One look at me and the nurse demanded that I go to the ER. Finally waking up to reality, or maybe it was the fear in my son’s eyes, I agreed and Chris took me straight away. I was admitted within an hour.
So, I lay in my hospital bed, not really afraid. Somehow I knew that I would live, but a statement my father made kept going through my head: "All Shiveley’s die in October." Had I imagined Merri out of loneliness for her? Was I once again hiding the truth from myself? My mind flew back 16 years.
In 1997 we brought my father home to live with us. He had developed lung cancer and was dying. Chemo seemed to be slowing the progression of the cancer, and Da kept saying, “If I live through October, I’ll live another year.” We were watching Emeril Lagasse, Da’s favorite cooking show, the evening of October 28th, and when he said it to me again, I asked, “Da, why do you keep saying that?” “Because,” he replied,“ all Shiveley’s die in October.” I put the thought aside, figuring he was clinging to a very fragile thread. The next morning, Chris and I found him gone, his coffee still hot, and his color just beginning to change. Two weeks later, as I cleaned out his room, I found a shoe box full of obituaries. All were for Shiveley’s…all died in October. So here I was – October 15, gravely ill, in the hospital, and a Shiveley. But Buck had said I wasn’t going to die. Or had she?
That night, my mother came. I was lying with my eyes closed (who can sleep in a hospital?) when I heard her distinctive laugh. Slowly turning my head, I saw her sitting in a chair and smiling. “So, you think you’re going to die because you’re a Shiveley? Well, you’re also from my people. You’ll be okay, and by the way, how’s my grandson?”
I filled her in: Mom never met Chris. Mom died in 1989 of kidney cancer and Chris was born and adopted in 1992. So I told her all about him. I kept thinking of how her brother Bussy visited her when she was six months pregnant for me. She was raking leaves and caught fire, sustaining fourth degree burns. Her right kidney was literally fried. She lay in a bed at White Cross Hospital, in premature labor for me, and frightened to the core. She said the room brightened and a moonbeam shot into her room. There stood her brother, hand extended. “Don’t worry, Re, she’ll be all right. I’ll take care of her.” He then faded back into the beam and was gone. My mother said that her labor ceased immediately, and I’m here to testify that I survived. But would I survive this test?
The next night my father arrived. “Da!” I exclaimed when I saw him. He gazed at me with that serious Irish way of his and stated, “I just came to tell you that you won’t be dyin’ this October. You’re journey is not finished.” Da and I spoke for awhile. Like Mom, he wanted to know about Chris. He and Chris had adored each other, and Da was so proud to be Chris’ “Numpa” as Chris called him. Da’s visit wasn’t long, but he was always one to say his piece and get it over with.
I took all of this with a grain of salt. It seemed that, after Merribuck left, my emotions flat lined. I felt no fear, no regret, no apprehension. My only emotion was of determination: If I’m going to die, in spite of what I’ve been told, I must make sure that Chris is all right. I planned my funeral, my wake, and the epitaph on my tombstone, and set about the business of putting my affairs in order. I didn’t want my son or my husband to have to deal with any more than they had to. Also, I wanted to be able to take care of my boy, even after death. However, true to my visitors’ assurances, I survived and was sent home in eight days with chronic liver failure, possibly due to a biologic I was taking for Psoriatic Arthritis.
Halloween, Thanksgiving, my 60th birthday, Christmas, New Years, all passed with me half there. I was very weak and was not recovering as everyone had hoped. On January second, I was again taken to the emergency room. This time, my doctors told me that, according to my blood tests, I should be in the morgue. You should have seen their faces when I gave them the cryptic reply, “But it isn’t October!”
Tender loving care from a group of incredible nurses, massive infusions of potassium and sundry minerals and enzymes, and the final return of my appetite (I hadn’t eaten more than four ounces a day since Thanksgiving, 2011) I was well enough to return home seven days later. Now, I began to get better. Still, I felt no emotions. I would sit for hours just staring ahead. Merribuck’s, my mother’s, and my father’s visits had left me rather numb. Intellectually I knew that I missed them more than ever now, but somehow that message never slipped down into my heart. Perhaps it wasn’t supposed to. Maybe I was supposed to concentrate on survival and not grief.
It was March. I was alone at home. My husband is a docent at a museum in Columbus, and was there conducting a tour; my son was at school. I sat, TV off, wishing to God that I could see Merribuck again, and looking outside at the tree my husband and I planted the previous summer – a tree that I thought I would never get to see grow. I gazed upon her (I always name my trees, and this one, a Royal Empress, was of course, Eleanor) and without warning my emotions came flooding back! I was filled with the most incredible joy, and I knew, I just knew, that I would see the spring – and perhaps live through another October. I wept. I wept as I hadn’t done since my very early years. I wept for the promise of life, mourned anew for Merri, Mom and Da, and rejoiced with the knowledge that I would remain with my son. Sobs wracked me to the point of making my muscles ache when I was finished, but it was a cleansing, a release, a baptism as it were.
It is now June. I can walk on my own, climb stairs, take showers, cook and eat. My weight is getting to the point where I look thin, but normal, and not unlike a concentration camp victim. My son is now 21, thriving and happy. He is studying filmology and is a sushi chef. My husband is convinced that I’m going to be okay, and has relaxed and begun to enjoy his life once more. I’ve started cooking again, something I loved to do but hadn’t the strength, and began watching Paula Deen, Ina Garten, Giada and other Food Network stars to get my ‘cooking chops’ refreshed. My son and I have just returned from the Muddy River powwow where my sister was Head Woman. Chris has taken me out to dinner and rejoiced in my returned appetite. We take walks and my husband and I have started to accept party invitations. God is good. God is very, very good.