Death, Dying, Birthdays and Suitcases

There’s nothing like sitting in a hospital on your fifty-sixth birthday, next to the bedside of your eighty year old uncle who has had a stroke and no longer responds to anything or anybody,  to put  your life in perspective.  It made me feel like a child again.  It made me feel like an old woman.  It made me feel…sad.

Uncle Frisco was my mom’s brother.  He and his ‘band of brothers,’ my uncles, helped shape the very essence of my childhood. They made being a child fun, silly, adventuresome and magical.  The stories they told my cousins and  I about themselves growing up were hilarious but born out of poverty and how they barely escaped it with any underwear on their behinds, clothes on their backs or shoes on their feet.  They could tell you a story complete with a song and dance and make up a test afterward about “Sasser” family trivia.  Believe me, I wasn’t going to get caught not knowing what Sasser had the reddest feet, which one walked with his elbows sticking out and which one of them had closed down the Tarboro public swimming pool for three days  so that the town could drain the pool after ‘you know who” had had an attack of diarrhea.  No.  That trivia and their stories were part of my family’s vestments, made sacred after years of the owning  and the telling of them.  They packed themselves into a suitcase in my mind and heart and became part of the luggage I dragged into adulthood.

The suitcase is now scratched and worn but I hike it up to the foot of Uncle Frisco’s hospital bed and pop open the old brass lock.  It opens easily and I gaze into it with the eyes of a child.  The stories are all folded neatly and packed gently in stacks like fine fabric remnants that were left over after having made special dresses.  I pull back the paper and pick up the first piece on top.

It’s as blue as the summer sky with white, billowy clouds floating without a care in the world.  “Hey Uncle Frisco, do you remember when you came to visit us and we all went up to Mount Mitchell?  I was probably only about seven years old.  We were up in the fog and mist but you said if we put out our hands, we could wash them in the clouds.  I’l never forget that day.”   I look at his face and  wonder if he even knows I’m here.  I lovingly fold it and put it back gently. I don’t want the memory to tear.

I pick up another piece of fabric and hold it up to him.  It’s tan and blue with sparkles of gold that pick up the afternoon sun as it slants in through the blinds.  “Do you remember that day at Jockey’s Ridge?  That day you and Uncle Billy raced all of us kids up the sand dune and then when we all got up there Uncle Billy told this guy we didn’t even know to get off his sand dune?  All of us kids thought that was so funny  because he acted like it was our mountain of sand.  Then you ‘challenged’ us to see how long it would take  to roll down the hill.  I don’t remember how long that took, but I bet you do.  You took our games so seriously.  I just know it took several baths to get the sand out of my hair and and other body parts.”

I pack away that memory and spend the rest of the afternoon emptying the contents of my suitcase, reminiscing favorite childhood joys with him.  He is breathing hard and he doesn’t wake up.  I close the beaten-up suitcase and put it back in my heart, where my imagination  and Uncle Frisco stay young. The room is filled with the sweet sounds of muffled love and hope as relatives slip in to visit with Leroy “Frisco” Sasser.

My mother, Ginny, and her brother...Uncle Frisco

My mother, Ginny, and her brother…Uncle Frisco

My Aunt Eleanor and my sister-cousin, Linda come in with coffee and we sit and watch his  monitors with concern. We don’t even understand what we’re looking at.  As I look at them, Frisco’s wife and his daughter, I think that love is the color of green eyes gazing at their beloved in an effort to will him back into their  present world.  If looks can kill, then surely looks can create life. Hope is a guest and has a seat in between my cousin and her mom.  They hold on to their guest for dear life but tell me a series of stories that are ethereal and golden.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Death walk in with his own suitcase.  He takes a seat as if he might stay a few days and that bothers me.  But I try to pay him no attention.  He is elegant and dressed in a black suit; quite handsome, like the way Death looks in “Meet Joe Black.”  I prefer to gaze into Hope’s face, her green eyes shining like an emerald pool on a hot day.

Linda begins her tale.  “A few weeks ago I went to bed and had a dream.  But it really wasn’t a dream…Oh, I don’t know what it was…but anyway…I went to sleep and all of a sudden, I heard Joseph’s voice.”  Joseph was her younger brother who had a heart attack and died at the age of forty-one, nine years ago.  “He said, ‘Hey Sis!  It’s Joseph, and I’m calling from Heaven…This is not a dream!  And it’s real!  This is real!'”

Linda said that she knew she was getting a ‘phone call’ from heaven. “What’s the good news?” Joseph asked her.  Immediately, Linda said that she felt a download from heaven and she just ‘knew’ that in heaven, there is no bad news. She felt flustered.  She wondered to herself, “Good news?  What IS the good news?”  Out of her inner being the answer came, without her having to think about it.  “Joseph, Daddy’s coming to see you soon.”  With that answer, Joseph began to laugh that deep belly laugh that only Joseph was known for.  Linda told him that his son, Benjamin was growing up and doing well.  That he would be proud of him .  And that was it.  She woke up and knew that she knew she had spoken with Joseph and told him to expect their Daddy soon, in heaven.

She then went on to tell about the day Uncle Frisco had surgery.  He entered the hospital to have an operation but not long afterwards, he had a stroke and began to decline.  But before he had the stroke he told them that during the surgery, he had been to heaven.  He saw all of his brothers and they looked to be about nineteen years old.  They called him ‘Frisky,’  his childhood nickname.

My grandparents, Annis and Aldritch were there too. and joy of all joys, he saw Joseph, with his Aunt Hazel and he was playing his guitar.  He told his dad, “Hey, Dad.  Linda was right!  Here you are!”  Aunt Eleanor asked him if he had seen Jesus.  He said, “Yes.  But He told me I have to go back.”

It was hard to get much out of him after that.  He slipped into a deep sleep and then had a stroke.  We wondered why Jesus would want him to come back to this world only to die in a hospital bed. Therefore, Hope and Faith took up camp in the hospital room along side Death, everyone  ignoring him, hoping he would just slink away, but he sat silently in his chair, eyes fixed on Frisco, biding his time. At one point my mother walked around the hospital bed and went over to Death, demanding that he leave.  She was upset and wondered why her friend Faith, wasn’t doing anything.  My heart was as heavy as a cement crypt.

I looked around the room.  Faith, Hope, and Death each sat firmly in their chairs.  Not a one of them was leaving.  There seemed to be a standoff. Then, as if to move things along in a timely manner, our cousin Debby, who is not prone to having spiritual dreams or visions, had a vision. She was staying at Linda’s house and early that morning, like cousins may do, she slipped into bed with Linda after Linda’s husband, Richard, had gotten up to get dressed for work.  They shivered in the cold of morning and hunkered down under the comforter, giggling like school girls having a sleep over.

Debby, got quiet and then said to Linda.  “Oh, my God.  I think I just had a vision and you know that’s not like me.”  She had Linda’s attention.  They both knew God was there in their midst, with a message.  Debby said, “I just saw our grandmother, Annis.  She was standing by the gate of Heaven and she told us to let her son Frisco go so he could come to heaven and be with her.”  Could God be saying that it was now time?

I went back and forth to the hospital for several days.  Faith and Hope were still stubbornly sitting in the room with Uncle Frisco.  Death was still sitting calmly in his chair in the corner, his suitcase by his side. I no longer brought mine. I had put it in storage, away for the time being. Faith and Hope began to eye Death, watching to see  if he would make a fast move to wrestle Uncle Frisco out of his bed but my uncle was a prisoner to this world.

Aunt Eleanor and Linda began to look over at Death, too, wondering if he was more of a savior than a captor. Death looked at his watch and we all became aware that time was slowing down in the room. There was no anxiety or feeling of helplessness coming from those seated around Uncle Frisco’s bed. It was then that I noticed that Love was the boss of it all. Love was directing Faith and Hope, but the biggest surprise of all was that it controlled Death. Death was not our enemy. He too was there under the instructions from Love.

Every dream, phone call and vision was from Love. Every emotion was motivated by Mister Love. Love was glowing in the room.  I have never shared a birthday with such a wonderful cast of characters as I did that day in the hospital with Uncle Frisco. I believe that Love gave me the best birthday present a girl could get…a suitcase full of memories, a glimpse of my loved ones in Heaven and best of all…I got to see Faith and Hope  pick up Death’s suitcase and walk with Uncle Frisco out of this world. Love is a powerful thing!

Here’s your song…one of Frisco’s favorites….enjoy!


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cora Brickey Varvell
    Feb 03, 2013 @ 21:51:11

    Wow I so enjoyed reading this and the insight of Love was so good. Sorry for your loss and Heaven’s Gain.


  2. Gina Cova
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 08:11:52

    Thank you Donna for sharing this experience with us. I have also seen Mr.Death on several occansions due to my career. I have seen him looking as a peaceful angel all glowing and shiny, I have seen him solemn in his black suit. Always there is a peace about him. Once he waited and gave a man one more chance to tell his wife that he loved her and everything would be ok. I had to look twice that day to make sure I could finish and get his arrangements made. You are right, he is always accopanied by love who sicks around for a bit to help the families left behind. Thank youfor sharing with always..I know your family in heaven is having a good ole time right now.. Happy Birthday..


    • themuseinme
      Feb 04, 2013 @ 14:45:24

      I believe that’s why Uncle Frisco was allowed a few more days. He was able to tell us who he saw in Heaven and it was a comfort for the family and confirmed it was time for him to go. Love you Gina.


  3. Carmen
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 14:33:07

    So beautiful. Anyone who reads this must know that death is our transportation to see Jesus. Donna, you personify so beautifully. Miss you and Bill so much!!


  4. Carolina Carol
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 15:55:55

    Oh Donna … how beautifully expressed. I have recently been at the bedside of someone that I have loved for a long time who had suffered a severe stroke. I have also lost two friends this past week. As I read your words, I find great comfort. Death is not necessarily our enemy. He is the instead the gatekeeper to the end of suffering, the finish line of a life well lived and the precursor to eternal life. Thanks for your beautiful glimpse of departure amidst a circle of love 🙂


    • themuseinme
      Feb 06, 2013 @ 19:49:05

      Thanks, Carol. I saw on Face Book that you had ‘lost’ some friends this week and I thought of you as I published this blog. Glad it comforted you. As we and our loved ones grow older, I’m finding I’m in that circle of love more and more!


  5. Isaaca
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 16:45:17

    Momma, this was so beautifully written! Love it.


  6. Laura Mayo
    Feb 07, 2013 @ 21:45:17

    Please write a book…it would be lovely. Love to you from France 🙂


    • themuseinme
      Feb 09, 2013 @ 04:53:25

      Hi Laura! Thanks for the kind words. I would love to write a book one day. Right now, I have so many bits and pieces folded up in my mind, that if I wrote it now it would be a patch work quilt. I just need some seams to piece it together! Hopefully, I will get some and get busy writing. I do enjoy it!

      It’s wonderful to hear from you and WoW! My first comment from France! Thanks for making me international! 😉 I think of you and Blake and the kids often and wonder how you guys are faring in that beautiful, magical country. Are you learning the language yet? I took three years of French in high school and I always promised myself I’d go there one day. If I do, you can take me sight seeing! I know you guys are on a great adventure and that everyday God shows you something amazing! Don’t forget a single thing that happens as you and your family leave your footprints in France. I love you!


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