One Last Hug Before I Go

CaileyAnne Lydia, sitting on her shelf, wearing my grandmother's necklaces.

CaileyAnne Lydia, sitting on her shelf, wearing my grandmother’s necklaces.

“Never wait until tomorrow to hug someone you could hug today.” ~ Author Unknown

In the early 1990’s, when my grandmother was still alive, Frank, Arlaraye and I would always go and visit her. She lived in Madison, Wisconsin in an assisted living type home and she always enjoyed having company and looking forward to our visits. My grandfather lived there, too, until the time he passed in 1984. One day while almost there, we saw a yard sale, so we decided to stop and took a look around. A woman was selling a baby doll that when you squeezed its hands, feet and belly, it would say different sayings. The woman told us that it wasn’t in the stores, as it was a prototype of sorts. Arla was about 3 years old at the time and, as you can imagine, she fell in love with the doll instantly, so we bought it for her. We had named the doll CaileyAnne Lydia. If I ever had another baby daughter, I had plans to name her CaileyAnne Lydia. I thought the name was beautiful. Arla played with her new doll all the time, pretending it was her own baby, and she brought it everywhere we went.

Over the years, as Arla grew older, interest in playing with the doll became less and less. As you can imagine, CaileyAnne Lydia ended up at the bottom of the toy box, or under her bed, even our dog, Kassy, played with her for a while, tossing her around and playing fetch with her. CaileyAnne Lydia’s hair had become all ratty, resembling dreadlocks that lay on the top of her head and her clothes were worn and dirtied. It was apparent that CaileyAnne Lydia had surely seen better days. Arla eventually outgrew playing with baby dolls; therefore, it was time to make a toy donation to Goodwill. Sitting in Arla’s room, I started picking through her many toys, figuring out what should stay and what should be donated. Tossing CaileyAnne Lydia into the box to give to Goodwill, I contemplated on actually giving the doll away. Looking at the doll as she lay helplessly in the bottom of the box amongst other dolls, stuffed animals and old McDonald Happy Meal toys, I didn’t have the heart to donate the doll to Good Will. She was such a unique baby doll that held a special place in my heart, mostly because we bought her on one of our many trips while visiting granny. Snatching her quickly out of the box, I decided to keep CaileyAnne Lydia as a memento, reminding me of the great times in Wisconsin. My intentions were to pack her away safely in Arla’s keepsake baby box, which held other special items from the day Arla was born. However, instead, I placed the doll up on the shelf in my bedroom, where she sat, for many years, collecting dust.

In 2001, my mother had a blood clot that traveled from her leg to her heart, where she was admitted to the hospital, placed on life support, where a machine was breathing life for her. At 62 years old, she was brain-dead. On September 14, three days after the 9/11 attacks, my brothers and I had made the decision to take mom off life support, ending her life. The hospital chaplain gave mom her last rights, blessings her and saying the Lord’s Prayer over her. It was an emotional time, as I wasn’t sure how to take my feelings… was I sad, did I not care? It didn’t help matters that the 9/11 events were taking place in the background of our lives. My heart and mind were so confused at the time. We didn’t have a wake or funeral for mom; her wishes were simply to be cremated.

A couple of days after my mom had passed away, my thoughts were still with mom. I had such mixed emotions about my grieving. There were times that I was angry, disappointed and even relieved, but then there were times that I was completely heartbroken. The day that mom had passed, while leaving the hospital with mixed emotions, I remember asking for a sign. I believed in signs and welcomed anything. A sign that everything would be okay, that mom would be okay, that I would be okay. As Frank parked the truck to run into a store, I noticed that there was a huge Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign above my head. PBR was my grandfather’s beer of choice and I took it as a sign that grandpa was there, greeting, accepting mom as she passed over, giving me the sign I asked for.

I had received many sympathy cards from friends and family, even a couple of cards from mom’s friends at the assisted living home where she stayed called, The Lawrence House. After viewing the cards, I tucked them all into a folder, where I filed them away in my desk drawer. I had decided to go to bed, as the evening had gotten late. The day had been another long one and I was ready to get a good night’s sleep. The kids were already in bed and Frank had gone up to bed about an hour before me. Making sure the doors were locked and all was safe, I ascended the stairs to my bedroom. The only sounds I heard were coming from the fan, as it hummed in the background, along with Frank’s customary snoring keeping in tune with every breath he took. I was still emotional over all the events that had happened in those past couple of days; our country being attacked, seeing my brother, Jeff, for the first time in years and, of course, mom’s death. I didn’t know if I should continue crying or if I should be relieved that it was all over with. I noticed that my strongest thoughts were when I was alone, having time to think, deciphering every detail of the events that took place.

Making my way to the top of the stairs, I entered my bedroom to get ready for bed, peeling off my clothes as I walked further and further into my bedroom… blouse here, bra there, tossing them onto the floor. As I walked by my sitting area, taking off the remainder of my clothes, it was at that moment that I was forced to stop. Standing there and not being able to move, like a deer caught in headlights, I heard something that I will never forget. I immediately turned to my left, as I looked up at where the voice was coming from. There, sitting high on the shelf in my bedroom, sat CaileyAnne Lydia, the doll that I rescued from the Goodwill box. As if on cue, she called out aloud, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” The voice was prominent, demanding and definitely pierced my body with a fearfulness that left me petrified. Standing there unable to move, I turned my head to the right, where I saw Frank sleeping in bed. Calling Frank’s name, with a slight whisper to my voice, almost as if I didn’t want the doll to hear me, I tried summoning Frank awake. Calling Frank’s name a second time, I realized that he was completely in Sandman Land. I walked away from my sitting area and quickly put my nightgown on. Walking over to the bed, I shook Frank’s foot, trying to rustle him out of his deep sleep, but it was no use, he was completely out. All of a sudden, I was afraid to be alone. I hopped into bed quite quickly and snuggled up very closely to Frank, almost as if I was seeking protection. I lay there in the darkness, studying the silence of the air, almost contemplating if I actually heard what I thought I did. That doll had been sitting on my bedroom shelf for years and, not once, did that doll ever talk. Someone has to physically squeeze her arm, her foot or even pressing down on her belly in order to make her talk. Why now? Why did she speak those words just at that moment as I entered the room? I continue to lie there, listening, waiting for the doll to repeat herself, to say something else, but she never did.

Upon waking the next morning, I couldn’t wait to share my chilling story with Frank and how it scared me so much that I burrowed myself so close to him as if I was tick in a dog’s backside. I shared with him every detail that took place, every word that was spoken and, without hesitation, he said to me, “That was your mother talking to you!” Considerng the thought, I told him that I didn’t even think of that. However, the more I thought about it, the more I had convinced myself that, perhaps, my mom did make it to the other side, telling me that she made it to her final destination, heaven. I had a sense of comfort wash over me and was thankful for another “sign.”

Several days had passed since I heard that fateful plea from the baby doll that sat calmly on my shelf. Immediately upon entering my bedroom, my eyes would always settle on CaileyAnne Lydia, as she stared back at me, smiling, almost as if she was happy to see me. I was still in wonder how the doll was able to talk by herself that evening when there was nobody around initiating her to. Could it have been the spirits of my mother talking?

“There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~Mother Teresa

It was the weekend and I was looking forward to enjoying the last warm days of summer. Mom always hated the warmer weather; I thrived on it and, personally, the warmer the better. There’s something about sitting out on a late summer evening and knowing there’s no commitments that lie ahead of me. A sense of calmness took over, as I sat watching the stars above me, as they winked hello. Thinking about my mother, I wondered if she was up there looking down on me, her grandchildren, and her family. I began talking to her, asking if she had settled in, asking if she was happy. As I pictured mom with grandpa, laughing, dancing, being completely happy and content, I suddenly felt tears sliding down my cheek. Sitting back, I could feel the slight breeze brushing against my skin, drying my tears, relaxing me even more. I could smell the evening’s dampness in the air as it laid a blanket of wetness over the grass. I closed my eyes and listened to the cicada’s buzzing in the trees, dancing themselves and singing for their mates. Enjoying my last glass of wine for the evening, I took a deep breath, taking it all in.

Meditating on the sky, I soon realized that the evening had since turned into early morning hours and I felt I had better get myself to bed. Bringing Kassy in with me, we both began our nightly ritual. Hopping on the couch and twirling twice around, Kassy lands, finding her comfort spot in the corner, where she soon passed out. I was hoping to do the same in a few short moments, as the night air had made me very sleepy. Climbing the stairs to my bedroom, the tradition began, as I heard Frank snoring, practically humming right along with the cicadas that I just left moments before. As I was about to turn off the overhead light, I heard the same request as I did just days before, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” Once more, my eyes drifted up to the doll on the shelf. I stood there waiting for it to go off a second time, almost challenging it to speak again, but the doll remained silent. With my fingers resting upon the light switch, I flipped off the light, only to say a few words of my own, “Good night mom, I love you.”

“What is soul? It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room.” ~Ray Charles

Even though granny was moved to a nursing home in Portage, Wisconsin, Frank, the kids and I still made our trips up to see her. She loved it when we would come up and visit with her, one time even bringing Kassy with us. It was almost as if Kassy sensed something, as Kassy lay contently at granny’s side, never leaving her, resting her head upon granny’s feet the whole time we were there. Sadly, this was the last time we were ever to visit granny. On July 17, 2003, I received a call from the nursing home, letting me know that my grandmother had suddenly passed away. Hanging up the phone with the nursing home, I was completely devastated. Granny was my world. She was the mother that I never had and she was the last family member to leave me. Suddenly, I felt so alone. As it once did for my grandfather, my heart now ached for the passing of my grandmother. Granny passed away from cardiac arrhythmia while eating dinner. I was told that fried chicken was on the menu that evening and we all knew how much granny loved her chicken. Cardiac arrhythmia is when your heart beats irregularly. That evening, granny’s heart decided to stop. Her heart was tired, as it was beating for over 83 years. I found myself once again, making a phone call to my brother, Steve, informing him that another family member had died.

Arriving back home from granny’s funeral services, I felt as if my heart was going to completely break in half from heartache. No more weekly phone calls to granny, no more visits, and no more letters and cards. When Arla was a little baby, I use to write granny letters, pretending they came from Arla. Granny would get a laugh from the letters as “Arla” would talk about her day, having to eat the nasty baby peas that I made her eat or Arla sharing with granny about taking long naps, playing with her toys or pulling the cat’s tail as he walked by. After a while, I believed granny actually thought these letters were written by Arla. Thankfully, I kept a copy of every one of them. These were the memories that I was going to miss so dearly. I was tired of having death around me, always coming to me. I was tired of always being the communicator, the deliverer of bad news, informing others of someone’s death… my grandfather’s, my uncle’s, my mother’s and now my grandmother’s. I was tired of being the messenger. Nevertheless, as I sat there crying, I realized that there were no more deaths to report. I had lost the last blood relative that was so very important to me.

I had an emptiness in my heart; a sunken hole that became deeper and deeper with every family member that I lost. I found my list of people who I prayed to in heaven getting longer and longer as each one passed away becoming angels. Instead of asking God to protect them in my world, I was now asking these angles to protect me in mine.

One afternoon, almost a week after granny had passed, I had the whole house to myself. Frank took Arla and Tanner out for the day, which left me some time to do a few things around the house. I welcomed the quietness that surrounded me, being therapeutic; it was almost as if my mind needed the serenity. Finishing laundry, I brought my clothes upstairs to my bedroom. As I had done in the past, my eyes drifted toward CaileyAnne Lydia, making contact with the doll that sat motionless on the shelf. I sat the laundry basket down to put my clothes away and, as tradition continued, I heard nothing other than a familiar voice. It was at that moment that I heard, once again, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” All I thought was… here we go again! Looking around, I recognized that I was the only one in the room, as there was no sleeping Frank snoring away in bed, no humming of the fan. I now stood a few feet away from the doll, smiling up at her as I looked directly at her face. Why is she only talking when I enter the room, why not Frank? Walking up to her, taking a closer look at the shelf that she rested upon, I started hitting the shelf and the wall, trying to make her talk to me. I thought, perhaps, the vibration of me entering the room every time was what was setting her off.

I continued as I banged away at the shelf, kicking the wall, making every effort to get her to ask me to pick her up and hold her tight, but no matter how hard I hit, she just wouldn’t talk, she wasn’t saying a word. I sat down, wondering what else I could do to make this doll talk. I slowly walked up to the shelf and, standing before CaileyAnne Lydia, I shook her ever so gently… nothing. I took a long look into her eyes, studying her. At that moment, it became apparent what I needed to do. Sliding her off the shelf, I took her, embracing her, bringing her close to my heart. It was then that I continued to pick her up and held her tight. I finally did what the doll asked. As I held the doll tightly in my arms, I thought, perhaps, it was my mother, who needed that one last hug before saying good-bye before she had to go. I continued to cradle her and, with one last hug, I gently placed her back on the shelf.

“Sometimes it’s better to put love into hugs than to put it into words”. ~ Author Unknown

The last time I heard from the doll was a few years ago. I was in my bedroom getting ready for work, ironing my clothes for the day. There was a horrible summer storm that morning, with pouring rain that pelted against the windows, loud thunder and vicious lightning that struck dangerously against the skies above me. I always hated lightning and have always been deathly afraid of it. Arla and Tanner walked to school and, even though their school was only a few houses away, I was getting concerned about them walking to school in such horrible weather. As this thought came to mind… should I drive the kids to school, the doll went off… “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” All I thought was… you decide to talk to me now?! It’s not the right time! Not giving it a second thought, I continued ironing my clothes for work. All of a sudden, a lightning bolt slapped against the sky with such force, that it lit up my entire bedroom. It rattled me to the point where I lost my breath. Again, my thoughts brought me back to Arla and Tanner, asking quietly to myself if I should put them in the truck and drive them the short distance, delivering them safely to the school’s front door. As if on cue, I heard the doll chime in a second time, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” Listening to my inner voice and accepting the sign that was set before me, I paid attention to the doll, who was resting upon the shelf. That morning, I drove Arla and Tanner to school.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Regrettably, I haven’t heard from CaileyAnne Lydia since. She no longer resides on my bedroom shelf and she has since retired to a room that we call the “Antique Room” adjacent to my bedroom. She rests comfortably with a ragdoll, whose name is Trudy, that was handmade by my grandmother’s sister, Gertrude back in the early 1970’s. There, they both sit together keeping each other company, sitting directly underneath the framed 1930’s wedding dress that once belonged and worn by Frank’s mom, Bubby, whose real name by the way happens to be Anne Lydia.

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