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The Temple of All Knowing is a memoir of one woman’s passage from personal and professional turmoil to spiritual awakening. A compelling straight forward and sometimes humorous account of the most personal of journeys as this 40-something woman finds herself in Sin City with promise of a new life, new husband and elderly mother living with her. She instead is uncovered as a central character in the deepest of possible challenges only to break through to discover her authentic spiritual self through a near death experience and a personal mission in Soul City – Las Vegas.
The phone rang; it was Delphine. It was a Sunday afternoon early 2008. I took the call and moved to the denim-covered glider that was in my 3-year old son’s room to have the conversation.
My sister calling was not odd, but she opened with “Can you talk? I have an urgent message from Aunt Beatrice.”
My sister practices meditation in which she regularly communicates with Spirit beings and our dead relatives. In everyday conversation, Delphine would mention things like, “I spoke to Dad or Uncle John …” (both had passed), and relate a story or an emotional healing process she went through while receiving the communication. I thought this was amazing and believed in the possibility, when Delphine, or De for short, would discuss this other worldly messaging.
I would find myself having an internal dialogue debating if she was actually making this connection or was she delusional. When she would speak of something that she “received” from the Spirit world, and I would come to realize she could not have otherwise known, a fleeting twinge of jealousy peaked in the window of my subconscious. Could she really be speaking with Dad and Aunt Bea? And if she is, how come SHE is the one with this ability? I was not proud of it, but I was most definitely questioning the decision of the Universe to have Delphine be the messenger of heaven.
My sister was not the one of the three of us girls whom you would consider to be the “good” one or the most religious growing up, but actually to the contrary. She would have been described as the Bull in the China Shop by my mother, as the one most apt to finger point or cause trouble. Sophia, the eldest, had the first born light shining upon her by my mother and father, even though, she was what some would consider a problem child for she pushed the envelope of life in so many ways. Her antics included jumping out of the 2nd story building of our private high school to skipping class and developing the first female tackle football team in her teenage years, to much more complicated and explorative behaviors that provided my parents with reasons to call on prayer and saintly assistance.
Delphine was the quiet one as the middle child of our youth, until she found her voice later in her teens. She was often over-shadowed by the exuberance and manipulation of Sophia when she was being used as a co-conspirator for our eldest sister’s secretive escapades of the 1970s. When I came around, my role of the “baby of the family” was not always appreciated by my older sisters, and as I matured, the less they liked this pedestal I was propped up on as “the good one.”
How is she doing it? I thought. How is De getting these messages from Aunt Bea?
My elderly Aunt Bea had died more than 10 years earlier while in the presence of my mother, my sister, Delphine, one of my older female cousins, and me in the living room of our family home. I had lived in that house from the time I was born until I got married to my first husband, Anthony, at age 20.
Our house was a 3 bedroom, middle class row home in Baltimore City, Maryland. The 12 by 12 foot front room, where I grew up and where we watched TV programs on the console television that offered just three major stations for your viewing enjoyment. Although the room was small, when we were little and the family piled in to watch Sonny & Cher, it felt huge. As the entry room to our family home, I experienced most of my fond memories there. This is where we opened our Christmas gifts under our decorated 5-foot Frasier fir tree that stood seemingly tall, as if it could reach the stars on a wooden platform, to set the stage for this holiday focal point. In reality, the Christmas tree was no taller than the height I currently stand.
Christmas was a very special time in our Catholic family. Not overly religious, mind you, but the whole Santa Clause phenomenon was beautifully orchestrated with all the mystery and wonder that a child could hope to receive. The Christmas tree was secretly stored in the basement well of the stairs until we kids were all asleep and then my parents would work through the night to make a spectacular show of lights and hand-wrapped presents from old paper bags and twine adorned with our names scribbled on by “elves.” This was a tradition handed down from my mother’s family who grew up during the depression and fancy wrapping paper was a luxury. Christmas was magical!
After my parents would signal that Santa had indeed arrived, my sister Sophia and I would rush down the stairs to witness the light show of the tree, and we would tear through our presents leaving no time for individual gift lingering. Delphine, on the other hand, was not so quick; instead, she would slowly and methodically use her scissors to gently unwrap each gift with all the appreciation of an unwrapped Tiffany blue box that none of us had ever experienced. Later as we became adults, Delphine would prop herself preciously on the couch, and while filing her nails, would direct me to the spots on the tree that were missing lights and Christmas balls.
This is the same living room where my nature-loving father would let our hamster out of the cage while directing us three children to lie on the floor and make a circular barrier with our arms. That little chubby, furry rodent was a family pet, and we loved him. My dad loved animals, so we had a bunch of them from Dutch rabbits, to hamsters, cats, and frogs – but never a dog. My mother was afraid of dogs. The hamster outing was strategically orchestrated during the time of my mother’s weekly visit to the Farmers Market in downtown Baltimore across from the corner row house where she grew up, and where several of her sisters still lived. Mom would not have tolerated such nonsense and activity on her prized oriental rug. This was the room where my Aunt Bea allowed me to lie down on the sofa when I was a child, and she would stroke my head and rub my back until I would fall asleep. She had such a loving and confident manner. I always felt safe with her.
My mother’s side of the family was the most involved and influential in our lives, especially Aunt Bea. She was the family matriarch, our lifeline and leader. She was loving, intelligent, strong, certainly had her opinions, some may say controlling ones, but if it weren’t for her emotional and financial support, we and her sisters’ and brother’s families would not have had as many essentials provided for and certainly not any niceties.
She was a savvy businesswoman, so deferring to her made sense. For her era, Aunt Bea was super cool and open minded, rising to heights in her profession at C&P Telephone Company when women were just starting to be acknowledged in the workforce. She was a petite woman with an incredible sense of style and pep in her step that oozed confidence and excitement for the possibilities of life. It also made it difficult to walk with her as she was down the block before you had taken your first step. Aunt Bea never married, but made her siblings’ families her own. Sometimes the involvement would have been considered today as “too much.” There is usually a price to pay when you are being rescued. But I loved her and I thought she was amazing, just as my mother did. Aunt Bea was my mother’s best friend.
Aunt Bea believed in reincarnation before it was an accepted concept to consider openly, as this was the 1950s and 60s when my sisters and I were born. We were raised in a devout Catholic family, and such things were not dinner topics, nor was it on our radar at that time.
As easily as it was for me to pull up these cherished memories, it was the hope and promise that communication could continue from beyond death.
There was something about witnessing the passing of my cherished aunt in my family living room, with all the whispered memories of the past that seemed oddly normal. Not that this sort of thing ever happened before or since, in my presence or in my home, but there was a natural feeling about it. We are born, we live, and then we die.
I found the manner of those surrounding this process akin to a physiological experiment of human nature. It is fascinating how people react around those who are dying. Different personality types react differently as, of course, they would, but to experience it firsthand was somewhat of an emotional study. There are some who see this as a sacred space and whisper and dote on the laboring body. Yet, there are those who manage stressful situations by joking and laughing and breaking the somber atmosphere with quips. There are those who embellish their role in the caretaking and the history and relationship with the dying to make it more impactful. And as days, weeks, years pass, the story may change – just as the recollection of this experience for me, many years later holds a different value than that of the immediate experience.
The final stages of the passing of a loved one, in the physical state that my aunt was in can take any length of time. She was elderly. My mother’s mother and those of her sisters and brother who had died were in their 80s and 90s. Our family not only has great genes, but growing up I was surrounded by holistic methods to wellness.
Vitamins, Cod Liver Oil and Apple Cider Vinegar were staples in our house growing up. You would have never found a soda pop or sugar cereal for miles around our family. Although as children, we felt like oddballs, our parents did us a great service.
Now as a witness to the process of my aunt’s decline, I found it difficult as she had been such a healthy, vital woman for so long. The caretaking of this shadow of the once vibrant being took a physical and emotional toll on my mother and others assisting, which is understandable, especially when you have no idea when the process will stop. I suspect an internal war of guilt can arise from those caring for the dying. Being in the pre-mourning stage with a loved one in their final days can be an extraordinary example of loving service, and yet, over time, the feeling of exhaustion and emotional weight is begging to be released by the passing of the individual. I wonder what the person dying is feeling or thinking?
My role was small. I was not there a lot, managing my young marriage and a full-time job, but what I do remember is a feeling that my aunt was just getting through the process of allowing her body to let go. Many times the family caretakers and visitors were in the kitchen speaking loudly and often exuberantly laughing and joking, only 2 rooms away, but in a small row house this is easily just 15 steps. One time, it apparently annoyed my fading aunt to the degree that she yelled out for them to stop, with enough force to be heard. This had been surprising for one so physically weak that it startled us. Although, in line with her personality, her willpower was strong and she wanted to be acknowledged. She got her point across.
As my mother, Delphine, and I surrounded the hospital bed, each of us had our hands on Aunt Bea as a way to comfort her. As I previously noted, Mom and Aunt Bea were best friends, and this was very hard for my already aging mother. Mom was close on the left side of her so that she could whisper lovingly, and my sister and I were on the right of her holding her hand as she labored and struggled to release her body. The rattling got worse, and the emotion in all of us began to seep up as Aunt Bea took her last breath letting out a sigh that told us she was gone.
Being in the presence of someone taking their last breath of life is a very intimate and precious experience to be allowed to share. I realize this as I have gotten older and feel honored by my aunt for allowing it. I think this is why many dying people wait for their loved ones, who hold vigil over their passing body, to take a potty break or retire for the evening to transition and release their physical vehicle in private.
“Did you hear me?” Delphine pulled me back to the present.
As I return to my sister’s phone call, it was out of the ordinary that Delphine began with, “Can you talk?” Typically my sister doesn’t wait past the first syllables of hello before she enthusiastically starts her end of the conversation, that quiet contemplative child had transformed into the Lioness of her zodiac sign. But this time was different.
“I have an urgent message for you!” she said. Once again, this is not the typical conversation starter.
I pulled myself back to the conversation and responded reluctantly, “Okay, what is it?”
I love my sister who is three years my senior, although we have not always been close. Actually, more often than not, we are not talking. We go through short periods of understanding and communication and then falling out and not speaking for long periods of time. This is mostly associated with old wounds that cannot get healed – an intolerance of the differences in personality and what we choose to focus our attentions on. We mostly have different perspectives on the same situation, and we are mostly intolerant of each other’s perspectives.
My family has always thrived on drama and trauma. It is almost as if there are another set of veins running through us that feed off of the drama as a way to thrive. Although we have discussed the “need of drama” amongst ourselves and, try as we might to push it away, it rears its ugly presence more often than not. Just like with everyone, it all boils down to our perceptions. Two people involved in a situation, yet there are two ways to view it.
During this stage of acceptance, we were in communication and almost at a level of appreciation for each other’s idiosyncrasies and unique oddities as something to be celebrated. Okay, I said almost! We did have the same sense of humor. When one of us got the other going, there were most definitely forthcoming tears of laughter. This annoyed my mother at times because it felt like a private joke but, in fact, it was not private at all, it was just silliness. I love that about my sister.
“I was speaking with Aunt Bea …” Delphine interrupted my thoughts, “Aunt Bea told me that you need to slowww down and take care of yourself, or you are headed for a big fall.”
A “Big Fall” was emphasized. I have no idea if Delphine was embellishing here, as Whoopi Goldberg’s character stressed in Ghost when speaking to Demi Moore’s character: (“Molly, you in danger, girl!) Or was De quoting my aunt directly?