My Mother’s Last Phone Call

I had never believed in ghost or spirits or anything like that until my mother came to me after she died.

Actually she called. From New York.

new_york_skyline-wideA heavy smoker, my mother had suffered from multi-infarct dementia for almost a decade.  The last time I had heard that voice, she was speaking soft Russian baby talk, having returned to her first language. It was strange but oddly comforting because she was in a mental hospital for observation, yet as calm and affable as a hostess at a party trying to put an awkward guest at ease.

The deep smoker’s voice I remembered speaking many languages besides Russian when I grew up became more and more distant over that decade she was ill. I missed talking to her, which was deeply ironic, because my mother was such a voluble, excited, intelligent talker that she often ignored whether you were interested in what she was saying.

Opinionated and extremely well-read, she didn’t just love the sound of her voice, she reveled in the workings of her own mind. She was like Katharine Hepburn who once told an interviewer that she didn’t drink, “Because cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating.”  And she had that actress’s steely determination.

katharine-hepburn-9She was also a fierce believer in my talent as a writer who never got to see my career take off. Perhaps most bitterly for me, the woman who had been reading mysteries for as long as I could remember succumbed to her dementia before she could read even one of mine.

I didn’t miss the conversational juggernaut my mother could sometimes be, but I missed her voice. And then I heard it again. I was in Michigan in bed and the beige retro phone by my bed rang around 3 AM. “Cookie?” It was one of my mother’s childhood nicknames for me, and I hadn’t heard her use it since I was in elementary school.

retro desk phone“Mom, is that you?” I repeated it several times until she said “I’m all right.” Then she hung up.

The phone rang again. This time it was my brother telling me that our mother had died a little while ago.  “I know,” I said sleepily. “She just called me.” He didn’t ask what I meant, though later he told me how disappointed he was that she hadn’t spoken to him after she died since he was one of her caretakers, so I assume he believed my story.

Right after my brother’s call, I couldn’t figure out if I’d been dreaming, or if somehow she had actually called me, or if I’d been dreaming and she had entered my dream. Whatever really happened, the shock of her being dead was assuaged by the fact that I more and more believed she had in some way reached out to me from somewhere to comfort me. Better still, she had given me a precious gift: the sound of her voice.

Now, you could say that my mother was ill and had been in a rapid decline for weeks, so this was nothing more than a wish fulfillment dream, just my longing to be in touch with her one more time. You could say that my subconscious created the illusion of the call to make accepting her death easier, and that I was easily persuaded because I wanted to be connected to her.

But I wouldn’t.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books ranging from memoir to mystery and you can find them on Amazon.

17 thoughts on “My Mother’s Last Phone Call”

  1. I’m in tears. Of course she called. I totally believe that. My mom – also a huge reader – also died before my first book was published and never got to read any of my work. Lovely essay Lev! We were lucky to have them.

    • Yes we were. To have someone believe in you so fiercely is a gift beyond measure. It takes you very far.

  2. Lev,
    Have you ever tried to type through tears? Not easy…
    Thank you for sharing the most special gift your Mother gave to you. I’m sure she has read each and every book and article you have ever published and is qvelling about this
    one as well.
    May her memory be a blessing.

    • Thanks for your response. She died in 1999 and I still miss her. It’s not an open wound anymore, but an ache. I don’t believe in “closure” for everything. I think that’s artificial and everyone needs something different.

  3. I am certain the call was real. I have had too many similar experiences to doubt you. My mother passed away on June 7th in 1998, so right around this time I get highly emotional, even after all this time. Our last conversation while she was alive was on the phone late at night. She called for some minor medical advice regarding pain relief for a bee sting she had received earlier in the day, I advised her and we talked for a few more minutes before hanging up. I had a strong urge to drive to her house and spend the night, but talked myself out of it. The next morning I called to see how she was, but she did not answer. Nor did she answer the many times I called throughout the day. In the afternoon, I called one of my sisters to go over and check on her. I worked long hours at that time and was beginning to worry. Mother was found crumpled on the floor near the phone. They guessed that she had suffered a massive stroke shortly after our conversation and remained in a coma for nearly a week before passing. My father, who had passed away a couple of years before that, visited me on occasion, /the next visit she came with him. They were very happy in heaven (whatever that is, I get the feeling it is different than we think) and visited a few more times. The last time I saw my mother was in a dream. She wanted to show me and my siblings her new art studio. We followed her up some stone steps and came into her studio that had windows on every side. To the west was the sea, to the east forest, to the south desert, and to the north snow covered mountains. “It is whatever I need it to be,” she told us. Her paintings were amazing, better even than in life. Then I woke up and haven’t seen her since, but sometimes feel her presence. So, no, I don’t discount your experience. There is so much we don’t know or understand. Isn’t that a wonderful thing.

    • Beth, I felt her presence very strongly for six months after she died and once I heard her voice “Don’t get on that plane!” it turned out to be the second worst flying experience I had in thirty+ years. I had no way of knowing it myself in advance. But I also couldn’t have cancelled it.

      Thanks for sharing your own stories. This is day for remembrance for many of us.

  4. Beautiful essay Lev. I believe she spoke to you and I think it the mechanics of the exchange reallly mater. My father has come to me three or four times since he died in 2000. There’s no question for me – I am certain of it. And I’m with you on closure. I don’t believe in it — or haven’t experienced it with any of the losses in my life. Time has healed and softened the acute pain, though, and I am grateful for that.

  5. Oh, my, how amazing, Lev. I love that she called you Cookie. No doubt it was her. What a wonderful memory to have. My mother’s body failed her, but her mind was sharp until she passed away at 92. My brother had been looking after her when she lived in her own house near Cleveland, Ohio, but when her health declined and she needed more care, she moved to assisted living just a 1/2 mile from me. I visited her daily, schlepped her to doctors and shopping, and then later, hooked her oxygen tank to her wheelchair and pushed her into town and to the park. She loved when I brought my corgi with me. One afternoon we sat along Paint Creek and saw a muskrat run through the weeds, a heron swoop down low along the water, and a momma duck and 3 ducklings. She was a big baseball fan, so we watched the Tigers (she liked Victor Martinez). I am forever grateful to the heart doctor who was bold enough to give a 91 year old woman a pacemaker, because it gave her one wonderful year that we could spend together. She died in 2013.

    • You’re so lucky that doctor was willing to take the risk of surgery on someone elderly, and that you had a wonderful last year.

  6. The “how” isn’t what matters. It’s the experience. You definitely experienced it and no one can take that from you. And in that way, in your way and her way, it is special. Hang on to that. Going back to it, whether on Mother’s Day or any other day of the year should remind you that you were connected individuals through love and experiences. Let that thought continue to remind you of her, of her attributes, of her calling you Cookie, and of her calling you.

    Those are the best experiences to write about because those are the best experiences to happen to us.

    • She was dramatic in her lifetime and dramatic as she left life. I’m grateful that she gave me this last, marvelous memory of her. Well, there were some postcripts….but that’s another blog. 🙂

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