The National Catholic Review
Theresa Furlow
My pager went off at 5 p.m., just after my husband and I had come home from work. I called the long-term care facility where I was the director of nurses. The receptionist told me to call immediately the emergency room of one of our local hospitals. When I asked for the nurse who had left the message, the secretary said, Are you the daughter of Florence Fidler? I said I was. She said, with urgency in her voice, You need to come to the hospital right now. I asked if my mother was all right. No, came the answer. I turned around to my husband and said, Oh, Ted, my mother is dead.

My parents, who were in their early 80’s, had moved to a senior community one-half mile from my home the previous year. For the past few years, they had been requiring more of my assistance. Although they still lived independently, there were some things they simply were not able to do themselves. My mom was in good physical shape but was becoming a little forgetful. My dad, very sharp mentally, was less able to function physically. But together they filled in each other’s gaps and were doing reasonably well. My mom still drove in the neighborhoodshort trips to the grocery store, the pharmacy and the like. This was usually their outing for the day.

I took them to their doctors’ appointments, not only because we all enjoyed those outings but because I wanted more information than they would remember to ask for. I also took my mother shopping to the mall, because it was a little farther than we thought she should be driving. Then, on Nov. 20, for whatever reason, they decided to drive to the mall nearer their previous home in another city. On the way home, my mom made a left-hand turn into traffic, and they were broadsided by a van. She was killed outright. My dad ended up in the intensive care unit with serious injuries.

After arriving at the hospital and talking to the staff and my dad, I had to make the hardest phone call of my life. I had to notify my brother, Paul, of our mother’s death. Paul is an entertainer in Las Vegas, and ordinarily would have left for work before the time I called. I expected to leave a message for him to call me. But as luck would have it, he answered the phone. Although I was not completely ready to say the words, I told him that our mother was dead. He was quiet on the other end. I reported what I knew about the accident, and we cried together over the telephone. Then he said, I have to work tonight. I don’t have anyone I can call in at this late hour to cover for me. I will call you in the morning to discuss what we need to do next.

He called the following morning. I gave him an update on Dad, who was holding his own. I asked how he had done the night before. (When people say the show must go on, they’re certainly talking about my brother.) He told me it had been really hard but that he made it through the evening. The preparations he had to do for the act helped distract him.

Then my brother recounted a most extraordinary story. He is the bad guy in the Medieval Times show at one of the major hotels. The audience becomes very involved in the story line of good versus evil and in the show’s jousting tournament. My brother’s costume, make-up and attitude are meant to elicit jeers and taunts, while the audience cheers for the good guys to prevail over him and his malevolent ways. At the end of the show, each of the knights comes forward for his bow and to be recognized for his courage and prowess. People cheer, and pretty girls blow kisses. But when my brother comes forward, he is met with hissing and heckling. On the night before, though, something amazing happened.

As he was circling the arena and people were mocking and booing him, suddenly a woman stood, looked at him, smiled, applauded and threw a red rose directly into his hand. He looked at her and saw our mothernot as she had looked at age 82 but as the lovely young woman he remembered from his childhood. He was awestruck. Never, not one time in the five years he had been doing this showand not once sincehad anyone ever given him a standing ovation, let alone a rose. And as he told me about this on that morning after her death, the hair on my neck stood up. Paul said, I know that was Mom, smiling at me one more time and giving me a sign that everything was all right.

The next morning, my father’s condition deteriorated and he died, too. The day after Thanksgiving of that year, we buried our parents in the same grave. After living together for 58 years, they were given the gift of dying together as well. During the eulogy he gave at the funeral, my brother told the story of the woman with the rose. Many people at the funeral told us how touched they were by the story and by my brother’s faith.

Months passed, and as we were going through the healing process, I realized I was envious of Paul’s rose. I had been the one more closely tied to Mom and Dad at the end. I wanted a sign that everything was O.K. But then I thought that might be the reason Paul needed it. I had the privilege of being with our parents almost every day of their last year, while he lived out of town and was not able to be with them very often. So maybe our mother felt the need to let him know once again how much she loved him.

In the summer of the following year, a young couple from our church approached my husband and me. Carolyn said that they had seen us at church for a long time. Her husband, Eric, was a candidate in the adult initiation program and needed a sponsor. He wondered if my husband would be willing. After talking to them a few times, Ted agreed. So over the next seven months, as he journeyed with Eric in his faith-finding, we came to know this lovely young couple and their three daughters. We celebrated with them during Eric’s reception into the church. It was a most joyous occasion.

About three months after Eric’s confirmation and first Communion as a Catholic, Eric and Carolyn saw us at church. They asked if they could come over to our home that night. We told them we would enjoy having them visit. When they arrived, my husband walked with Eric into the living room. Eric had a thank-you gift for Ted, and the two of them stood talking. Then Carolyn approached me with a beautiful white rose in her hand and said, This is for you. I thanked her. Then she said, It is not from meit is from your mother. I stared at her for what seemed an eternity, trying to wrap my brain around what I just heard. Thinking I had misunderstood, I said, Your mother sent this flower for me? No, she corrected, This flower is from your mother.

My eyes filled with tears. I just stared at her, trying to understand what she was saying. Then she explained. I see things sometimes. Things that others don’t see. And last week at church, I saw a woman walk over to you and hand you flowers. I don’t know why, but I knew right away that I was supposed to bring you this roseand I knew it was from your mother. I started to cry. Ted turned to me, startled, and said, What?

After I regained sufficient composure to tell him what Carolyn had just said, he looked at me for the longest time and then shrugged. I don’t think he was surprised. I realized then that my mother had indeed found a way to give me my answer. I have my rose. Everything is going to be O.K.

Theresa Furlow, a geriatric nurse for the past 17 years, is the executive director of a long-term care facility for people with Alzheimer’s. She lives in Long Beach, Calif.

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