When I was a kid, my mother used to joke that because I loved ghost stories so much when she died she was going to come back and say “boo” before taking off to explore the universe. Over the years between child and adulthood, she must have promised me this at least two dozen times. Then we’d laugh and I’d ask for another ghost story.
One night in the late 90s, I was struggling with a looming deadline. It was only eleven pm and I was exhausted but determined to get my third wind and keep going until at least two in the morning, as usual. That’s when I looked up from the computer screen and saw my mother.
She was standing in the doorway across the room, wearing a dress I’d loved when I was a kid and her hair was the curly deep red she’d been so proud of back then. She was smiling and her hand was up in a wave. Her mouth moved, saying one silent word. Then she faded away.
Like my mother, I’ve always been aware during the hypnogogic/pompic states, which occur between waking and sleeping. Some call it a sleep disorder, but she taught me to enjoy playing in this phase and we called it “seeing pictures.” I knew that’s what had just happened and immediately got up and popped a couple Excedrin for the caffeine buzz. Then I went back to work.
At midnight, my sister called. Our mother had passed away at eleven pm, when I’d had the “waking dream.”
And suddenly I knew. The word I couldn’t hear was “boo!” Mom had kept her promise.
I went out in the backyard and whirled and twirled, calling goodbye, happy she was finally free of her failing body, free to travel, as she’d always said she would, but already missing her. I still do, but I’m still happy for her, too. Bye, Mom, you were and are the best mother a kid could ever have.