“Have you been calling my name?” she asked weakly when I entered her room.
“No,” I responded. “It wasn’t me. Did you hear someone call your name?”
“Yes. I thought it was you…from behind the curtains,” she said as her gaze slid from my face to the curtains hanging over the windows beside her bed. “I know that I heard my name. Someone called me. It sounded like you.”
“It wasn’t me, Lila,” I said softly.
She looked confused and frustrated. “But I heard you calling my name. I heard you behind those curtains. What is on the other side of those curtains? Is that where your desk is?”
I pulled back the curtains to show her that there were only windows and a view to the outside. She furrowed her brow as she concentrated, trying to make sense of what had been happening. As I let the curtains fall back into place, Lila looked at them again, this time relaxed. “I heard someone calling my name from behind the curtains………..and there is such beautiful music,” she whispered.
A few days later when Lila was actively dying, her niece was sitting by her bedside. The niece looked at me and said, “You know, she is a brilliant woman. She has a massive library; she has read so much. You wouldn’t believe everything she has seen and done. She doesn’t have any other family; she never got married and most everyone else is dead. I’m about all that’s left.”
We talked about Lila for a few more minutes and then with an almost exasperated shrug the niece said, “I don’t even know what religion she is. She has changed religions and beliefs so many times. I don’t know what she believes will happen. Does she think she will come back as an ant or something? I mean, I just don’t know!”
“I don’t know what she believes, either, but I can tell you that she is at peace and that there is beautiful music where she is going.” I related the story from the few nights previous, trying to bring some comfort to Lila’s niece.
“Oh! I am so happy. I have been so worried for her. Thank you for telling me that story!”
I left Lila’s room soon afterwards, reassuring the niece that I would return a little later to check on things. I felt grateful for the interaction that I had had with Lila earlier in the week and that I could share it with her niece.
As a nurse, I have watched people come face to face with their beliefs at dark moments in their lives. Some people are completely at peace; others are nearly overcome with fear, and yet still others wrestle with what they believe, afraid of making a commitment in one direction or another as if they first need to consult an odds broker.
My own religious beliefs provide me with much peace that life will continue after the death of my mortal body. I am not alone in my beliefs in the continuance of life after death and a resurrection at some point in the future, a rejoining of body and spirit. I also believe that when I die, I will be rejoined with my loved ones who have died before me. It is a sweet thought that I will be able to see my dad and my granny and that I will be able to finally ‘meet’ my paternal grandmother, who died long before I was born.
Throughout much of my adult life I have been interested in learning about my family of generations long past. A clinical term for studying one’s past is called genealogy. I prefer the softer and more welcoming term, family history.
None of us stand alone in our existence. We all came from somewhere. We have parents and grandparents and great grandparents and so on, back to the time of Adam and Eve. Sobering thought, really. To think about the generations who have lived on this planet, lived out their lives in whatever circumstances existed at the time, making it possible for you to be here right now.
As I have learned about my ancestors I have sometimes felt a palpable relationship with some of them. Once I found a document written in 1813 which talked about my 5th great grandfather. He was a German immigrant and shoemaker. He once gave two cows to the local Revolutionary War army for food. He later became a Lutheran minister in South Carolina and was completely abandoned by his congregation because he preached his sermons in German and the people were bored. Apparently his children also abandoned the Lutheran religion because I have read old Baptist church records which list his sons as members of their church. It’s an interesting thing to think about how lonely he must have been to not only lose the friendship of his neighbors, but to also lose his children.
My mother visited her brothers in South Carolina several years ago. I made her promise that she would get me a little bag of dirt from the site where the old Lutheran church used to stand where my 5th great grandfather preached. It was something tangible that I could keep and see and touch, that would make John Henry Graff more real to me. I still have that little plastic bag of soil. I call it sacred soil, not because a religious event was purported to have happened on the site from which it came, but because it represents a place where someone who loved his family, his country and his God, and who I believe loves me, once lived. I hope to meet him some day.
I am so grateful for the preservation of documents which have allowed me to trace my ancestry. These documents have brought my past to life for me. Whenever I see a name, a signature or a photo of a past ancestor I feel such gratitude that someone made the effort to preserve it.
Because the past means so much to me, I participate in the preservation of historical documents…from the comfort of my home and the use of my lap top computer. I help to transcribe old documents such as marriage, birth and death records; census records; war documents; and various other types of documents which list names and dates and places of those who have lived.
I view a digitized image of an original document, interpret the information written on the document and then upload my transcription. It is amazing to me how much I love to connect in some small way to other peoples’ lives and how much can be gleaned from reading something as simple as a marriage certificate. Because of the work that I, and thousands of other people around the globe are doing, millions of people can find out more about their past.
So what does all of this have to do with Lila? Simply this: Lila lived and she died and she learned firsthand that there is a place with beautiful music where someone knows her name.
Just like Lila, we live, and we will die. We struggle to have meaning in our lives and we hope to be remembered. John Henry Graff was lost to time with his living descendants the only apparent evidence that he had ever lived—except that somewhere at some time someone preserved documents that said that he had been a real person.
If you would like to participate in preserving historical documents, follow this link to Worldwide Indexing.
If you would like to start researching your own family history, Family Search is a good FREE place to start! From the home page you can click on a link that will take you millions of indexed records such as United States census records spanning the years from 1790-1940; birth, death and marriage records from many places around the world; military registration records from WWI and WWII and other wars; Social Security Death Index; and so much more. If you would like to build your own family tree, you can start doing that as well on Family Search. To build your family tree, you will need to register. No problem. Just click the “Family Tree” button and then in the upper right hand corner of the page click “Create Account”. Once you have an account (free, free, free!) you can upload pictures and stories about your family. You do NOT have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.(Mormons)
One last thing…if you have any question regarding family history, I would be more than happy to answer your questions. Email me at tsgcookin (at) gmail (dot) com.