There was so much to take in before Christmas I could hardly do it, just in my own family alone, that is the family I had left on earth to struggle on without me. My sister Deana arrived in Phoenix where I used to live and where she used to live a few days before hand. Coral was no where to be seen even though Deana was her sister, too. For once she did not appear just because I thought about her, so I had to assume she was doing something very important elsewhere.
Jerome and Deana got together, and I rushed to join them hoping they would say something about me.
I got there just in time to hear Jerome say, "I am so glad to see you, Aunt Deana. That way I won't miss Mom so much. I thought we could meet for lunch to the Farmer's Market where I used to meet Mom during the last years of her life."
Deana settled down to tell him about her busy and active life in San Francisco. Finally Jerome said, "Since Mom joined Aunt Marsha and Aunt Romina in the hereafter I have not known what to do with myself!"
I reeled in shock. It was not until that moment, I swear to you, that I remembered that my sisters Marsha and Romina had gone to the hereafter before I did. No wonder my sister Coral had not responded to my thoughts of her. She was probably waiting for me to get my memory back so Romina and Marsha could join us, too. Now I looked down the street and I saw Coral walking toward me with two women trailing along with her. I went to greet them.
"Hello," said Romina. "I wondered when you were going to remember that we died before you did. Don't worry. Passing sometimes knocks all of your memories loose. You might not know for months whether you are coming and going."
I looked Romina up and down. What had happened to her? I seemed to remember she had been ill for months.
"Yes," said Romina, already reading minds as spirits do, "I died of cancer. Quite a few years back, but for some reason or another the only sister you wanted to see when you arrived was Coral who died when you were still children."
"I thought Coral was all I could handle," I said. "I knew I needed to see her first. She is very different, of course, than when we were children, but we did not know what kind of person she was going to be."
"And I passed two years ago," said Marsha. "Quite suddenly. I hadn't really been sick to speak of. My passing was just as much of a shock to me as it was to everyone else. I haven't gotten used to my passing, let alone to yours. I kept asking Coral when we were going to see you. She said when she is ready she will let us know."
We all sat down on a bench where we would be more comfortable just outside the cafe where I could still see my sister Deana talking very animatedly to my son Jerome.
"Jerome and Deana look like they hare having a good time," said Marsha, peeking in. "I wish we could join them. Those old fashioned family get togethers are what I miss. We have just come from Utah and Deborah is doing fine. I don't think there is any danger of her joining us for at least two or three years. I said, let me get used to ------- passing."
She looked at me with a shocked face for a moment. "I can't for the life of me think of your name and you are my own sister!"
And you know I could not think of my name either. I had used so many aliases for myself in my novels and plays, I felt as though I had a split personality. "It doesn't matter," I said. "I know I have a name. It will come to me in a moment."
"How are your other kids?" asked Marsha, "Santos and Vivienne and Rafe?"
Marsha seemed to be trying to prove she knew my other kids' names even if she didn't know mine, and even if I could not remember my name either. I was sure she must remember Jerome then who at that moment was sitting not twenty feet from us with our other sister Deana.
"Have you seen Daddy and Mother?" asked Marsha.
"Yes, I have," I said. "They just turned up. Although I did not feel I was ready to see either one of them."
Marsha said, "We wanted to see you when you first arrived, but Coral told us that you were having trouble seeing relatives, and so far you had not remembered that Romina and I had even died. The only sister you thought you had in the hereafter was her. She said we had better wait until your memory came back. You might be traumatized if we just showed up."
"I might have been," I said. "I thought I almost went into shock when I looked up and saw Daddy. I wanted to run away."
"How strange," said Marsha, "You wanted to run away from your own father?"
"You should have seen how I acted for years after I passed," interrupted Romina. Marsha and I both stopped and stared at her. "I did not know anybody. Coral kept coming to see me and every time she came I was irritated and would say, 'Who ARE you?'
"But she was very patient and told me over and over who she was. I would say, 'I don't remember any sister who died, are you sure?' She would say, 'I am sure.'
Marsha said very firmly, "I have not had any memory loss to speak of."
Coral looked surprised. "Oh come now, Marsha, you are not going to remember what you don't remember. You are not a reliable source. Nobody is for a number of months after they pass. For many dying is a mind blowing event. We are not prepared for a spirit existence in most cases. So for a long time, many people are literally lost in the spirit world."
"I am very glad to find out I have more sisters in the spirit world," I said. "Now I know I won't be lonely."
"If we can just get along," said Marsha. "There is no quarreling in the spirit world, or at least it feels like a lot bigger sin to quarrel over here. I have to watch my tongue. If I say something the least bit sharp all these spirits look at me like I have lost my manners."
"Of course," said Coral, "They are not your kids. People come over here all the time who have been misbehaving for years with their kids. Look at Daddy and Mother. It took Daddy years to learn to mind his manners again. He snarled at his kids for years."
"Yes, he did," I said. "That's why I didn't want to see him. I remember now. I was afraid he was still snarling, but when he did seek me out, he did not snarl once."
"Yes," said Marsha. "Daddy is acting quite civilized. Mother is still a little flaky, but she hasn't been here as long as Daddy has."
"Yes, Mother threatened to reincarnate early because I didn't seem to want to see her," I said, "but I was afraid she would lose her temper, too. You know how she was. You could not look sideways at her without her thinking you were 'sassing' her."
"Oh no," said Marsha. "Mother could not stand 'sassy' kids. She wanted to slap their smart mouths for them."
"I would not see Daddy for months," said Romina. "I recall telling a nurse in the hospital where I was staying not to let that mean man back into see me. The nurse said he had been very kind to me. I said, I don't care, I know he is a very mean man and he will hurt me when you are not looking, so don't ever let him in to see me again!"
"You pay for your sins," said Coral. "Mother and Dad were upset because none of their daughters wanted to see them. I said, think about it, they don't want rude nasty people who call themselves parents coming to see them when they are upset and in shock from dying."
"I refused to speak to Mother and Dad when I was incarcerated in a mental hospital on earth," I said. "I was very ill and I knew all their histrionics would upset me, so I turned my face to the wall."
"They thought you were acting very crazy," said Marsha. "So I asked you the next time I visited if you were going to stop talking to me. You said as long as you don't argue with me, I won't stop talking to you."
"Everyone is very stressed after going through the dying process. People are too ill to be screamed at, I can assure you of that," said Coral.
I said, "I had to work hard to keep from dying at 20 years old. I was afraid Mother and Dad would sap my strength and I would not survive."
"They said you had an irrational fear you were going to die. It was part of your delusion."
"Huh!" I said. "That is all they knew. If they had seen me semi-conscious for hours they would have thought I was close to dying all right."
"But nobody ever saw you like that," said Marsha. "None of the family that is," she added hastily. "I have been trying to find your doctor since I arrived here, to see if he can tell me more about what was going on during your hospitalization."
"He is ninety years old," I said, "He should be over here. Maybe he will tell you now and maybe he won't. He was only an Intern then, but he would have been warned not to be talking freely about my case, since he had had no authority to treat me."
"That is why nobody really knew what happened to you," said Marsha.
"I did," I said, somewhat indignantly. "I was there."
"I mean except you," said Marsha, "but were you in your right mind? Or have you been mentally ill and delusional your whole life?"
My mouth fell open.
Coral with her irrepressible sense of humor began to laugh uproariously. "I love how people talk when they have just recently passed. They say the funniest things."
"You see," Coral said to me without mentioning my name so I would know who I was, "Marsha is still in such a confused state of mind that she is wondering if you were not mentally ill for years. You did get incarcerated. Usually people don't start acting like you did until they get over here, but you were very ill, so it is understandable, but were you mentally ill or were you just physically ill as you claimed? It was all very confusing. It was all perfectly clear to you, but was anyone willing to take your word for it after you had been carried away by the men in white?"
"The answer is they weren't," I said, "and that is how all the trouble started." But I decided until I could remember my own name I had better not try to straighten anybody out. Coral kept nodding as though she was reading my mind but thought it best for me not to mention that I still didn't remember who I was. Maybe tomorrow I might remember.