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Contest Entry: Grandma, Grandpa, and the Chief

Did you know you can win a free ticket to the Jung Society of Utah's special event with psychic medium Lisa Williams?

Read one of the featured entries in our contest, then find out how you can enter by sharing your experience of The Other World in Everyday Life!

I inherited Resting Bitch Face from my paternal grandmother. We look like Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. She was “the grandmother who never smiles,” and she gave me her temper, her drama, her hypochondria, her melancholia, her claustrophobia, her habit of downing coffee creamers like shots at a restaurant, her compulsion to hoard animals (she’s birds; my sister Christine is cats; and I’m anoles — Google them), and a face that scares children and inspires strangers to ask if I’m okay because I “look upset.”

Mom trolls me about this. “You’re acting like your grandmother. That’s why you look upset.”

Grandma looked upset because Grandma wanted everyone to know she was dying — from everything. She HAD everything — she was convinced: cancer, HIV, encephalitis, hepatitis, an aneurysm, a blood clot, a brain tumor, blood poisoning from pantyhose dye that had seeped into a popped blister— it was a miracle she never learned to use Google to find new and horrible ways to die. And after a breathless announcement that she wouldn’t survive the month/week/ night, she’d point to her engagement and wedding rings and promise “When I’m gone, these will be yours.”

Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

This became a family joke. EVERYONE was getting the rings: Dad, her sister Bud, her brother Hoppy, her neighbor Tyrone. Billie The Biker Chick, who she had a falling out with over their cockatoos breeding (long story) was getting the rings. Linda The Preacher’s Wife, who she KNEW was trying to steal her washer and dryer set (longer story) was getting the rings. Joan The Poet, her frenemy since her 20s, who she blamed for every extravagant overpriced unnecessary and unaffordable purchase she ever made (“Joan made me do it! She kept goading me and goading me!”) was getting the rings. She promised them to me and Christine the year Mom and Dad took the annual “company trip” to Martha’s Vineyard. I was 13, Christine was 10, and Grandma was our babysitter.

“I’m having a heart attack,” she announced. We were watching Jeopardy. “I won’t survive the night.”

Christine rolled her eyes but I was ready to call 911. “Don’t! I won’t make it! Look, see my rings? The engagement ring is yours and the wedding ring is Christine’s. Get them off my finger before they send me to the morgue. If you don’t and they put me in the freezer they’ll get stolen by the cleaning lady. You tell the doctor when he pronounces me dead that I said to give you the rings.”

I called Dad at his hotel and told him Grandma was dying. Dad asked if she promised me the rings and I said “Sort of!” and explained the split: the engagement ring is mine, the wedding ring is Christine’s, and Dad said “Excellent,” and yelled over his shoulder to Mom “She split the rings!” and told me if Grandma is dead in the morning to call him back.

“Your grandmother does this EVERY TIME ANYONE TAKES A VACATION, even when I was a kid. Your grandfather’s a goddamned saint. She’s not having a heart attack. She’s fine.” I wasn’t convinced. “She couldn’t die if she wanted to. She’s a tank. She’s tried EVERYTHING to kill herself over the years: smoking, drinking, drugs, overeating, yo-yo dieting — AND SHE’S STILL GOING.” Doubt. Dad laughed. “You just pray you have her genes. If you do, you’re immortal.”

“Dad says you’re not having a heart attack,” I told Grandma after I hung up the phone.

“Your dad’s a brat,” she shot back, and sulked. Christine rolled her eyes.

My grandfather wasn’t a goddamned saint, he was Navy. Grandma would marry him only if he added a bikini to the naked lady tattooed on his thigh. They loved — and lived — to argue. Her birds mimicked it all. Throughout the house you’d hear the entire flock of parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels, macaws, one canary, and not one but TWO toucans screaming insults at each other:

“God damn it Bill!”

“God damn it Bill!”



In fact, the morning Grandpa died he and Grandma were arguing over breakfast. Grandma shouted some sort of rebuke or retort that made Grandpa laugh, and as he was laughing he fell forward, and as Southerners say, “passed.”

“But when he started to laugh,” Grandma told us, “his head started glowing. There was this glow all around his head. And it kept glowing, even after I knew he was gone.”

“People romanticize the deaths of loved ones,” Mom, the skeptic, insists. “It’s human nature. We embellish traumatic memories with comforting things.”

But she never changed her story. Even later, in the advanced states of Alzheimer’s, when she didn’t recognize Dad or Uncle Kim or the fact that she had eaten dinner and the banana split in front of her was dessert, she remembered Grandpa’s death. She couldn’t remember that she had two sons or that clothes with her name sewed inside them were hers or that a Christmas gift opened ten minutes prior wasn’t some random object left in her room. But she remembered Grandpa was her husband, and that he died the morning after Christmas, over breakfast, laughing, with his head aglow.

She found love again in her Alzheimer’s care facility with “The Chief,” who did NOT resemble “The Chief” from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but like Grandpa, was Navy. The day Dad committed her she screamed and kicked and punched and cried, one minute calling Dad a a sucking son of a snitch — the R-rated version — and the next pleading with Dad not to lock her away. As Grandma and the staff fought, The Chief rolled by in his wheelchair. He looked at Grandma, looked at Dad, told Dad “Well this isn’t going well, is it?” and rolled off. The next morning, he and Grandma flirted over breakfast. By the end of the month they were spending nights in each others’ rooms. Dad asked the staff to NOT elaborate on what occurred in the rooms.

Then one night, when Grandma thought was alone in bed, she woke up and saw The Chief.

“And he was sitting on the ceiling!“

I heard the story twice: first from Mom when she told me The Chief had died, and then from Grandma a few months later when I was visiting. After we reminded her that Dad was her son and Mom her daughter-in-law and me her granddaughter, and she looked adult me up and down and asked what grade I was in.

“He was just sitting there on the ceiling laughing like a damned fool, and I thought: how the Hell did he get up there and how the HELL am I going to get him down!”

And in the morning she learned he had passed during the night.

Grandma passed four months after her 100th birthday. The family gathered and toasted her with coffee creamers. Mandy, my cousin, got the rings. The birds had been placed with avian rescues, sparing us the terror of inheriting a horde of pint-sized maniacs that scream “GOD DAMN IT!” one minute and “I’M MA’S BABY!” the next.

She loved the drama of dying so much she avoided death for over 100 years. Is that why Grandpa and The Chief appeared to her as they died — and laughed? She’s never appeared to me, in my dreams or on my ceiling, or to anyone else in my family that I’m aware. She doesn’t talk to me like the ancestors do to Malidoma Somé. What could she say, now that she’s dead and not dying and Mandy has the rings? I imagine her appearing to Dad in a dream and telling him she’s dying from Mad Cow, and Dad not laughing (as I would), but nodding, as he did when she was alive and complained that her evil son Gary had left her to die in an institution, not recognizing that Gary (Dad) was the person she was complaining to.

She doesn’t need to appear to anyone though. If you believe Mom, I’m her living, breathing ghost. I’m Grandma when I spill something in the kitchen and have a meltdown. I’m Grandma when a Facebook debate exceeds 100 comments because I can’t let anyone else have the last word. I’m Grandma when someone insists they look 10 years younger than they actually are, and I shake my head and say that people who are 10 years younger hear that and think “Christ, do I look that old?” I’m Grandma when I Google Alzheimer’s symptoms obsessively, convinced that we share the same fate. And I know I’m Grandma when I’m feeling fine but strangers ask if I’m okay because I “look upset.”

~ Holly Esch

Contest: The Other World in Everyday Life

The Jung Society of Utah is excited to welcome Lisa Williams on April 21 and 22. In anticipation of this great event, we want to hear about your experiences with the Other World.

Have you ever had contact with a loved one who has passed on, had an experience of synchronicity that profoundly affected you, received a message from the other side, or any similar type of experience?

Tell us about it for a chance to win a free ticket to Lisa Williams: A Night with Spirit on April 21.

Describe your experience in one of the following ways:

  • Write about it in a 250-500 word personal essay
  • Write a poem about the experience
  • Create a piece of artwork about the experience

Submit your entry via the Jung Society of Utah Facebook page or email alb80@live.com before April 14.

One winner will be chosen in each category listed above, and all entries will be displayed the night of the event.

We look forward to hearing from our creative community about experiences with the Other World!

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