The last time I died, on a hot summer day in 1943, it was quite a shock. I was only five years old and it took a while to realize I was dead. My name was Mary Anne and I had been traveling with my family to a reunion in the town of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The last thing I remembered was the sound of tires screeching and metal colliding. I was immediately surrounded with complete darkness. An unexpected jerk like a bolt of lightning brought all the senses to attention as my body slammed into a very hard object and landed somewhere in a dream world with a thump. Sharp pain, unlike anything I had experienced before, pierced my whole being.
I began gasping for air. A fear of drowning in this thick darkness and excruciating pain took over. The muscles in my chest felt like a huge elephant was sitting there making breathing impossible. I didn't want to stay in this place. Gratefully, air gradually filled my lungs in huge gulps and calmness slowly replaced the panic.
I Prayed to God for Help
I realized I couldn't move my arms or legs and my head felt like I had collided with a brick wall. I also couldn't open my eyes for some reason, and so I lay quietly in the darkness, waiting. As my thoughts returned to the accident, I began to worry about the condition of my parents and my older brother. I remembered that my mother and my Sunday school teacher had told me if I was ever afraid I could pray to God and pray I did. Over and over I asked God to help us like a beacon in the darkness. Suddenly, I felt a warmth surround and enclose my entire body. I wasn't hurting anymore. It was as if someone had wrapped me in a warm blanket ever so gently that covered me from head to toe. I seemed to be in the middle of a brilliant light that felt safe and comforting.
Slowly my eyes adjusted to the light and I began to see flowing forms moving on the other side of it. As everything came into focus, the entire scene of the wreck appeared below me. Apparently I was floating right above everything. This certainly was an odd dream. The evidence below confirmed that the two cars had collided at the stop sign. The impact had almost fused both cars at the front sides. Metal, glass, oil, and other car parts were strewn everywhere. Smoke poured from under the hoods of both cars and the smell of burnt rubber was noticeable.
Upon further examination, there seemed to be several people lying on the ground around the wreck. Two of them were immediately recognizable as my parents. My father lay on the ground next to the driver's seat. Pieces of glass glittered in his forehead in a random pattern. A large gash above his left eye produced a swelling of the eye and he was bleeding heavily. The steering wheel had made an imprint on his dark brown suit at his chest. Even though he seemed to be having difficulty breathing, he was alert and asking others to check on his family.
My big brother, Jason, had been traveling in the backseat of the car with me and he was still there. His body was crumpled and his legs twisted like a pretzel. He was unconscious but breathing. I finally saw my mother, who was also on the ground. She wasn't moving and didn't even answer me. I became alarmed when I looked closer and discovered scarlet blood coming from her crushed forehead. Another kind of liquid was seeping out of the same area, sliding down her cheek and hitting the pavement with little splats. She wasn't moving at all.
My attempts to talk to her and the other family members were futile. They either couldn't hear me or just wouldn't respond. At first I was terrified of being by myself. But in the middle of all the confusion, my attention was diverted when, an older man from the crowd carefully picked up a little girl. She had obviously been in the wreck and was lying on the ground face down. As he tenderly turned her over, I examined her closely. She had straight brown hair almost down to her waist. Both arms and legs hung limp and useless from her body. She wore a yellow dress with white frilly socks. What used to be blue eyes and a snubbed nose was no longer there. Instead, in their place the skin was peeled back to reveal bones and muscles. The eyes were smashed in toward the brain.
Was I Dead?
To my horror I slowly realized that this was me! But it couldn't be, because I couldn't be in both places at once and certainly wasn't hurting anywhere. I didn't quite understand what dead meant, but maybe that's what happened to me. If this is what it felt like, I didn't like it at all. I realized that I was totally by myself since the others couldn't see or hear me. It slowly dawned on me that I could never go home again or play with my friends. I could never sit in my father's lap or feel my mother's hugs. I began to cry as if my heart had broken. What was happening to my world?
As fate would have it, my mother died in that accident as well. To my amazement and joy she sat up out of her body and stood over it. My crying stopped. It was like she was taking off her dress or slip. She did not accept dying either, but soon became distracted to aid my father and Jason. We followed them to the hospital and stayed with them most of the time. Even though they couldn't see or hear us, we discovered that we could meet them in their dreams and talk and hug just like we used to. Father had a crushed rib cage and a concussion, and my brother, Jason, had broken bones in both legs and his nose. He also had an injury to his neck and had bruised his brain, which caused him to remain in a coma for several days. They both remained in the hospital for several weeks recuperating.
Mother and I took time to watch the people at the mortuary carefully clean and dress our bodies for the funeral. They did what they could to our faces, but the damage had been quite extensive. They dressed us up in our Sunday clothes and attempted to fix our hair. My Grandmama picked out a bright blue dress for Mother that she often wore. I was very happy to notice that my favorite teddy bear was placed with me.
We didn't say much to each other during the process, each of us deep in our own thoughts. It's difficult to describe how it felt to watch people cleaning and dressing your body when you are right there watching.
We also attended the funeral, which was a very interesting process coming from our side. Since I had never been to a funeral, I was constantly asking Mother questions. One of the questions I had asked her about concerned the two boxes placed at the front of the church. She said, "The boxes are called caskets and our bodies are placed in there. That's where we will stay."
Afraid to be in a Box
This response brought fear to me as I thought about how it must feel to be closed in there. "I don't want to stay in a box for ever. I'm scared," I whined. She comforted me by saying that we didn't have to actually get in the box, they only kept our bodies in there. She explained it was a safe place, very much like when she tucked me in at night. That answer seemed to make sense and calmed me.
We sang along with the beautiful songs they played and listened to the minister and friends say nice things about us. We tried to comfort the relatives and friends, but they didn't seem to hear us. The most interesting part of the whole funeral was when they took our caskets to the back of the church to bury them in the graveyard. It was there I discovered many other spirits like us, just sitting on their graves as if they were anticipating something or someone. I finally got the nerve to approach an older man who was patiently waiting next to his wife.
"Excuse me, I was wondering what you are doing?" I timidly asked the man.
I really didn't expect to hear them answer since no one else had heard me. But the old man looked me straight in the eye and to my amazement replied, "She's looking for our daughter. We wait here for our daughter to come visit us. She doesn't come often, but we continue to wait anyway."
"Why don't you go find her?" I questioned.
"My wife is afraid to go anywhere else because she thinks she'll miss her," he replied. "I wanted to leave this place some time ago, but she insists that we be here for our daughter. I'm not going to leave her here alone after all this time, so we both wait."
"I still don't understand why you are stuck here. We've been traveling different places; why can't you?"
"Look around you," he said impatiently. "Do you see all these people just hanging around?"
Dead or Dreaming?
I saw some people who were wearing strange clothes and soldiers with long guns. Men, women, and children were standing, sitting, or lying on their graves all over the place. The old man explained that most of the spirits were waiting on God to come get them or were stuck waiting on relatives to release them. Still others didn't even know they were dead. They thought they were just dreaming and would wake up someday. It was really fascinating to see all these people waiting to be released or rescued. They were just sitting on their tombstones listening to our funeral, but not noticing each other. The old man, it seemed, knew he could go on, but just wouldn't go without his wife. She kept staring at the gate of the cemetery waiting on their daughter. She felt the daughter still needed her. Her husband was so sad. I was really glad to leave that place.
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