A look, a laugh, and a little boy

This is dedicated to my dear Mimi, who was sharp, hilarious, and adorable up until the end. 

I’ll never forget the way her gaze fixated in contempt slightly to the left of my face that day. My grandmother, “Mimi” then 90, my mother, and I were sitting in the sun in front of an ornate garden lined with marigolds, peonies, and neatly trimmed lavender. We sat on a hot bench on the slate patio in August, chatted and watched the ants below weave in and out of the cracks in the pavement.

The garden was lined with green trees and overgrown vines encompassed what must have been the garden’s old centerpiece – an old stone archway that mimicked an entrance to topiary maze. Today, the stones are toppling, cracked, with small traces of snake skin if you look hard enough. Still, the place was overwhelmingly beautiful, an onlooker would’ve never guessed it was part of a hospice home. The hospice home was essentially a 1933 mansion donated by a past owner and turned to a non-profit hospice home in 2011. The estate sits atop Turkey Hill in Hingham Massachusetts, with a sprawling view of farmland, cows, and it’s interior Neo-Georgian style. There was a pinkish-red tea room lined with old velvet chairs and cabinets of fine china. My personal favorite was a royal red music room, with a crystal chandelier that almost touched a large bouquet of red and white roses that were on a table beneath, a large wooden bookshelf, and an old acoustic shiny black piano. I was sent there several times to wait while my mother and caretakers tended to my grandmother and had conversations that were not for my ears. I’d escape to the music room, which for some reason was always a little bit dusty, and I’d plop myself in front of the piano to play a few songs from Harry Potter — which I’m sure, was a selection that had never been played in that room before. Mimi’s favorite place was any place that you could see birds. Cardinals were her favorite. The best place to see the birds was the patio overlooking the garden outside. Even on the hottest days, that was her place to be.

I looked up from the ant trails on the slate to face directly at her. I spoke about my upcoming school year in the city. As I babbled on, I noticed her eyes move to my left and she smiled. It was enough for me to notice, pause, and slightly laugh, “Mimi, what are you looking at?” She smiled, “Oh, there’s a little boy right behind you.” My breath hitched in my throat, knowing that the likelihood of a child in this environment was anything but normal. At this time, my grandmother was the only patient in the hospice home. I shot my mom a panicked look, and she tried to suppress laughter. I slowly but surely turned my head to see this little boy, but there was nothing there. Mimi continued, “He’s running behind those trees now.” My mother and I looked again, there was no one, and no sound of footsteps through rustling leaves. We laughed it off and as soon as I got into the car with my mother, I looked at her in horror and she just laughed at me. I have a habit of feeling like every single inch of the United States is haunted. To be fair, I grew up in New England, the oldest part of the country with a peculiar amount of dark unknown history, but that’s a story for another time.

My next visit to the estate I beelined for the musty binder that sat on the front desk to find out about the history of the house. It had old photos and news clippings, but it didn’t suffice. They were all the highlights and I needed answers. Obviously I knew that people had died in this house, duh, but I was looking for names, family members, any description that would match a little boy. I found nothing. I kindly returned the binder to it’s place and went along my way. My mother asked the nurse if any patients had reported seeing a little boy in the past. She said that a lot of the patients report things, but many of them were disillusioned due to various medications. I tried to forget about it as I focused on transitioning back into school. A couple of weeks later my mom told me that Mimi had mentioned the little boy again, and that he ran up and down the halls every night. Mimi died in the following month after that, and to the end was a graceful queen in her mansion. I think of her everyday and am thankful for the time we cherished that summer.

This past weekend I caught up with my best friend Emily, whose own loving mother died of breast cancer in that same hospice house around the same time as Mimi. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t like to talk about it. Hospice talk isn’t exactly light conversation, I get that. After a few drinks, we started talking about it and reminiscing on the times we spent that summer with our loved ones. My mother loved running into Emily there – the familiar face in this peculiar setting warmed my mom’s heart. Emily brought my mother great positivity in a time when it was direly needed. Amidst tears, Em told me that her mother, who was a special education teacher, in her final days had diagnosed a boy who ran up and down the hall at night with ADHD, because at night he was just restless. Emily, like my mother, had asked the nurse if there were children around and was told the almost the exact same thing. She had never told her mother about me mentioning the little boy before, this had all happened naturally. When I heard this, my knuckles turned white and I almost shattered the wineglass I was harshly clutching.

I’m unsure if those close to the end of life transition slowly onto a more perceptive, spiritual plane than the living – but I do know that on that August day, sitting in the garden, my grandmother saw a little boy right behind my left shoulder.