Once when I was visiting her at the nursing home, Mother told me Sis and Stelle owned the place and that their offices were on the second floor. The facility had no second floor and her sisters Irene and Estelle had been dead for a decade, so her statement was deeply intriguing to me. I knew that elderly people sometimes think they see those who had gone on before. I had read Kübler-Ross, Moody and others on the subject and, in part, believed the results of their limited research. These scholars had interviewed numerous people who had been clinically dead and somehow revived to tell the amazing story of life after life.
“I’d like to see their offices, Mother,” I said, hoping to get a glimpse into the world of cerebral atrophy or maybe even into the reality just beyond our view. I wanted to put myself into my mother’s shoes. So Mother led me down the hall, walking with determination and purpose. When James, a resident with whom Mother had been spending a great deal of time, came buoyantly down the hall, Mother stopped and told James, “Oh, we’ve lost our way.”
James took her by the arm tenderly and led us to the recreation room where we had a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Mother was obviously deeply content in the presence of James. She forgot about the office of her siblings and focused on James, whom, I found out that day, was, in her mind, King of England and her husband. She said, “Son, you have royal blood now. I am married to the King of England.”
“And, who would that be, Mother?”
“James, King James.” She had a Polaroid photograph of him with a foil crown on, beaming as Valentine King. James smiled broadly, very obviously proud of himself for having won the yearly competition.
James did have a royal demeanor, I thought. He carried himself imperially and he was enormously popular at the nursing home with residents and staff alike. Even though he occupied such a high position, he was exceedingly humble, helping with wheelchairs, keeping an eye on the feeble at dinner time, making sure all received adequate nourishment. He was a good king and a good husband to my Queen Mother.
I am told that many elderly people have such fantasies. Often they see people who have gone on to their reward, like Sis and Stelle. Maybe in her mind her sisters were somehow assigned to the nursing home from their eternal office on high, and Mother had gotten a glimpse into the ultimate reality.
As to King James, I’m glad that mother had grandiose fantasies rather than the bleak and horrifying hallucinations some have. I think her walk of faith, her optimism and her determination to be happy led Mother, depleted as her brain had become, to the rich life she led, even to the end. When I think of her now, I imagine her at a third desk there with Aunt Sis and Aunt Stelle, doing the administrative work royals must accomplish.