For Mother’s Day, a ticket to the beyond

Greater Tiverton Community Chorus spring concert tickets

Tickets to the concert I attended the weekend before Mother’s Day.

We hear and see these stories all the time, especially now in social media: our loved ones who have passed on make their presences known. Admittedly, some of these tales may seem more like urban legends or click bait—there are, for example, three or four different versions of the ‘cardinal visits mom/sister/grandchild after daughter/sister/grandmother’s death’ and several articles across the web entitled ‘XX signs your deceased loved one is with you.’

But there are just as many things that happen to people, every day, that seem less like coincidence. Things that have no rational scientific explanation. Like my cat knocking over a piece of artwork a friend made within minutes of that friend’s passing, something my cat had never gone near or even noticed before. Or my friend seeing her deceased brother’s initials and birth date (including year) on the license plate of a car that pulled in front of her. Or another friend, calling out to her late husband to help her find the insurance papers; when she came downstairs the next morning, they were literally next to her coffee maker—but no one else had been in the house (shivers, right? Me too).

Sometimes these things are coincidences, and I won’t deny that. I have always prided myself on knowing the difference between a sign and a coincidence; sometimes, it’s tough to tell, and you really have to make the call. Others? Not so much.

I had one of these happen to me recently.

Mom feeds Kristi bottle

My mom holding me in March, 1971. I was four weeks old here.

My mother passed away in 1986, when I was fifteen (post-Challenger, pre-Chernobyl; that was certainly one hell of a year). Recently, I realized I’ve been without her for 33 years. She missed a lot of things in my life, but I always believed that she was still around, even if, most of the time, I saw little evidence of that.

Mom in healthier days

My mom in healthier days, October, 1976.

Sometimes I talk to her, out loud. I never really know if she can hear me or not. It’s just something I’ve done for three decades—when I’m having a bad day, or I’m confused, or I want to tell her she would have enjoyed whatever movie I just saw or that new Bath and Body Works scent I just bought. Sometimes, I tell her I’m glad she’s not here, because she was incredibly social. Every embarrassing thing I ever did from the time I was born would have been all over Facebook, and forget about privacy, because I wouldn’t have any. So, sometimes, I think, there is an upside.

Kristi screaming at christening, March 1971

THIS is the typical embarrassing stuff my mother would put on Facebook if she were alive today. Apparently, I was not pleased about my christening. I have plenty more of me naked in bathtubs and getting my diaper changed, but no one wants to see that, so this is as good as it gets, Mom.

Most of the time, though, there isn’t.

I had been invited to a spring choral concert, and the plans had been on the books for a few weeks.  I will preface this by saying that my parents were musical people. My mother directed our church choir for many years; she was a music teacher, and she and my dad directed musicals at area churches and high schools. My mother was also an organist and played several instruments. She had a strong connection, as did I at one time, to this type of performance art.

Petersen Family 1980

We were members of the United Methodist Church in New Milford, Connecticut, up until 1982 (the trauma of leaving that church to go on a rollercoaster ride of crazy places that met in storefronts–the thing that really disconnected me from church in general–will someday be told in another post). From left, my sister Missie, Mom, Dad, my brothers Chip and Chuck, and me. This was taken in 1980.

Since I have been disconnected from these roots for years, and I was having a rough tangle with an encroaching decision, I thought this would be the perfect time to ask for help and guidance. “You know? I know this is impossible, but if you’re out there, and if you can hear me, send me a sign. What I’d really like to hear is ‘How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.’” And then I stubbed out my cigarette and laughed. Because the chances of actually hearing that piece as opposed to anything else available were actually pretty slim.

Johannes Brahms’ “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” holds a special place in my heart. In 1987, I was chosen to participate as an alto in Connecticut’s All State Chorus. We sang this piece. I couldn’t tell you to this day what was on the rest of that program, nor could I even attempt to sing my old parts from anything else we performed. But this? I remembered every lyric, every note. This piece has haunted me for 32 years. I consider it my favorite piece of choral music of all time. Curious? You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwnZ748e3CA

We went to the concert, and my friend handed me the program. They were in the middle of singing something by Hayden, a composer that has never really grabbed me, although it was beautifully executed. I took this opportunity to read my program and see what was on the slate for the evening. The choir director’s notes were extensive, and discussed why she had chosen this piece or that piece.

Imagine my shock when I got to the last paragraph and she mentioned why she’d chosen “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.”

Um … what?

I felt like someone had snatched the breath from my lungs. What I thought was are you fucking kidding me? And then hated myself for thinking a curse … I was, after all, in a church.

That isn’t right. That can’t be right; you’re reading things. That’s all. Your brain is making it up.

I went back and read the sentence again.

Nope. I had definitely read it right.

I checked the song listing, which appeared in the program a few pages later. Yes. It was there. After intermission.

Intermission came and we went outside to smoke a cigarette.

You’re quiet,” my friend said.

“I have something to tell you, but I don’t know if I can without crying.”

But I did manage to tell the tale, and I got the reaction I expected, of course. My ever-pragmatic friend just mumbled, “well, coincidence. It is the spring concert.” (This particular piece in A German Requiem is popular with choirs around Easter-time).

I pointed out that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces of music. “And they had to start rehearsing this in January. This wasn’t just ‘I want to see a bird fly across my path’ or ‘I hope you can show me your favorite flower.’ This was really, really, specific.” In other words: massive odds. The fact that the choral director plucked this piece, to play at this concert, from the bottomless sea of eligible work was honestly just – well, damn near impossible.

We went back in after the intermission, and the performance was so beautiful it made me cry. Or perhaps it made me cry for more reasons than just that: she was there! She was out there, and she heard me, and she went out of her way to make sure I knew it. In a sense, the nature of the lyrics of this particular piece of music also told me that she was in a beautiful place. That everything I had grown up believing about the great beyond—at least in my family—was true.

Maybe you believe in this stuff, too, or maybe you just think I’m a raving crackpot. Either reaction is okay. My point is this: sometimes, we feel like those we love are lost to us forever, but they aren’t; not really. They are always with us in one capacity or another, whether we notice or not.

But the next time you ask a random question of those beyond? Don’t be surprised if you actually get an answer.

I did, and despite how emotional it all was? I’m glad I asked.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, served as a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, has judged both writing and grant competitions and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on May 12, 2019, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a lovely story, thanks for sharing. And you were a CUTE baby, even when mad and crying!

  2. I was so glad to see pictures of your mom- if we had had iPhones in college. I would have a million! She was a beautiful and kind person; a true friend and I know she did send you that song you requested. She’s watching over you. My mom’s birthday was 7/11 and often when I look at a clock and it says 7:11 I say, hi and I miss you, mom. We also have 4 crows that have visited us almost every day for the last 8 years- one has a damaged foot and hops and I believe it’s Bill saying hello and watching over us and our home. Lots of other small messages too- a song, a favorite flower- the list goes on. The good news is that when we die we can start sending messages to our loved ones left behind- and we can make them funny or silly so they’ll know they’re really from us!

    • Absolutely, Mrs. G! I totally believe that our loved ones are never gone, and that my mom is still with you just like she is with me! It has taken a long time for me to be at peace. I think for a long time I was really, really angry at her, and then I had guilt over that, but I was finally able to realize that really, I was just a kid. And kids don’t do well when their parents leave, even if it is due to something obviously beyond the person’s control, like death. But I have gotten MANY signs from her on and off. And from my dad, too, although he’s a bit less touchy-feely, and most of his signs involve Robert Frost or 1776, which makes me laugh. But yes, I have also thought about what kinds of signs I’m going to give my loved ones after I’m dead. I plan on showing them a GOOD TIME!!

  3. Susan Marie Jonas

    I’m so glad you are at a place in your life that you can talk about your Mom. I’d get little bits and pieces from you – I never wanted to pry. I came into your life after she had passed so I didn’t have the pleasure to meet her. I do believe that she heard you and sent you that song – how wonderful.

    • Thank you!! Yes, I am FINALLY getting to that point! It has taken many years. I appreciate the courtesy you showed me all those years ago. I probably would’ve just melted down…but that is why you are so awesome, and I’m sure my mom sent a lot of wonderful people into my life after she passed, now. You were definitely one of them.

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