My second book, Dear Elvis, is a story about a woman who, after learning about the death of a beloved friend, turns to her childhood idol for guidance. In a series of letters to Elvis, she describes her overwhelming sense of loss and disbelief. Along the way she meets a complete stranger, a priest named Father Chris, who encourages her to continue her search for answers and sends her on an unforgettable journey to Graceland - and beyond. The following is an excerpt:
I arrived at Bruno's a few minutes later and saw that Father Chris was the only person sitting on the deck outside. I smiled and sat down across from him as he told me he'd ordered for both of us. When he asked me to tell him about my other experiences with grief, I began by telling him how it had been snowing the day my father died.
It was a cold and brutal day back in February of 1987 when the snow began falling in large, heavy clumps that quickly covered the streets and lawns around us. By the time the storm ended, two days later, there were more than thirty inches of snow on the ground.
My mother, my sisters and I were all gathered around when my father lapsed into a coma. Worried about driving over snow-covered roads and slippery railroad tracks, and about the children I had left at home, I decided to leave.
I arrived home safely, took a shower and had a hairdryer in my hand when the telephone rang. It was my younger sister, Joanne, calling to tell me our father had passed. What if I had stayed? I wondered irrationally. Would he still be alive? How is it, I wondered later, that we believe that making different choices or living differently is the antidote for death?
But I managed to hold myself together and go on – at least until the funeral. During the viewing the night before, I’d looked at him - at what was left of him after death and disease were done with him - and thought, This is not my father. I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud, but I must have because I felt Joanne’s hand on mine. “I’m so glad you said that,” she said.
The next day, as Mass ended, the organist began playing a hymn that describes how a soul reaches heaven – “On Eagles Wings” - and I started to cry. You have to be there, God, I thought as even in church I wanted to raise my fist to God. You have to be there. You promised.
Then, twenty-six years later and one year before Don died, it was February again, but this time there was a hint of spring and it was almost warm. This time it was Joanne, who was dying.
Joanne and I hadn’t been close, not since we were children. Maybe not even then. I hadn’t seen her in years, not until her husband died, and I went to the funeral. We reconnected and hung on to one another. Looking back later I saw that we had been clinging to one another for dear life. We went out to dinner together. We went on vacation together. We even watched television together. Then one day she told me she’d been falling down. "Just falling down for no reason," she told me when I asked.
“There has to be a reason," I said. But she insisted there was none. She’d seen two doctors. She’d had tests done, but they found nothing. Then one day she fell down the steps at our youngest sister’s house. It was Christmas Day. She went to the emergency room the following day.
“She was lying in a bed when a doctor walked up to her and said, ‘You have stage 4b lung cancer, small cell. You have one week left to live." Either that was exactly what happened or, in her shock, that was what she heard.
Seven weeks later she was lying in a bed in her daughter’s house. There were heavy curtains over the windows because the sunlight hurt her eyes. I wanted to do something - anything, but there was nothing I could do. I closed my eyes and listened to her breathing. Moments earlier her son-in-law was in the room with me. We were waiting for the hospice nurse to arrive. Joanne awoke suddenly and Mark jumped to his feet. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Get Stephanie,” she said. “Hurry.”
Stephanie came into the room. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
“The nurse is here,” Joanne replied.
“No, not yet,” Stephanie said. “He’ll be here in twenty minutes.” Joanne looked confused. Stephanie left the room, saying she would be back shortly. I got up and stood beside Joanne.
“Did you see the nurse come in?” she asked.
“No,” I had to tell her. She looked upset and unsettled.
“Are you all right?”
“I can’t wait twenty minutes,” she answered.
“Close your eyes. The time will go more quickly,” I told her. She closed her eyes and her breathing deepened as I sat down beside her.
“Do you think there is a heaven?”’ she had asked me two weeks earlier.
“I am absolutely sure of it,” I had answered.
That time I was certain. That time I knew there was a God. I never doubted it. I believed in heaven. There was no need to threaten or to demand that God show himself. He showed himself anyway as I looked down at my sister and saw that there was a picture of an eagle on the blanket that covered her.
Dear Elvis by Toni McCloe is available at Amazon.com