My Letter

My first experience with death was when I was five years old, and my grandmother passed away.

My main memory of her was visiting with her in her bedroom, where she was connected to a big oxygen tank. She loved to sit by a window and work on a needlepoint piece and look at the outside world. She was sweet and kind.

The oxygen tank left a ring on the floor which is visible to this day, a reminder that Grandma was there.

When she passed away, her body rested in a coffin in the living room for a few days. I asked my daddy to hold me up so I could see her. I was struck with how peaceful and pretty she looked, and I reached out to touch her hair.

Years later, after becoming a registered nurse, I remember standing at the bedside of a patient who was soon to pass away. I held his hand and realized that even though his eyes were open, he was seeing beyond this life. As he took his last breath, I was overcome by the feeling that he was not dead. Everything that made him who he was had gone somewhere else. The hand that I was holding was part of the "empty house" where he had resided for 87 years.

When my dad passed away, I continued to feel his presence for weeks.

One day while driving my car, I felt his presence so strongly that I pulled off the road and asked him for a sign that he was still present. All of a sudden, an owl flew right in front of my car! Now when I hear an owl hooting, I whisper to myself, "hello, Daddy!"

I firmly believe that loved ones who pass away are close by - maybe in the next room. They are gone to us, the living, but they are somewhere else.

Nancy Helms

Nancy Helms, Nurse Educator

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko