After the blinding light cleared, Anna tried to refocus. Her head felt fuzzy, but despite being disoriented, she was able to regain her vision. Directly in front of Anna was an ornate mirror hanging on the wall, with a wooden table and an arrangement of pink roses below it.
“This can’t be right,” she said, squinting to get a better look.
The reflection in the mirror was definitely Anna, only she looked as though she was in her thirties again. She stepped closer to the mirror and touched her warm, soft cheek. Stretching her hands out in front of her, she noted the smooth, slender fingers and glowing skin where age spots had been moments earlier.
Pulling at the neckline of her favorite t-shirt, she took a peek inside. “Well hello girls, you’re looking perky,” she said, pleased that her body was back in place and not hurting anymore.
Anna’s daughter came into the foyer just then, her dark brows were pinched, lips set in a thin line, and her eyes had dark circles underneath.
“Allison, what’s happening? How did I get here?” Anna asked.
Allison ignored her mother and disappeared through the double doors. Anna followed behind pushing the door open, and the hinges protested with a creaky moan. Anna’s three children and their families stood at the front of the room, turning to see what the sound was.
“There must be a draft,” Allison said.
“No, it’s just me,” Anna replied, but her family had already shifted their attention away from her.
Anna moved forward to get a better look at what everyone was gawking at. Some of her family was crying, and everyone stood defeated, as though the weight of the world rested on each of their shoulders. They were gathered around a casket.
“What am I missing? Who died?” Anna asked, moving in for a closer look.
She clamped her hand to her mouth, stumbling back a few steps, swallowing the bile that was rising in her throat. Tears filled her eyes as panic settled into every crack of her being. It couldn’t be.
“Goodbye Mom,” Allison whispered into the coffin.
“I’m right here!” Anna’s voice cracked, she shook her head trying to clear out the confusion. “What the hell is going on?”
Anna backed up to put some distance between herself and the coffin. She bumped into someone and, out of habit, turned to apologize.
“Man, I’ve missed you,” Jack’s familiar voice soothed her.
Tears fell from Anna’s eyes as her late husband wrapped her up in a tight embrace.
“I knew I’d see you again, I knew it!” She pulled back, stroked his middle-aged face, and squeezed his arms to be sure he was real.
“Is this a dream?” Anna asked him.
“I think you know it isn’t.”
“But I don’t feel dead. I’m so confused.”
The funeral director began setting up a large picture on a stand next to the coffin. Anna crept over to have a peek at her old, wrinkly body. It was covered only by a clean, white sheet pulled up to her neck to conceal her nakedness.
“Just like I requested,” she noted.
The director gently closed the coffin as Anna examined the oversized picture of herself. She looked at Jack with a sparkle in her eye, and the two of them burst into laughter.
“This is the one? This is the best picture they could find of me?”
“At least they blurred out your middle finger,” Jack smiled.
“My gosh, I remember this! I was drinking tequila. Would you look at the hot pink lipstick on that shriveled up smile of mine?”
Jack winked at Anna.
“You’re eighty-five years old, get it together,” she yelled at the picture, smiling.
Her family slugged around the room, as guests began pouring in to say their goodbyes.
“This is depressing,” Anna said.
“Well what did you expect? The world is a darker place without you in it, my love.”
Jack reached for Anna’s hand and held tight.
“Oh look! There are Jenny and Mel. I’m going to miss those girls. Maybe I’ll haunt them sometime.”
More familiar faces piled in and a smile spread over Anna’s face. “It’s good to know they cared,” she told Jack.
Anna’s youngest great-grandchild was Jill, a blonde hair, blue-eyed sweetie pie who just celebrated her first birthday. She came toddling toward Anna on unsteady feet.
“Nana!” Jill babbled, pointing as drool hung from her lips.
“Nana’s in heaven with the angels now,” her mother soothed. She swooped Jill up into her arms.
Jill’s chubby-cheeked smile flashed over her mother’s shoulder, as the toddler reached out to Anna.
Anna placed her thumbs against her temples and wiggled her fingers while blowing raspberries to Jill. The sweet girl squealed and clapped.
Anna placed her hands over her heart. “She can see me?”
“Sometimes they can,” Jack said. “Especially when they’re little.”
Anna arched her brow as a new guest entered the room.
“And what is Ethel doing here? She doesn’t even like me.”
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
“Look at her pretending to care. Oh, I’m haunting this one for sure. Books will be flying off shelves, and dishware will be levitating. You can count on it,” Anna promised playfully.
Ethel made her way up to the casket, collapsing into tears and causing a scene. Anna followed close.
“What a drama queen. Would you look at this, Jack? I don’t even think those tears are real!”
“Anna,” he said.
“What a fake…”
“Anna!” Jack interrupted. He nodded in Allison’s direction.
She was huddled with her two brothers and clearly struggling with this event. Anna floated over to her children, who were already wrinkled with age themselves. She put her arms around them as best she could.
“Oh God, it’s like she’s still here, I can feel her,” Allison sobbed.
“Mom probably is still here,” Alan soothed. “She’d never let anything keep her away from us. Not even the Grim Reaper himself.”
“I can feel her too,” her oldest brother agreed. “Of course, it could just be gas.”
“Andrew!” Allison snorted at her brother’s weird humor.
Anna floated back to Jack’s side. “I feel so helpless. Is there anything I can do to comfort them?”
“Not that I know of. This is their time to hurt and to heal. It’s what life is all about. They’ll be fine.”
Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” played softly over the speakers.
“They remembered!” Anna clapped her hands together as a smile spread across her face.
“Don’t worry…about a thing…cause every little thing’s, gonna be alright…” Anna swayed to the music, memories flooding her soul.
Her family also smiled now, sharing their own memories of Anna. Some memories were such a gift, and the most important ones never seemed to fade.
“I’m really going to miss the kids,” Anna sighed.
“We’ll stay close by. They’ll be here with us all too soon.”
Anna and Jack stood side by side on the familiar grounds of their property. In human terms, a week had passed, but time was different in this new reality. For Anna, it had only felt like minutes.
Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were gathered at the back of the property, just outside the tree line. Allison and her husband had moved in to help take care of Anna during the final stages of her life, so Anna left the house to them.
It was a beautiful fall day. The sun was shining, and the leaves were vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. The smell of burning firewood blew in on the crisp breeze. A small hole was freshly dug a short distance from the ten-year-old oak tree with Jack’s memorial plaque tacked to it. Allison placed the bio urn, containing Anna’s ashes and an oak seed, into the hole.
“Rest in peace, Momma. Hug Dad for us.”
Anna wrapped her arms around Jack. “This is from the kids.”
He smiled and hugged her tight.
Allison furrowed her brows. “Do you think that, somewhere out there, Mom and Dad still exist?”
“I don’t know.” Alan put his arm around his sister.
The grandkids buried the urn, excited for the day they would have a picnic under their Nana’s living memorial.
That evening while Allison was in the shower, tears slid down her cheeks and she sobbed. Thoughts of her own mortality, her mother, and the fresh empty void in her life consumed her.
“She’ll be okay, Anna.”
“There has to be some way I can comfort her.”
“Let her live, I promise she can handle this. We’ll check on her in a little while, but right now, I have so much to show you.”
Anna started to follow Jack. But then her eyes lit up and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.
“Wait, I’ve got an idea!” She disappeared into the bathroom.
Seconds later she emerged, her features much more relaxed than before, and she took Jack’s hand.
Somewhere in the Universe, in a place so beautiful human language can’t describe it, Jack and Anna laughed and twirled in each other’s arms to a heavenly melody no human ear could comprehend. Peace and love permeated every part of her soul. She was home.
Allison stepped out of the shower and reached for her robe. Her eyes widened, goosebumps tickled her skin, and her breath caught in her throat. Then peace filled her heart, and she smiled. She hadn’t heard anyone enter the bathroom, but in the fog on the mirror, in her mother’s familiar handwriting, were the words: WE STILL EXIST.