While mum was talking with her other son I had strayed out into the hallway where I spoke to mum's neighbour, W, who was standing in her room near the door to the hallway. We spoke about mortality - as you are always prone to do in places like nursing homes, and as it was natural for us to do after mum's recent illness - and W confessed to me that she believed in an afterlife. I expressed doubt but went on to gently and carefully describe to W my personal cosmogony with its Big Bang and the putative whatever that must have come before that event. And then W rewarded my tolerance by telling me a story.
When she was younger she had been in hospital because during childbirth she had experienced a hemorrhage. They took her to the hospital, and while the doctors were attending to her body she felt herself lifting out of it and ascending to the ceiling, where she came to rest. She told me how she stayed there looking down from under the ceiling as the doctors did their work on her. When they had finished, she said, they wrapped her in a grey blanket.
When she awoke she felt hot and she looked down to find that she was wrapped in a grey blanket. That was how she knew that what she had seen from her position underneath the hospital's ceiling had been true. The walls of the ward, she told me, also did not go all the way up to the ceiling, so she had been able to see into other rooms while she was hovering up there in her spiritual suspended animation (or whatever it was). They had taken the grey blanket from a cupboard in a nearby room and later, when she had recovered, she went into that room to find that it was laid out exactly as she had seen during her out-of-body experience.
What W told me doesn't really alter my knowledge of the universe, except to tell me that sometimes you have to be patient with people if you want to hear the truth - the truth is not always the first thing that people say, usually because they are trying to protect themselves for some reason. But it does tell me that what Pixie, our family friend from all those years ago, whose paintings adorn mum's walls in her room in the nursing home, was accurate when she told us stories about poltergeists and other faeries that she had seen.
In Pixie's case the "faeries at the bottom of the garden" were as often as not me and my brother coming up from our place - situated down the hill from hers - to have one of our lovely talks with her after school one day. But yesterday's chat with W underscored to me how universal spirituality is, and how desperately we can cling to our quotidian understanding of life out of fear or horror or whatever it is that motivates us in these things.