Clocks, stoves and life & death coincidences

By Carol / June 7, 2016 /

As a child, I grew up singing a song about a clock that counted the seconds of a man’s life. “My Grandfather’s Clock” – Are you familiar with it? The refrain goes like this:

“Ninety years without slumbering
tick, tock, tick, tock
His life seconds numbering
tick, tock, tick, tock
It stopped, short, never to go again
When the old man died”

I recall this song, which I’d always considered a made-up story, because I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. Her 100th birthday would have been this month. She lived a full, active life until she passed on nine years ago.

Mom's stove served her faithfully.

Mom’s stove served her faithfully.

On the weekend she died, my husband and I drove to Preston, the small eastern-Iowa town where she lived. We intended to spend the weekend, knock off the list of chores Mom invariably had for us, and return on Sunday afternoon. A typical weekend visit home.

When we walked into the kitchen on Friday afternoon, Mom (age 91) was standing at the stove canning tomatoes. That stove got a lot of use, every day for more than 30 years, since putting meals on the table three times a day was a task Mom thoroughly enjoyed. Because it was so well used, it’s no particular surprise that the stove was on its last legs. In fact, three of the four burners worked intermittently, if at all, and the fourth gave out that day.

Well, my mother couldn’t live without a stove, so we all trooped down to the local hardware store, which also sold major appliances, and picked out a new stove. They delivered it to her house on Saturday morning, in time for Mom to bake an apple crisp and cook lunch. Don’t you love small town Iowa?

That same morning, I convinced Mom to throw out the dish cloth she’d been using because it was worn to threads, held together mostly by the thread she used to sew each new hole closed. With a new stove and a new dish cloth, she was all set.

That afternoon, my husband I drove to a nearby town to finish off the list of chores. As we left, Mom lay down to listen to Rush Limbaugh and take a nap, as she did every afternoon.

When we returned, barely an hour and a half later, we learned from a neighbor that while we were gone, Mom got up to defrost the deep freeze. In the process, she had a stroke. Less than six hours later she was dead.

Past the shock of her sudden passing, I couldn’t help but think about Mom’s stove and her dishcloth. They gave out on the day she died. Just like the Grandfather Clock.

Cosmic coincidence? A mysterious link between animate and inanimate? The workings of my idle mind trying to make sense of life and death? I don’t know. But it was curious, and something I think about.

Have you ever experienced something like this?

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  1. Pat on June 8, 2016 at 12:58 am

    This is an interesting idea and I can’t say that I have ever experienced something like it, but there does seem to be universal message in it…to keep on a keeping on. What a lovely memory of how your mom remained active in the kitchen until her last moments.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 8, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Going home that weekend was a blessing in many ways. Having the memory that Mom was happy and active until the very end is among the best. Her life is a constant inspiration for me in how I live my life.

  2. Merril Smith on June 9, 2016 at 6:32 am

    This was lovely, full of love and reflection. I think coincidence and synchronicity are usually a way that our minds try to make connections. I think that’s part of what makes us human, the need to look into and to try to understand the mysterious. But who knows, it could be some sort of cosmic link. In any case, it all seems to fit. How fortunate, too, that you were visiting your mom then. And also, that she spent her last day alive doing things she loved with people she loved.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 9, 2016 at 7:45 am

      My guess is your point about our human need to make sense of things is correct, Merril. I talked about this very thing with my granddaughter after I read her an Irish legend about how the Giant’s Causeway came to be and she asked if the story was ‘really true.’ Legends, myths, songs – they all help us make sense of the mysterious.

      I do feel fortunate that we were home that weekend. If we had not been, I would always have wondered if I missed something in our frequent phone calls, if Mom were not as well as she sounded. Seeing her that weekend – smiling, canning, cooking, talking – I know she was truly well and happy. It was just her time.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 9, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Sometimes when I hear stories like the one you just told about your mother, Carol, I wonder what my ending will be like. I always hope it will not be lingering and painful, but quick and in the midst of activity I love. My mom had osteoporosis and lived with a lot of pain the last few years of her life. The day before she died my sister took her to the hospital because she had abdominal pain. It was in January and when they returned from the hospital there was a beautiful hoarfrost on all the trees. Mom couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful everything was and that she thought heaven might be like that. The next morning when she got up she had an abdominal aneurism fell down and died in my sister’s arms.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 9, 2016 at 11:34 am

      At one point, a friend of my mother’s sat down in her chair to make a phone call and died. When we talked about it, Mom said, “I know you hate to hear me say it, but that’s the way I want to go.” I responded, “Oh Mom. That’s the way we all want to go.” Mom went almost as quickly and I hope I get to do the same. I’m glad your mother was seeing beauty to the very end and that you have that memory of her.

  4. Diane Stephenson on June 9, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    My mom died 7 years ago at 97. She fell about 4 days before she died and spent those days in hospital. The previous day I spoke with the doctor about physio and getting her ready to come home (she lived with me for almost 5 years). Early on the afternoon she died, I went to make some changes at the bank before going to visit her. I stopped at the nursing station to speak to a nurse about giving my mom some supplements, and discovered that she had already died. It was quite a shock, but definitely the best way to go. Had I not gone to the bank when I did, the account may have been frozen and I would have been in big trouble without money of my own to pay funeral expenses. Everything worked out for the best.

    By the way, I remember that song well. I believe I still have a music book with that song in it. I still sing part of it to myself once in a while.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 9, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      It is a shock to lose someone the way we did so suddenly. That possibility is a reminder to tell people often how important they are to us, how much we love them. Thanks for sharing your story, Diane.

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