Sunday, April 29, 2012


His wife telephoned me late in the afternoon.

My ex-husband had been in a coma for about a week.  John was dying of a brain tumor and his wife, Alma, was distraught because he had been hiccuping continually for over 24 hours.

Alma was crying and saying that she knew he was hurting from the brutal hiccups that were shaking his emaciated body.  I felt like crying too.  It had been a long hard road to this point.  John had been under Hospice care with round the clock nurses for a couple of months.

Alex's mom lived in Phoenix with her husband, (the Snake), a Mojave Medicine Man and a "Bird Singer".  The Bird Singer is summoned to help prepare a dying person for their journey.  An idea came into my mind.  Perhaps the Snake could help.

I asked Alma if she would be all right with us trying to bring the Snake up to do a ceremony for John and she replied that she would love it.  I asked Alex to call his mom and see if they could come up that evening.  Alex told me that the Snake didn't fly, but he would try to convince him to come.  (Traditionally, the Snake could not refuse such a request if it were made face to face.  Because of this custom, Alex needed to have his mother ask the Snake in person.  A telephone call was not enough.)  Alex's mother called us back in moments and said they would come.  We called the airlines and had their tickets waiting for them.

We picked them up at the San Francisco airport a couple of hours later, and we drove through the darkness to San Rafael.  The Snake had his gourds and his ceremonial ribboned shirt with him.  When we arrived at John and Alma's  home about 11 PM, all the lights were blazing.  John and Alma's young son, Bryan,  was wide eyed and very excited about what was happening.

The Snake took a few minutes to change his shirt and to meditate and bless his gourds.  We all waited quietly exchanging whispers around the hospital bed in the front bedroom.  John continued to be jolted with brutal hiccups, and he seemed to be sleeping fitfully.  The Snake came into the bedroom and we all quieted.  Slowly and quietly, the Snake explained to us and to John that he was going to sing some songs to honor John and to prepare him for this last journey.  He said he would sing for many hours and that we should go out of the room if we needed to converse.

With that prelude, the gourds began making their loud rumble and the Snake's clear strong voice filled the room.  Within ten minutes, the hiccups had stopped.  John's posture relaxed visibly.  Alma and I started crying.  The Snake sang on and on.  Alma left the room to take the baby to bed, but we stayed there.  After several hours, the Snake said "He will sleep now.  He is not going away just yet.  He will go away early in the morning in a few more days. John will just fly away."

John died at 5:00 AM four days later.  His hiccups did not return.

As you know, I am not religious.  John's hiccups may have stopped because the loud gourd and voice scared them out of him.  I like to think he would have been amused that his women loved him enough to do this last thing for him.

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