Submitted by Andrew Nicoll
Sun bathed the charming farm house with gold and crimson rays as content horses grazed along the picturesque countryside. A sight Andrew and his wife, Anni, had witnessed many times. Their home was the perfect place to indulge his wife’s passion, animals. Feeling particularly compassionate for God’s creatures, Anni had acquired 8 cats, 2 dogs, 4 horses and 6 donkeys. With the exception of two horses, all were rescue animals. Over the years she developed a growing interest in birds of prey and began volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Wanting to improve her skills she attended courses at her own expense to become certified as a rehab practitioner.
Anni’s propensity for helping others came from years of nursing. It was later she started her own consultancy business giving her the freedom to work from home. She would represent injured workers in their compensation claims. Although her business was successful it was up and down financially. Adhering to her own principles Anni refused to represent those she perceived to be taking advantage of the system. Kind and devoted, she never turned her back on someone who truly needed her help though, animals included.
Andrew’s service to others came from time spent in the military and various roles of law enforcement. Both of which contributed to a strict personal code of structure and discipline. In spite of the tough exterior, there was no denying the soft spot he held for his wife and daughter. After 32 years of marriage Andrew and his wife had experienced their ups and downs but remained steadfast with one another through it all.
Making Anni happy was all that mattered to Andrew. When she wanted to move to the country 12 years ago he knew right away what the move would mean for him. For years he endured the three hour total commute back and forth to work. It was a strain but seeing the happiness on his wife’s face made it worthwhile. He was relieved though to finally enter semi-retirement.
Spending time with Anni was special. One trip in particular provided a beautiful memory for Andrew. In 2011, they went to Botswana, Africa. Anni being an animal lover was thrilled to see native animals in their natural habitat. A smile adorned her face the entire time, which in turn, warmed his heart. Absolutely nothing could top the elephants though. Hundreds lumbered down to the Chobe River, intent upon cooling their massive bodies in the heat. Mesmerized by their play, Anni was as happy as a kid in a candy store. Her joy was contagious. It was a trip of a lifetime the couple would cherish forever.
There were many occasions Anni and Andrew would love to relive, like the trip to Africa. However, the day she shared with Andrew her diagnoses of cancer was not one of them. Having a healthcare background she was well aware of what was to come. For Andrew, the news was hard to handle. Facts, treatments, and the thought of losing his wife were making his head spin. Despite the mixture of emotions he had to be there for her. By far, Anni was the strongest person he knew but this was a serious disease with a potentially deadly outcome and he knew she would need reinforcement.
First thing Andrew addressed was the need for health benefits. He immediately obtained a laborer job only nine minutes from the house. This would allow him to spend as much time as possible with Anni. The doctors wasted no time in aggressively attacking the breast cancer. She went through a round of chemo and radiation. Sadly, the treatments seemed to have no effect and the cancer spread to her liver, lungs and bones. Remaining positive throughout Anni never complained, the only thing she insisted on was being able to remain home. Although there were many trips to the hospital she was able to remain at home. A make-shift “hospital room” was set up on the first floor to allow her to watch her beloved horses from the window. Home health nurses were also there to assist. Anni had some good days and bad but in general there was an obvious steady decline.
As Anni’s health deteriorated their daughter, Bronwyn, who lived approximately an hour away, moved home temporarily, along with her fiancé. She wanted to be on-hand so her mother would have 24-hr care. It wasn’t long after, the end became imminent. Three weeks before Anni passed away she briefly lapsed into unconsciousness. Much to the family’s relief she did recover from the momentary setback allowing her to be lucid and coherent the remaining few weeks. Andrew and Bronwyn were thankful for every precious moment. But then, Anni’s manner of breathing changed. She began what is known as cheyne-stokes breathing. This pattern of shallow quick breaths followed by spaces of no breathing can continue for a few days, hours or minutes before the person actually stops breathing. Aware of the odds against a patient’s improvement once this stage is reached, the medical personnel informed them of the likelihood there were only a matter of days left.
Sadness clung to them like a heavy winter coat as they watched over Anni. The stifling inability to change the circumstances left them feeling helpless. She meant so much to them and letting go was not an easy thing to do. Not knowing how much time was left, the family eliminated “shifts” and stayed with her together, never leaving her side. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. her battle was coming to an end. Andrew uttered the words, “goodnight my love” and at 4:20 a.m. Anni took her final breath. Oddly, Andrew thought to himself, for once he had gotten the last word in.
A few moments later, as the family quietly grieved her passing, the water in the master bedroom came on. Everyone was downstairs and accounted for so how could this be? Andrew looked at his daughter and jokingly told her, “mum says you need a shower.” He believed it to be just a coincidence but felt the need to break the silence in the room. The thought crossed Andrew’s mind, did Anni just have the last word?
The rest of the morning was spent numbly making funeral arrangements, notifying family and other various tasks. None of which they wanted to do, but nevertheless, had to be done. That evening, although Andrew felt completely drained, he found himself unable to sleep. He spent the night on the couch in the living room where his wife had spent her final days. As the rising sun promised a beautiful morning he opened up the doors and windows breathing in the clean, fresh, country air. Moments later two pigeons fluttered around on the deck, trying to come inside. They were so determined to enter the house that Andrew was forced to close the windows and doors. The presence alone of the pigeons was extremely out of the norm. With so many birds of prey, namely hawks, in the area their chance of survival was virtually nil. As a matter-of-fact, for the three years they had lived in this house he had never seen a pigeon. Somewhat puzzled by the morning disruption, Andrew merely shook his head and continued with his morning routine.
A little later there was a knock on the door. Andrew realized immediately he had forgotten to make one important phone call. Anni’s best friend, Debbie, was there to check on her. She had been a tower of strength for Anni. Having lost a sister in a similar fashion she always knew the right thing to say. Andrew shared his gratefulness for all she had done then conveyed the events that had transpired over the past 24 hrs. Trying to mask the sadness she felt, Debbie, shared with them how she had received a voicemail the day before at 5:00 a.m. She said it displayed as an unknown number. The message was a muffled voice that simply said, “goodbye.” At the time she attributed it to a crank caller. After sleeping on it though, she was compelled the following morning to drive over and check on Anni. True to his service career, Andrew had always been skeptical of the unexplained. But now, amidst his loss, he truly felt Anni was somehow sending all of them the message that she was okay and still with them in spirit.
If someone had approached Andrew with a story of after-death communication before the loss of his wife, he would have simply shrugged it off with a “whatever.” His career, amongst other things, had cultivated a jaded skepticism of things unseen. Indisputable proof was the motivating factor for what he chose to believe. However, these strange events witnessed firsthand left him questioning his entire concept of coincidence. Could there be something to life after death? His heart embraced the belief his wife, the woman he loved so much, had broken the bonds of death as he knew it in order to give her loved ones a message. For Andrew it was loud and clear, as if she had spoken directly to him. Anni was still near. Even though he couldn’t see her, her presence brought about subtle changes to what he knew as normal. Someone else might view it as coincidence but he knew in his heart that Anni had provided signs of her continued existence. He felt in his soul his wife’s spirit was alive and well. This gave him reassuring comfort and inspired strength in moments of loneliness. Andrew faces each day knowing Anni’s spirit is forever by his side.