I’m a big fan of the Netflix show “After Life” created by and starring Ricky Gervais. While the subject matter and profuse profanity make it a show that not everyone will enjoy, I find its take on death and the grieving process refreshing and poignant.
The third and final season debuted this month and I was blown away by one scene in particular, which felt like my mother was speaking to me from beyond the grave.
As I’ve written about extensively on this blog and in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, my mother was reluctant to discuss any end-of-life issues, but she did give me a poem she had copied by hand and said she would like that read after she died. She didn’t want any service and she chose cremation over burial so it was left to me, her only child, how to honor her wishes.
The poem she chose is the poem that is read during a very moving scene in the final season of “After Life.” When the actress began reciting the poem, I almost jumped out of my seat and my breath caught in my throat. The poem is fairly well-known but still, what are the chances that the poem my mother chose was the one that was recited on a TV show?
I chose to honor my mother’s wishes by not only reciting the poem after her death, but having it imprinted on her urn. You can read the poem below.
The documentary focuses on the mysterious death of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, who was found dead in a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in 2013. While authorities ruled the death an accidental drowning, there are many questions surrounding her death, amplified by the notorious reputation of the hotel. The four-part series covers many of the high-profile crimes that have taken place at the Cecil.
For those interested in the possible supernatural influence at the Cecil, I’m sharing my father’s terrifying experience. My father lived at the Cecil in 1965. He was a young, single immigrant from Northern Ireland who needed affordable accommodations near his workplace. He had been staying at the Cecil for some time with no unusual incidents to report until one night, he woke up to the sensation that someone was smothering him. He described it as a heavy pressure weighing down on his chest and throat, as if someone was sitting atop him. He gasped for breath and tried to fight back, but it felt like his entire body was paralyzed by an invisible but strong presence. Then as soon as it began, the feeling dissipated. My father ran downstairs to the night clerk, and explained what had happened. The clerk said, nonchalantly, that someone had been murdered in my dad’s room.
My dad changed rooms and did not experience anything unusual during the rest of his stay.
But the experience haunted my father for the rest of his life. Decades later, my father would be visibly shaken when retelling the story of what happened in that room at the Cecil Hotel. He would break out into a sweat, and his hands would shake. My mother would caution him to stop telling the story if it upset him so much, but Dad felt compelled to go on, even while clutching his heart.
My dad survived the Nazis bombing his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland as a child. He recounted having to run to the bomb shelter in the middle of the night with less fear than he told the story about that night at the Cecil Hotel.
The logical, rational side of me can dismiss my father’s experience at the Cecil as just a nightmare. He was prone to nightmares, very bad ones in which I remember him moaning and crying out in fear. But the thing about his nightmares is that they were always the classic “someone chasing me” scenario. Never did he have a nightmare that in any way resembled his experience at the Cecil.
There’s no way for me to know if my father had an encounter with an evil presence that haunts the Cecil Hotel or not, but I do know that whatever my father experienced, it felt very real to him.
When my father stayed at the Cecil, he likely wasn’t aware of its disturbing history. About a dozen suicides had been recorded at the hotel by the mid-1960s, including several women. Pauline Otten, 27, committed suicide in 1962 by jumping out of a window at the Cecil. In a tragic twist, she killed a pedestrian on impact. Just a year before my father’s stay, Goldie Osgood, a retiree known as “Pigeon Goldie” and the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room. The coroner said Osgood had been choked to death with a hand towel. The case was never solved, though an initial arrest was made. This Medium post offers a good overview of the deaths associated with the Cecil Hotel.
Unfortunately, the Cecil’s reputation only grew worse. In subsequent decades, it has been home to at least two serial killers, including the infamous Night Stalker. Lam’s mysterious death garnered worldwide interest and once again put the Cecil in the spotlight. The hotel tried to rebrand itself as Stay on Main for a few years and is undergoing yet another transformation but still attracts much attention from paranormal enthusiasts.
If you have interest in the history of the Cecil Hotel and the Elisa Lam case, I encourage you to watch this new documentary and let me know what you think. Many of you have reached out to me over the years to offer your own experiences when visiting the Cecil Hotel and I appreciate your comments.
If you have Netflix, you may have seen an ad for the 24-minute film Extremis. I often ignore whatever Netflix is promoting, because often it just doesn’t match up with my interests. But this short film addresses an issue near and dear to my heart: end-of-life care wishes.
Extremis follows Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care specialist at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. She helps guide families through the toughest decision of all, when to transition from life-sustaining care that is often uncomfortable for the patient (breathing tubes, feeding tubes) and focus on comfort care, allowing a patient to die peacefully.
It is often the toughest decision a family will ever make.
Much like some people are more motivated to quit smoking after hearing the stories of lung cancer victims versus reading inspirational brochures, I hope that this film will serve as a sobering wake-up call about how important is to make end-of-life wishes. The consequences of ignoring such advice is outlined in painful detail in the film.
At the same time, when no orders are in place, each family reserves the right to decide what care their loved one will receive, even if it goes against the doctor’s advice. I may not have agreed with all of the family’s decisions in this film, but I could tell they came from the heart.
Anyone who has been through an emergency medical issue with a loved one will relate to this film. Suddenly you are faced with making major life-and-death decisions under the worst of circumstances. It is overwhelming and emotional. There is despair and hope and guilt and more than anything, a cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything. It’s a moment you never want to experience but also one that you never forget.
If you have a chance, check it out and let me know what you think.