“See you in Valhalla”

Signs from loved ones in Odin’s hall can be found in odd places

Laura Goetz
Stevens Point, Wis.

See you in Valhalla

Photo courtesy of Laura Goetz
No one was prouder to be a Viking than Goetz’s father.

It’s hard to kill a Viking. Ask the Swedes, the Finns, even the Brits. Vikings have fire and ice in their veins. They prefer to die in a glorious battle after pillaging a village.

No one was prouder to be a Viking than my father. But, in the end, it wasn’t an enemy that killed him; it was love. More precisely, the loss of love, 61 years of it.

My mother became so sick so quickly that she was gone before we could understand that losing her was even a possibility.

My mother wanted to be the one to tell my father she was leaving sooner than they planned. She told him the day she came home from a brief stay in the hospital. He sat with her, and she explained that she was not discharged for being healed but because there was nothing more they could do for her.

When I arrived hours later, I found my mother being her strong and practical self. I found my father inconsolable. I tried to reassure him that even though we had weeks not months, we would be together. That I wasn’t going to leave them. But what none of us knew was that, in reality, we didn’t have days, weeks, or even hours. We only had minutes.

And when those minutes passed, she was gone.

In that second, my father’s strong heart began to break. Slowly declining when fall after fall led to complication after complication until it was clear he was not able to survive without her.

He transitioned between my home, the nursing home, and the hospital in rapid succession. No matter the setting, my father would greet me when I entered the room the same way saying “I think I’m going to die today.” Always looking to me for assurance that he was wrong. Every day I would respond in the same way. “No. Today is not a good day to die. Nobody’s going to Valhalla today.”

And every day I would be right. Until one day, I wasn’t.

I knew on that day when he said, “I think I’m going to die today” that he was right. This day was different. This day he didn’t look to me for reassurance that he was wrong. This day, he looked past me, into the corner and said, “There’s my dad. My dad’s here now.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and said, “That’s wonderful. I’ve never met him. I’m glad he stopped by.” Midwest niceness had been so ingrained in me that it took over, even when talking to those on the other side.

I knew why his father was there. He was there to take him home. He was there to take his only son to Odin’s hall. To Valhalla, where the brave live forever.

Although my heart was breaking, I knew that today was, indeed, a good day to die.

In the hours before my beloved aunt came to help me say goodbye to her cherished older brother, I sat on the edge of his bed. My forehead pressed to his and we talked. No longer able to respond, aside from the squeeze of my hand, he was able to speak volumes with those squeezes.

I told him I was sorry I hadn’t been strong enough to save him. Squeeze.

I told him to go with his father. Squeeze.

I asked him to send me a sign. Nothing vague or ambiguous. I asked him to send me a sign that was so insanely obvious that there would be no question that it was from him. I asked him to promise me that he would send a sign that he made it safely home.

Squeeze. Squeeze.

See you in Valhalla

Some signs are meant to be seen but not watched. “The movie looks so terrible I feel like my dad wouldn’t want me to watch it,” Goetz says.

We listened to his favorite music. I played old phone messages from my mom so he could hear her voice one last time on this side before he joined her on the other.

I told him to go to Valhalla proudly, knowing he was a good son, a good husband, and a good father. That he was brave and strong and should take his place in the hall of warriors along with the rest of his ancestors.

And then he went. Quietly but bravely, he went with his father.

As his life ended, my wait began.

And I waited.

And waited. But there was no sign.

There were no words in the clouds. No angels. No messages. No signs.

I was mad. More than mad, I was pissed. He promised me he would send a sign. He gave me a double squeeze, which was the same as a blood oath, that he would send me a sign.

I stopped looking.

I found myself becoming more in shock than depressed that in six months I could lose both of my parents. The kind of shock that finds you at odd moments of the day staring at nothing.

This is the state I found myself in one day at the Dollar Store, waiting for my husband. I didn’t need anything in particular but was standing there nonetheless when something made me shift my eyes ever so slightly so that I would notice the message from my father. With tears I couldn’t stop, I handed the checkout girl my $1.06 to take my unmistakable sign home: a DVD that had been lying on the top of the movie bin was simply titled, See you in Valhalla.

Laura Goetz is a social worker, educator, and activist from Wisconsin.  Follow her on Instagram @laura_goetz_ or learn more at www.angelictroublemaker.com.

This article originally appeared in the July 26, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.