How losing my biggest fan made me a paranormal thriller author
People often ask me where the idea for the dream realm came from, and the answer might surprise you. It was never a part of the original story that I started back in the seventh grade. In fact, it wasn’t going to be a part of The Key when I committed to putting it in book form. But life has a funny way of sneaking into the books we write, even without us realizing it.
When Covid spread in the US in March 2019, my beloved nana, Ruby Rhue, had fallen and broken her tailbone. She went from living alone to staying with my parents while she healed. That was when we really noticed her latest symptoms. Nana was quite the trickster. She could hold it together for phone conversations and brief visits, and fool everyone that she was more okay than she actually was. However, living with my parents for an extended time make her less able to fool us. She was showing signs of dementia already, but it was so much more.
We would find out later that nana had vascular dementia. The worst kind to have. Her blood pressure bottomed out at any notice, because her heart couldn’t pump enough blood through her body. This caused her right lobe to have moderate damage already, hence, the dementia and why she kept falling. In fact, the doctors told us this was not the first time she had fallen and broken her tailbone sadly. However, she was determined not to leave the house that she had raised my dad and three brothers in as a single mother. We had already gotten her home care with regular visits to help her clean her house, etc. Only the stinker wouldn’t let them touch anything because they “never got it right”.
As I wrote The Key, I knew there would be a day where my favorite person on the planet would no longer be with me. Something Sophie was also familiar with. Quite frankly, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I developed the dream realm to allow Sophie to still talk to her dead parents, even into her current day. I thought it was a one and done when I finished with The Key. However, life changed drastically, and I was about to go through the hardest life experience one goes through.
As I worked on The Protector, I watched nana get worse rather quickly. We looked it up to find out that the only result for vascular dementia was a heart attack or a stroke, which she was already having more regularly than we could stand. Covid made it impossible for her to see doctors as the world shut down because of the pandemic, and paramedics were coming to the house more often, because she kept passing out and we weren’t always able to wake her up quickly. She also had these horrible seizures that we couldn’t figure out what was causing them, and she looked like she was in so much pain.
The confusion was really terrifying her, and she looked like that terrified lost child you wanted to just pulling into your arms and hold on to forever more often than not. Though always causing very handsome men to come to the rescue every time, like seriously! She had the hottest paramedics coming to my parent’s house! My heart began to shatter into tiny pieces that seemed to never be able to mend.
Needless to say, the dream realm grew. There was suddenly a council of death, rules, and consequences for breaking them. Even for the ones you loved the most. And after being told we still had months with her, they finally could get her into hospice care even though it would be from my parent’s house since Covid wasn’t allowing us to get her into a facility. Despite already being at wits’ end as she grew uncontrollably meaner by the second due to her brain betraying her and my mother (the primary caregiver) breaking more often than not, I spent most of my unexpected unemployment time with her to give them breaks. We played rummy until she couldn’t see the cards, remember how to play or what she was even looking at, or could even hold them anymore. I played Elvis as often as I could for her, and we let her have all the chocolate and sweets she could consume until she stopped being able to eat or drink at all.
She started talking to people we couldn’t see. The doctors told us they hallucinate towards the end, but we knew different. Since nana was too stubborn to call for help to get out of bed, my parents got a baby monitor to listen to her when she slept. Although it would be a long time before my mother would sleep again since my dad is deaf and sleeps with a mask to help him breathe at night, my mother had the pleasure of listening to her snore ridiculously loud, and have a party with all the guests the rest of us couldn’t see. Mom would even tell her to tell her “guests” that they couldn’t stay so late, because mom still had to get up and go to work. It was all fun and games until we started hearing the “guests” on the baby monitor talking back.
Even on one of her last days, mom and I were in the kitchen making nana some lunch. We heard her talking to someone, which always made us giggle a little. Although, whenever we went to the door to hear what exactly she was saying, she would stop immediately, as if her “guests” told her to stop talking. It was eerie, to say the least. This particular day, we both stopped frozen in our tracks, because the next voice that came through the monitor was NOT nana’s. In fact, it sounded exactly like my uncle, who had just passed from a terribly long fight with cancer. It still makes me shiver when I think about it.
For her last Christmas with us, dad dressed up as Santa and had her giggling like a schoolgirl. I got it all on video from my phone and we got the best picture of them together, not realizing that would be the last one we would get with her, because once she was entered into the hospice system a nurse came to tell us we didn’t have the months that the doctors insisted we still had. We had days. I had already started writing Dead Draw, but the world and my stories came to an unexpected halt. Nothing mattered more than to make her as comfortable as possible during this trying time.
Mother’s Day was coming, and we informed all the family. The woman had like seven siblings, four children, and a plethora of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those that could come say goodbye during the pandemic came to do so. After enough people who hadn’t visited her in forever (because it was too difficult for them to deal with her condition) visited, she finally shut down completely. Hospice said it was a normal reaction. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t open her eyes, and her seizures got much worse, but she wasn’t ready to go.
Hospice was amazing and came running whenever we called. We stopped her medications and just gave her the pain meds while trying to make her as comfortable as possible. They walked us through what to expect and called and came to check on us often. It was Monday, the day after Mother’s Day, when the gurgling started and she was drowning in her own fluids. They came to rotate her and clear her lungs, and I held onto her hand and played Elvis all day and all night. The tears rolled down my cheeks nonstop as I whispered into her ear that she could go. We would be okay without her. She needed to go be with her other three sons that were already in Heaven, give Elvis a good chasing, and I would stay here and take care of mom and dad. She passed shortly after.
I wasn’t sure I would ever write again. My love of books and my biggest fan of life, writing, and everything else was wrapped up in the frail woman that no longer was in the same realm as me. How was I supposed to keep going? But nana wasn’t having it. For the woman who insisted we see haunted mansions on every vacation trip, watched endless ghost stories on tv, threatened us until she couldn’t talk anymore that she would haunt us from the grave if we didn’t give her house to someone that would keep her Jumangi growing in the backyard, and was partying it up with the dead until she went to join them, started poking at me from Heaven and hasn’t let me rest since!
Long story short, the dream realm was developed because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the person I loved the most. It grew as I was forced to do just that, and now it runs rampant because I never want her to be disappointed in the woman she left to carry on her memories and legacy. That is why you see my writing shift a bit as you go through the chapters of Sophie’s journey, and why it gets a lot more paranormalish than just a basic suspense thriller. Because our loved ones never truly leave us, even in death. They will haunt you when you get off path, or help to put you back on it. They are our guardian angels, to help keep harm far from reach. And lecture us until we do the right thing. Which is why it is such a prominent theme in the Sophie Lee Saga.