As a youngster, I hoped that ghosts were only ideas for popular Halloween costumes or subjects of comic books, like that cute little Casper. I didn’t like to think that a wavy, transparent rendition of my grandpa might show up at the foot of my bed “one dark and stormy night.” And I hated the idea that the steam fogging over the windows of my old boyfriend’s Chevy may not be the result of our teenage passion but rather an outlet for my grandmother’s wrath as she attempted to scold me from the other side.
Although I didn’t want to believe in ghosts, I can’t say I didn’t believe in them. Some think ghosts and spirits are the same thing, but I don’t envision spirits making many trips from the spirit world; whereas ghosts seem to show up anywhere at anytime. When enough people share a sufficient number of stories about visiting apparitions, possibilities sneak into the listeners’ thoughts, dreams, and imagination. Nevertheless, I never asked for living proof; I was content to wonder. And then my sweet daddy died.
He left us in the middle of a September night in 2007. He was 83 years old. Mom, my sis, and I huddled around his bed, holding his hands, waiting for the last labored breath to signal his good bye. But when it came, it wasn’t his final farewell. Seconds after his lungs emptied, shards of lightning shattered the dark, and rolls of thunder heralded his leaving. Since that night, I’ve longed for the spirit or ghost of my father-past to drop in for a minute or more. Is that a ridiculous wish?
It’s interesting how losing someone you love so much rearranges fears. I am no longer afraid of the possibility of spirit visitors, but I am afraid of the impossibility of them. Or at least I was. Lately little things have been happening to blow away those tiny motes of doubt that float in with sweet memories. And it’s not like I have been consciously seeking reassurances either. They’ve just come – unexpectedly, randomly, and subtly.
The first one came in the form of a story – well, a novel, actually. For the second time, I checked out The Lovely Bones from the library. I couldn’t get past chapter one the first time I listened to the audio tape, but friends recommended that I give Alice Sebold’s debut novel another chance. Although there are many painful parts of this remarkable tale, a beautiful tenderness soon emerges from Susie’s other-worldly “watch care” over her family and friends. Her interactions with them are only possible because of her love for them, and it’s the best kind of love, as it is grounded in who they are and who they are not. By the time I finished the last chapter, I believed in the characters, and I believed in their experiences.
The second little reassurance emerged from a more expected source: church. Last Saturday evening, a well-known and beloved religious leader visited our congregation, and when he rose to speak to us, he announced that he felt prompted to share an experience that he had never spoken of publicly. And then he talked of a time when he left this life to visit the beautiful and peaceful realm beyond this one. Now I’ve read of near-death experiences where individuals see a bright light, and they are filled with warmth and a desire to stay in that state. But this was the first time I heard such a testimony from someone I know, someone I respect, and most importantly, someone I trust. This unusual experience reoccurred 3 more times in his life. I know I was not the only one in that chapel who needed to hear that message, but I do realize it was meant for me, too.
The latest chapter was delivered via email. I opened a “Teaching and Learning” newsletter that featured an essay by one of my favorite authors, Amy Tan. “Saying Thanks to My Ghosts”was submitted by the author as part of of NPR’s “This I Believe” series. Ghosts/spirits have visited Amy throughout her life, but she didn’t realize it, even when her mother recognized their unique contributions to Amy’s writing. Now if any mother could rend the veil between heaven and earth, it is Amy’s mother, and according to the author, she did!
So, there they are. Three little incidents that reminded me that ghosts or spirits can wander back and forth between worlds, and that is no longer frightening, it is comforting. I may not awaken one night to see Daddy sitting by my bedside, but we keep in touch through little messages sent through others or through warm rememberings, and quite often through dreams – some silly, some sweet.
I love you, Daddy, and I am happy that you are near.