Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Contacting the Spirits

(from the Archives)

Ghosts of my dead don’t dance around the bed at night.

But I’m asleep, and Evelyn would be a gentle ghost and not want to wake me – no screaming, no rattling of chains, no dancing around with flaming swords. Yet there have been enough events I can’t explain that make me think she is trying to make contact.

Cultures and religions around the world have boatloads of beliefs about what happens to people when they die. In scientific societies it’s easy to be skeptical of what comes next because we can’t prove anything. It’s like trying to prove that Schroedinger’s cat is alive. Everything we think we know is second-hand information, like something we heard from a friend of a friend. I don’t know anyone who has been there and come back.

Buddhists believe the dead have forty-nine days to move on or they get stuck here. Greek and Russian Orthodox give forty days. The Sioux think that if we disrespect the dead, they will intentionally hang around and haunt us. One African tribe believes the spirits of the dead can come back in descendants. While Christians and Muslims believe souls travel on to the afterlife, Judaism doesn’t spend much time thinking about the hereafter, preferring to focus on living in the here and now. Some people say nothing happens. That’s it. End of that person’s body, consciousness, and soul.

As to whether we can communicate with the dead, religions bounce the discussion around the room like a red beach ball trying to explain the whethers and whatevers of transworld communications.

Some religions maintain rituals and observances to preserve bonds with those who have passed over. The Japanese have a shrine in the home for keeping the lines communication open with ancestors, which is like texting with the dead and trying to understand their cryptic messages. The Japanese also have the summer Bon festival when they honor all the dead. Mexico has its Day of the Dead celebrations in late fall. Catholics pray to dead saints for intercession. The ancient Celts observed Samhain on All Hallows Eve in late October, believing that on this day the barrier between the two worlds thins, and the dead and the living can see and communicate with each other.

            Ordinary Moments

We are connected to people in ways that we can’t see, both the living and the dead.

Occasionally, on an otherwise ordinary day, I think I hear Evelyn’s voice or feel her presence. Is this real? Out of the blue I think of a friend and a letter arrives that day from him, and he hasn’t written in a year. Coincidence? It seems that every time I enter Yosemite, a coyote is standing along the road to greet me. Other people claim they never see coyotes. Is this my spirit guide waiting for me?

In general, I don’t pay much attention to paranormal matters, but every time I’m about to pooh-pooh the possibilities and slam the door, something happens that nudges the door back open.

I know there is more going on than what I understand. I just don’t know what. Sometimes all the pieces of the universe come into alignment and everything is so perfect that I wonder what I have done to deserve this joy.

For instance, the autumn before Evelyn died, we were in Yosemite celebrating the wedding of friends. After the ceremony, we walked into the meadow. The sunlight seemed diffused and the valley lit in a half-light. It felt like we were touching eternity, and that our entire life together had been moving toward this moment. It had the feeling of fullness, of completion. And perhaps it was, because six months later Evelyn would die of an unknown heart problem.

            Poking the Spirit World

We can try to communicate with the dead through séances and receive guidance through tarot cards and fortune cookies.

I haven’t tried to do this with Ev, but Barb, a friend of mine in Oregon, does relay messages to me from her psychic buddy. One day I put a rose from our yard in the rose holder on the wall, something I would do before each of Ev’s theater performances, and I told my cats, “This is for your mom.” Barb called later that week and asked if I had done something special for Ev on Tuesday, because her friend said that Ev had been there that day.

In the summer after Ev died, I was back in Yosemite and held a private ceremony for her at Happy Isles, her favorite spot in the valley, and took photos of the scene to mark the occasion. When I returned home and looked at the photos, I noticed there was the reflection of a face in the water. It was Ev’s face. Kind of. A week later, when I was talking with Barb, she told me her psychic friend had been on the phone when he asked what Barb was looking at. She said a photo of Ev. He said that Ev was laughing because she had forgotten what she looked like.

            Getting Poked Back

Messages delivered through other people are all well and good, even if they are a little spooky.

One evening, six months after Ev died, I was in Yosemite sitting by the river at sunset, watching daylight fade to a light yellow sky. I was feeling lonely, and off-handedly asked Ev to give me a sign if she was still around, and the sunset turned heart red. I was stunned, and sat still for ten minutes. I wrote it off as a strange happenstance. I mean, what are the odds? But when I came back to camp, someone asked if I had seen the sunset tonight. She had worked in the valley for eight years and had never seen a sunset like that.

So, you know, this door is staying open.

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