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, October 29, 2015

Contacting the Spirits

Halloween, Part Two.

Our Halloween festivities began thousands of years ago with people trying to ward off wandering, malevolent spirits. People were afraid of Death because it took family and friends they loved away for no apparent reason. While modern medicine has removed some of those reasons, people still die unexpectedly, and too many die young.

This is the time of year when three-foot-tall skeletons, ghosts, and monsters wander our streets and come to our doors wanting candy. The kids do it for the fantasy, but the adults are still scared of Death. And long-leggedy beasties. And things that go bump in the night. They want to know what is living in the darkness, and what is hiding under their bed. They want to know where their loved ones go when they die. Can we communicate with them? Some of us try through séances, psychics, and Ouija boards.

Religions bounce this discussion around the room like a red beach ball trying to explain the whethers and whatevers of transworld destinations and communications.

There are boatloads of beliefs about what happens to people when they die. Take your pick. In scientific societies it’s easy to be skeptical of what comes next because we can’t prove anything. It’s like trying to demonstrate that Schroedinger’s cat is alive without looking. Everything we think we know is secondhand information, like something we heard from a friend of a friend. I personally don’t know anyone who has been there and come back.

The Tree of Life is rooted in death.

Tibetan Buddhists believe the dead have forty-nine days to accept one of three openings to the next world and move on, or they are stuck here as ghosts. The Russian Orthodox Church allows 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 say nothing happens. That’s it. End of that person’s body, personality, and soul.

The wisdom, compassion, and love of those who died continue to live in us and nurture us.

Some religions maintain rituals and observances to preserve the bonds with those who have passed over. The Japanese maintain altars in their homes to keep the lines of communication open with their ancestors. They also gather for the summer Bon festival to honor all the dead.

We also want guidance from those in the beyond for how to live our lives. Catholics pray to the saints for intercession. Others interpret tea leaves, tarot cards, and even fortune cookies.

            Poking the Spirit World

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, although that would be cool. Yet there have been enough events I can’t explain that make me think she has made contact, or is at least watching over me.

Barb, a friend of mine who lives in Oregon, occasionally relays 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 did 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.

The summer after Ev died, I was back in Yosemite and held a personal 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 on 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 nice, even if they are a little spooky.

But 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 in that instant 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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