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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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Contacting the Spirits

All Souls Day

Today we honor those who have shown up at crucial times in our lives and helped us survive. Its roots are thousands of years old in a time when people tried to ward off Death and wandering, malevolent spirits that took family and friends away, often without reason or warning. While modern medicine has subdued some of these spirits, we still fear the long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Too many people we love die unexpectedly, and too many die young for us to rest easy.

We are scared of death. We want to know where we go and what happens to us when we die.

Religions bounce this discussion around the room like a red beach ball as they try to explain the whethers and whatevers of transworld destinations and communications. There are boatloads of beliefs about what happens to people when they die.

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 Lakota 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 Christianity and Islam believe souls travel on to the afterlife, Judaism doesn’t dwell on 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.

With all of the focus on death, this week of Halloween, the Day of the Dead, Samhain, and All Saint's Day, it's the perfect time for us to talk to each other about matters of grief and death, and most of us just don’t. We don’t speak to our dead or listen for their reply. We don’t pause and ask the grieving if they’ve had any supernatural contacts with the dead.

We want to know if it’s possible to communicate with our loved ones in the other world. Can they hear us? Are they watching over us and guiding our decisions in some way?

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

This isn’t looking at death with glitter in my eyes. I’m not denying the traumatic reality of death. My loved ones are dead, and they’re not coming back. Yet the compassion of Evelyn continues to encourage and challenge me, as does the wisdom of father-in-law Stan, and the creativity of mother Martha. They are still alive to me in a real way. I think about them often enough that they could walk into the room and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Religions have rituals and observances that seek to preserve these bonds with those who have died. The Japanese maintain altars in their homes to keep the lines of communication open with ancestors. They also gather in the summer for the Bon festival and honor all the dead. Some of us try to communicate with our dead through séances, psychics, tea leaves, tarot cards and Ouija boards.

Do you hear the voices of your dead?

Ghosts of my dead don’t dance around my bed at night. There's no screaming, no rattling of chains, and no dancing with flaming swords, although that would be cool. Yet there have been enough events I can’t explain that make me think that Evelyn has been trying to make contact.

One evening, six months after Ev died, I was in Yosemite sitting by the river and watching the sunset fade to a light yellow sky, waiting for the stars to emerge. Off-handedly, I asked Ev to give me a sign if she was still around. In that instant the sunset turned heart red. I was stunned and sat still for ten minutes, yet I wrote it off as a strange happenstance because what are the odds? When I came back to camp, someone asked if I had seen the sunset tonight. She has 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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