“Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
A strangely compelling Boardwalk Empire character–a World War I sharpshooter who carried his talents back to a morally complex civilian life during Prohibition–dispensed this worthwhile advice at an Easter gathering.
A fellow blogger whom I count as a cyber-friend writes movingly of her own life, love, and loss of a beloved mother. She wrote this morning that, surveying the bright colors of visible reminders of el dios de la muerte, she wishes she were “one of the haunted.”
She does not receive from her the mother the signals she hoped to receive–those elusive thin spaces in which she still can feel her presence.
I do not consider myself a believer in the afterlife in a traditional sense. But I am unquestionably haunted. I recently fled one haunted home, but remain surrounded by what I choose to believe are signals from Jim.
After my husband Jim spoke of his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, one of our friends looked at him–a young, outwardly robust, healthy man who betrayed no sign of illness, let alone such a devastating one–and said, with a hint of the abject disbelief we all felt, “The good kind or the bad kind?”
My ever-unflappable and good-natured husband replied, with his trademark wry grin, “I’m not sure there is a good kind of pancreatic cancer.”
Now I believe there are good and bad kinds of haunting.
The house I left was haunted for me–the bad kind of haunting, by illness and pain and death. The artifacts of that haunting were everywhere: an unopened sterile spill kit from fruitless chemotherapy; boxes of medical bills; copies of his hospice admission forms; white cardboard CD cases, adorned with my husband’s right-tilted handwriting, housing scans of the tumor that took his life.
Now I’m haunted–in the good way–by Jim as he was in life, before the devastation of its cruelly premature end.
The neighborhood is splashed with black humor–a tombstone reading “BACHELORHOOD” in a toy-scattered and leaf-strewn yard; Freddy Kreuger and his homicidal brethren rendered in pumpkin, sitting on rocking chairs on a porch and reminiscing about the good old days.
But by and large the streets are populated with the bad kind of haunting: sinister, dark, frightening spectres, spiderweb-strewn headstones and black roses.
There is another kind of haunting, one not of black but of bright copper; it is described by Vijay Seshadri:
Dead friends coming back to life, dead family,
speaking languages living and dead, their minds retentive,
their five senses intact, their footprints like a butterfly’s,
mercy shining from their comprehensive faces—
this is one of my favorite things.
In this kind of haunting, writes Seshadri, the dead “don’t want to scare me; their heads don’t spin like weather vanes/They don’t want to steal my body/and possess the earth and wreak vengeance.”
In this kind of haunting, I look up and see a bird waiting patiently on a branch for me while his fellow fowl scatter. What kind of bird is that, Jim? I listen to my children playing music trivia games and trying to name songs and bands from decades past. Your dad would know. He’d know them all. Which one was that, Jim? It’s on the tip of my tongue.
I sob torrentially on my way home alone in the dark from the last marching band finals on a field where I had shivered for many seasons with Jim as he took pictures.
“I know you wouldn’t want me crying while I’m driving,” I say out loud. “But I can’t do all of this without you, forever.”
“It doesn’t help to think in terms of forever,” I hear in his deep voice, as if he is sitting there in the passenger seat. “And you’re not alone.” And suddenly, on the radio, Jim sends me one of his favorite songs, and I can’t help smiling:
Oh, why d’you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
‘Cause I’ve seen the dark side too
When the night falls on you
You don’t know what to do
Nothing you confess, could make me love you less….
I’ll stand by you
88 thoughts on “Disbelieving Dark”
The Pretenders speak to the heart of Jim – the vaguely humorous (Chain Gang), the loving and strong (I’ll Stand By You) and, unfortunately, the tragic and so wistful (2000 miles, a song he introduced to me in high school, and always reminds me of him). I’m so happy you have left much of the darkest and hardest of memories behind and are feeling the lighter memories in your new home. I also salute your new neighbor, who mourns his bachelorhood with strewn toys. Sounds like you’re in a good ‘hood.
It is a great new hood. Jim would have approved.
Be well, and enjoy your new home.
Thank you! And when I finally unpack, I have some moose for someone…..and also, I hope, another college trip your way this year!
a beautiful post, and I am honored you shared my words.
I don’t feel her, but I’m going to keep talking to her and who knows? The space between this world and the next is thin… I may break through yet. You give me hope.
That would be the best reward for writing; peace to you, too.
Life is too short!
Far too short, but as someone said of my extraordinary spouse, not necessarily incomplete. There is nothing truly important in life that he would have chosen differently among his family, friends, work and adventures.
Your husband is lucky to have you and your great attiitude!
Yours is the first blog I have read.
It made me emotional. I feel haunted by memories and objects. I hope I can find happiness eventually within these things.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you will find the “good kind” of haunting.
Just found this due to you being freshly pressed – so moving..
Thank you (and the Freshly Pressed people)!
Really beautiful post, thank you for sharing it.
Thank you for visiting the blog and reading!
I was totally moved….and it made me cry. You are a great writer.
Thank you so much. I think writing helps me keep him with me, too.
Lovely writing. I’m glad you have this outlet for your feelings, I’m looking forward to reading more. Pancreatic cancer…such an unyielding diagnosis. Thank you for sharing.
Unyielding is a perfect choice of words, both for the diagnosis and the way Jim reacted to it: he didn’t change and wasn’t broken by it; he accepted it and went on welcoming every day. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Beautiful post. You are a good writer. (English is not my mother tongue. When can I write a lovely post like you?) Thanks for sharing it!
I think you’re doing awfully well for someone whose first language is not English–and even for someone who is a native speaker! Thank you.
I’m so sorry for you loss. xo
Thank you, Pamela.
You’re welcome, Stephanie.
This was very special and moving…. you have such a gift in your writing. God bless.
I appreciate your reading and good wishes.
This was a beautiful and poignant piece of writing. I feel your loss, through that of my mother, who I know shares your feelings. I wish you peace and good hauntings for the future.
Thank you. I think a wish for “peace and good hauntings” would be a great replacement for some of our rote greetings and goodbyes.
This is so beautiful. I have the same with my nana whom I lost a few years ago – she still keeps me going. I also hope my boyfriend and I have a similar relationship to you and Jim in the future – though without the sadness. Xxx S
Thank you, and I wish for the same strength and joy in your relationship; there is no sparing some sadness, but it is certainly a rare an extreme and early devastation that visited our family. One of the things that has best spoken to this for me–in a way the “good side” of sorrow–is Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem about how you must experience sorrow to fully know kindness as “The Other Deepest Thing.”
Such a beautiful tribute to your husband! I can’t imagine how hard it would be and when I start to, tears spring to my eyes. I love that you still “see” him and you will until you are stronger.
I too believe in the paranormal and had a crazy experience the other day. I don’t know whether to blog about it or not. I think there are souls that aren’t ready to move beyond and others are trapped here not knowing where they are. It is hard to explain to people who don’t believe.
You can gather strength in knowing that he is there with you. Keep looking for signs!
I wish only the very best for you and your family as you begin to heal from your profound loss.
Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
Sometimes I hold back on blogging about an experience because I think it might sound a little bit (or a lot) nutty, or that no one would understand…..and then those turn out to be the very posts which really hit a chord with people. I confess I held back a part of this one, which was that in my car keening to Jim I also was telling him how I wish I could have been better and wish I could have spent less time worrying about the small stuff when he was here–and then I heard that lyric about “nothing you confess/could make me love you less.”
That really is amazing how he “speaks” to you!
I am writing a paranormal fiction, so I guess I could blog about what happened to see the reaction of my readers. I doubt anyone would unfollow me over it even if they think I am nuts!
Thanks for the advice!
I am so sorry for your loss. I can not imagine the pain. I am experiencing a somewhat similar process being the sole caregiver for my father. I grieve for him everyday so that I hope I can rejoice for him when his suffering is over. God bless you.
Thank you, and my best wishes for you. It has been a curiosity to me that when you are the caregiver, professionals seem to distinguish what they call “anticipatory grief” for the person you love. I didn’t think there was anything “anticipatory” about it: it was full-blown grief beginning with that diagnosis, and towards the end I think non-caregivers may not understand that it also can come with guilt for wishing for relief from suffering and for telling the person you love that it’s OK to let go now.
You are so right about the guilt! Anticipatory? I don’t see it.I understand why they call it that I just don’t agree.In these situations I don’t believe we are grieving because of the impending death.I believe we grieve daily for the shell of the person that is laying there before us.If you believe there is something better waiting why grieve at death? I am a Christian and so is my father.Death is a time to rejoice! But dying seems to be so hard.
Wonderful…what a strong person you must be! Thank you for sharing this, keep it up you have no idea who you might be helping! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
I still think of Jim as the strong one–incredibly so. Writing and talking are easy; what he did was so very hard. It is my greatest hope that writing about all of this will help someone. Thank you.
I loved this post. It made me cry – at work. Peace to you and I hope your husband is with you every step of the way.
Thank you. There was one particular post I did a long time ago (Coletanea de Death Cab) where I suddenly started getting comments and messages that people liked getting notices of posts……but from now on they were going to stop reading them at work. Sometimes I can write the posts and then can’t read them myself.
Enjoyed your post, and know that you truly are not alone. 🙂 Blessings and prayers for you.
So beautifully written and so deserving of Freshly Pressed. Sorry for your loss.
Thanks for your very nice comment.
writing about it is a brave way to face loss – thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Shawn. Possibly my favorite author, Jose Saramago, said If you don’t write your books, nobody else will do it for you. No one else has lived your life.” I feel compelled to write about Jim and his life now, for our children and for those who knew him and those who didn’t.
my mother-in-law (she’d be mad if I called her that and not just Mom) passsed last week (after steep decline and suffering) of a brain tumor. I haven’t been able to write about her. I have been able to articulate some of the grief and write about her husband (whos name is Jim), but mostly I find myself writing about anything but loss. So thanks for your blog and response.
What a beautiful virtual ofrenda for your husband. Thank you for sharing this post. It helps to feel our lost loved ones are still with us.
It does help–the good haunting. I also love the word “ofrenda”:)
Nice. It is strange that our modern culture tends to look at the ugly side of death as Zombies, guts and the ugly dead bodies. Possession and demons fill our Halloween days. This is why I prefer Day of the Dead. The vale between the living and the dead is very thin now. I personally think if we acknowledge the dead and think of them fondly, maybe there would be less haunting. Not to fear is the key here. This way those departed do not have to manifest in ours fears but in our love…. maybe?
That’s a very thoughtful way of thinking about it. I lost the fear part when he died–that is, when the worst thing we could have imagined had happened. But we all kept and will keep the love, so our visions aren’t haunted in the bad way.
This is so tenderly written, and full of hope. I love the idea of a bright comforting haunting…very helpful.
Thank you. I never would have thought of myself as hopeful, even a short time ago, and it is so nice to see it put that way.
Wow, I so connected with this! Last week I was having a pity party, thinking of my first husband who passed away 5.5 years ago. There was a song that was sung at his funeral that merged two songs together. I had my iPod on shuffle, and I be damned but those two songs played, seperately in their entirety. I actual laughed out loud and said “ok, I know you’re here, you just made that clear!”
I look for the “haunting”…it’s such a blessing when they come 🙂
This song was immediately followed, as I pulled into my new home, with “I’m Going to Make this Place your Home.” I had to laugh, too.
it was indeed “a hint of the abject disbelief “
I still have that, somehow.
I read this and my heart ached terribly. I’ve found myself wondering what my life will be like if anything were to happen to my partner. I realize death is inevitable. I foolishly hope to find the fountain of youth beforehand, as I can’t bear to think about a life without her. I also can’t bear to think of her having to deal with the heartache of losing me, either. It scares me to think of either, so I do my best to enjoy every moment we have together,
I think that’s all you can do: Jim wouldn’t have done anything differently, but I like to think I would have, at least in being less prone to worry about things I can’t control and treasuring what’s here now. I feel like this has stripped me of the necessary human capacity of denial, but it’s also given me a greater sense of appreciation for kindness and friendship and enduring love of all kinds.
Wow, so beautiful! I have been caring for my husband who has pneumonia all week and I can only imagine all that you went through with such a devastating illness. Sincerely sorry for your loss. So brave of you to blog about this. Being Freshly Pressed was beyond deserved!
Thank you, and best wishes for recovery.
This is really good. awesome post!!!
Your story brought me to tears! I have such a new appreciation for everyone in my life! I admire your strength! I will keep you and yours in my prayers!;)
I’m sorry for you and your family’s loss. My dad and my newborn son died within 3 months of each other. Every day I think of them both … and what they might say.
I am so sorry for your losses. Throughout his illness I know Jim truly thought this would be harder on us–on me and our children, and his family as well–than on him, because although he was so young it was somehow still in the order of things, that he could bear it and his suffering was finite. For his parents to lose their son, as it would have been for us to have lost a child, would have been beyond what even Jim could bear.
I love those moments when we get a gentle reminder from the other side that they still walk beside us.. Thanks for sharing and good luck in the new home. I’ve no doubt Jim is there with you 🙂
beautiful, sad, and at times uplifting
Yes, I am haunted too—not by the dead–but by the living who left my presence way too soon. I’ve kept every little thing–boxes and boxes–dresser drawers stuffed–desk drawers stuffed–car trunk, even, with scattered objects. My youngest son left to live 600 miles away with his father when he was almost 13. He is now going on 20 and, as a sailor–lives in San Diego.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your memories–and your present state of mind. Your post was a gift and we are appreciative.
So sad and touching. I firmly believe in the “good kind” of haunting. The whispers and reminders that those we love are still with us in spirit.
I’ve just stumbled across your blog. Your writing is beautiful and inspiring. I am truly sorry for your loss. God bless you.
Don’t you for a second believe that Jim thought you “could have been better and… could have spent less time worrying about the small stuff when he was here.” He loved you for who you were, and never would have felt you could have been better. This blog has brought me to tears. I never could have imagined your pain.
I read this today, just after giving a Meditation on my friend Ted, who is dying. Part of what I shared was my sense of his presence with us in the hospital room as he lay dying. He is asleep, and to the understanding of one of his docs, “hearing us, but not able to make sense of it,” because of the amount of medication he was receiving, and the likely damage his brain has suffered. But, for us keeping watch, we felt and therefor knew he was there with us, as he remains, until he decides to move into the next light. Be blessed, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing your journey with such courage.