“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.
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