During Halloween season, many of us tune in to all sorts of mysteries, unsolved puzzles, spooky adventures, and spine-tingling fun. As for me, I didn’t get the ‘I like scary movies’ gene, so being a supreme chicken in terms of suspense and especially gore, I steer clear of most typical Halloween fare. I am the last person you will see at Halloween Horror Night at a theme park and wouldn’t be caught dead (pun intended) in one of those crazy haunted houses where a guy chases you with a chainsaw.
But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my share of supernatural seeming experiences. And I’m not the only one - there are a few friends and acquaintances, all happen to be women, who have had similar experiences as mine. Let me tell you what I mean.
When I was in the throes of a painful break up a few years ago, I was at a loss of where to turn to get a deeper understanding of the whats and whys of it all. Sure, I had a competent therapist who was steering me towards clarity, but I was resistant and was wholly enveloped in my own excruciating pain, that acute, searing wallop of abandonment.
I was doing all the prototypical teeth gnashing – pacing, suffering sleepless nights, being distracted and short tempered with the few friends who actually were there to support me. And then one morning, after an especially exhausting and restless night, I saw her; it was my Russian grandmother, a woman I had met only once that I could remember and had died some twenty years prior, and that had been when I was maybe 5 years old. Suffice to say my memories of her were dim at best.
But there she was. She was sitting in my living room in an upholstered chair – not one that I actually owned, but one that looked like it was from a century ago. I vaguely remember seeing a paisley brocade pattern on it, in shades of gold and light red. Anyway, there she was.
The chair and my grandmother in it were hovering about a foot off the ground, her expression stern and unsmiling, which according to my mother, her daughter, was her usual state. Grandmother, a word I had virtually never uttered since I did not know her, was gazing directly at me and I understood that she was there to remind me to be strong, to keep on marching and not let this throw me. She had, after all, been abandoned twice by her then husband during Depression era Chicago, an immigrant and single mother at a time when single mothers were rare.
Be strong. The way her eyes peered at me, it reminded me of the way a raptor bird of prey might stare at an opponent or possible meal before he took flight and honed in.
I stood on the opposite side of the living room, it was mid-morning, perfectly light outside, nothing at all eerie or strange, she was just simply there. And to me she was as real as anything else I could see - a tree, a car, whatever.
A moment later she was gone. No poof, no flashing lights, just gone.
I have carried that image, her being a staunch and stern supporter, with me ever since, and I think it is the only way she knew how to relate, which was with that typical Russian demeanor of buck up, throw your shoulders back and figure it out. No showing vulnerability which would by her generation have been interpreted as weakness. Just get on with it.
The other major experience I had with a family spirit was even stronger and felt even more profound; it involved my father, with whom I had a troubled history as he was an enraged alcoholic, partly courtesy of having been crippled and in pain every day of his life. Fortunately, thanks to that same therapist, I was able to make peace with him prior to his death when I was in my thirties.
Anyway, I had moved to New York and my father was still alive though barely – he was in an acute need assisted living home and I knew he would rather have had the plug pulled than to be kept artificially alive as he was, but his doctor disagreed and so on he went for too long. Eventually, his decrepit body gave way and he died. I flew home from NY for his service and cremation.
While I was making all the arrangements and going through the machinations of normal everyday life, I kept thinking I saw him from the corner of my eye. It was like a whoosh at the edge of my vision - I would spin around in the direction he had whooshed and I could feel his presence but he was of course not physically there. It was not at all scary or weird but simply real, and it seemed clear to me that he was hanging around although I didn’t know why.
A friend who knew what a crappy physical existence my dad had led suggested doing a ceremony; you write down what you hope for the person, in my case I wished my dad flavorful food and no pain. Then you burn the paper and commit the ashes to a moving body of water. I burned my paper and walked down to Venice Beach where we had grown up and put dad’s ashes into the lapping edge of the waves. Seemingly out of nowhere, a surprise wave gently came out of nowhere and washed away the ashes and quickly receded, as though it had been waiting for me, hungry to grab the ashes and return to the blue.
Well that was very definite I remember thinking.
That night I was staying at my mothers house – they had been divorced forever – and in the middle of the night I saw dad. As had grandma, he was floating about a foot off the floor, just quietly hovering. He looked as he might have had he not been crippled as a child – he was tall and lean and looked a bit like a black-haired Henry Fonda. He just stood there, hovering, a closed lip hint of a smile on his face. I sat up in bed and simply looked at him and he at me. And then he was gone.
The next morning I asked my mom if she had seen him. My mom, who has had more than her share of surreal, supernatural experiences in her own life, said she had not but was not at all puzzled by my question.
We finished my dad’s service and paperwork, and I was headed back home to New York. The funny thing is, after that he was gone. No more seeing dad out of the corner of my eye, on the periphery of my vision. He had needed to be somehow released, and I think the little ceremony I did somehow unlocked him and he was able to head away, off into some other sphere.
Long an aeronautical engineer and pilot, dad had always said “We are all just vehicles for DNA” so I had the definite sense that his super strong persona and spirit were not going to simply disappear.
I imagine dad zipping through the ether somewhere in the clouds and hope that he is happy. And pain free. And I know that both he and grandma, whether on this plain or some other, one that we women seem to be especially open to accessing, came to me when we needed each other and that they may do so again. I certainly feel their presence in extreme times and have heard many others own share similar stories.
Who knows? Maybe what we consider surreal or other worldly is really right here in front of us if only we crack open our stringent thinking a bit and let the spirits flow?