Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dreams, Spirits, and Talking to the Dead

He was running up the hill like when he was young my aunt tells me.  I woke up crying and told Buck, Stu's dead. I had called to tell her that my dad, her brother, Stu had passed in the night.  I could see my parents, daddy, my mother, my brother Clyde, and Momma was holding the little baby that died when she died--and they were all sitting on this hill and they were smiling. But they weren't looking at me. So I turned to look where they were looking and there was Stu, just running, flying up that hill, like he was a kid again and looking like when he was a kid.  And he was smiling too and his arms were out and so were theirs and I woke up Buck, crying and saying Stu's gone.

I cried then when she told me her dream. I'm tearing up as I type even though it's been over twenty-three years since that phone call.  I still hold that dream close to me, a candle in the dark, a teddy bear, all the icons from every faith I've encountered, along with the special crocheted afghan from my friend that covers me with love.  

The dream comforts me.  The dead are so very gone, the body empty of...everything.  And yet we talked to himMy brother took the oxygen tube dad hated out of his nose. We talked to himIt's very uncomplicated with the newly dead--no equivocation, no conflicting emotions: I love you, I will miss you, thank you. 

0h, well, the tears, of course, the stunned this can't be happening disbelief, the gut-wrenching pain that makes you want to howl like a pack of heart-broken wolves in the dark of the moon. They say the first death is the hardest and maybe that's true. Certainly kittens and old dogs don't prepare you.  But all the deaths that come after still tear your heart out, still stun you into a walking mannequin that apparently says and does all the appropriate things--to judge by peoples' faces--but really you don't know or careYou grieve, you cry.

But you aren't surprisedNever again surprised.  You have learned something of what life is capable of.

Are these dreams a way of anticipating loss?  Preparing for what is inevitable. We are born dying.  A cousin dreamed of white things and granddaddy died.  But he had already seen his mother so he know his time had come.  The cousin told my aunt of the white things (had she just done her wash?), he told my aunt, his daughter, about his mother . He died within a few days.

Not all dreams are of death--I've heard of dreams of lovers, babies, and long lost friends.  But my family is dramatic and we dream of death and sorrow.  Sometimes the dead return to say they miss us as well, to offer solace.  But more likely they show up just to let us know we're going to join them soon. Which is usually not really a  a message of solace.

Do I believe in dreams?  Of course I "believe" in dreams. They happen. The brain is sorting out events of the day, new information, deciding whether to file it or discard it.  The mind makes it into story.  Sometimes solutions to problems show up--mathematical and emotional.  Conflicted feelings, buried memories...the psyche plays with all of that.  Of course I believe that dreams are real, they happen, and while dreams themselves are not rational, one can understand them rationally.

Do I believe in dreams? Of course I do.  A dream of white things predicts a death.  My aunt saw my father at the moment of his passing joining his family, young and free of pain.  With all my heart of course I do. Granddaddy's mother--she was half Choctaw--came to him, Mamaw saw angels who carried her away. And in my dreams? Too many things to tell.  So many I will not tell.  But if I dream of death I might tell you but not of your own and not of mine.


I don't think spirits like being called ghosts.   Ghost is too Caspar, too sheet over the head BOO!, really too Scooby Doo.  A spirit is ephemeral, elusive when it chooses to appear, but there is no sense that when it disappears it is gone.

"Do you believe in spirits, in ghosts?" my psychiatrist asks. No. Well, mas o menos. Maybe. I don't know. I had told her of an experience I had had recently.  She prescribes my meds, keeps a watch on my disordered moods.  I thought maybe I was beginning to hallucinate, which is actually never a good sign, unless you've bought the experience from a street corner.

I know I was awake, really awake, not dream within a dream awake. When I saw it, I thought it was a trick of the light, an image conjured by my macular degeneration and non-focusing.  And just like in the books, I closed my eyes, blinked, expecting it to be gone once I opened my eyes.  Funny how writers sometimes get it right. You know?

She --not it--was standing by bed.  A little girl translucent, glowing green. She began to reach for me and I was terrified, though I'm not usually terrified of little girls.  (There have been exceptions.) Her fingers were long and thin, splayed.  She kept reaching, though I demanded, begged, pleaded for her to stop, stop, please stop.

 I knew she wasn't there. I was terrified, turned my back on her, clung to John, and could not not look behind me to see if she was still there.  I couldn't get out of bed, purely panicked, even when I had to pee so badly my back teeth were floating and my eyeballs were yellow.

I mostly only talked to friends who firmly believed in ghosts, spirits, that other world.  Meaning?  All sorts.  Who?  Abundant guesses.  But the fear subsided.  After a few nights I didn't even think about her anymore.

I told my doctor who asked if I didn't believe.  Believe?  She's a scientist, analytical and rational.

She has her own experiences.  "There are things we don't have explanations for. Yet."

Guess I can go with that.  And I never want to see the little girl with the long, thin, splayed fingers ever again.  Dream, spirit, hallucination--I want her to stay away.

Though it would be nice to see my mom and dad and even if they reached for me it would be okay. I think.


He always finds a way to make me laugh.  My aunt--not the one who had the dream--but my dad's baby sister is going through one of those hellish times that validates the Buddha: Life is suffering. My uncle has a rare, very serious very godawful type of cancer. Waiting for a diagnosis, a treatment plan, radiation, chemo, he's sick, she is bone tired, no sleep, and beyond sad.

My dad takes care of her.  He was always the tease. always the one who could make everyone laugh, dig up a joke in the deepest shit.  No matter what, she tells me, Hermaw finds a laugh for me somewhere in the day.

I ask my dad to take care of her.  Make her laugh. 

When my dad was dying I asked my grandmother, the grandmother I never met, his mother to comfort him and take care of him in the night when the pain was more intense, the drugs confused him, and if no one could be with him they tied his hands to the bed.
The first time I asked Mamie to be there, the nurses told me he had the best night in the long time.

She did good.

I ask my mother's advice.  To look out for her grandchildren. and great-grandchildren.

Ask her mother , Lula, to take care of her.

The older you get the more dead you have to talk to. Do they listen?  Do they do anything?

I don't know.  I tell my parents I'm sorry--there are so many sorry's to be said.  And thank you's.
Do they hear, do they answer.  Yes, I can feel them.  No, they are dead and dead is dead with or without an afterlife.  They probably aren't swinging from a cloud watching earth and us like a long running reality show.

And dad had the best sleep he'd had in a long time.


  1. Touching. Loved it. I know what you mean about remembering the moment you have to tell someone that someone you both love has passed. Remembering calling my sister to say our mom had passed, amazingly it was a wonderful conversation.

  2. A controversal subject, but you handled it beautifully. Most people deny such things as ghosts, spirits; at least to others. But when we are alone our minds are more accepting, our doubts less firm.

    There are three main entities that make up the mix, cause the confussion. Ghosts, true ghosts, are earth bound spirits. For some reason they have not found the way over or refuse to go. The second are known as imprints.That is something like a film strip that keeps replaying, A vestige from a former time that only becomes visible when the light, the weather and perhaps the magnetic field are at certain levels. Gettysburg has many of these. The third is simply spirits that slip back over to this side to offer comfort and solace at a time of need. These are usually family or friends. No need for fear from any of them.

    And that knowing you mentioned is quite common. The Celts called it " Second Sight". It came along as baggage with the Scots-Irish.