Once, twenty-some years ago, my big brother Nick got into an argument with a neighbor over whether or not there were such things as ghosts. The neighbor insisted they were made-up. My brother insisted they were real. When the neighbor laughed at him for his belief, Nick rolled his eyes and said, “Haven’t you ever heard of the Holy Ghost?”
stories may seem like nothing more than a staple of thriller
literature, and I’m quite sure that 98% of them or so are totally made
up. Yet even some of that massive number, through their fiction, tell a
truth that is essential to the way I live my life. Because I absolutely
believe in ghosts. I know that my body is only part of myself. I know
that life continues after death...that death is not an end, but a birth
into a different world. But that world is so close to ours, so different
and yet so thinly separated, that I think it likely that there should
be communication between the two.
Sometimes ghosts show themselves overtly, like fiction shows us in the surprising occurrence at the beginning of Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce:
I looked up, there was someone there--a tall, bony woman with bright
blue eyes. I knew who it was right away. I said, “Clare of Assisi
She smiled and said, “Is right.”
When Damian, the protagonist of Millions, reached
a very difficult point in his life, some of those souls who had passed
over allowed themselves to be seen so they could help him. While I
imagine that such revelations are more common than is generally
accepted, often that thin veil between our worlds makes it difficult to
see so clearly. Nobody Owens in The Graveyard Book was given a special ability to see the dead, but as he grew into a man, his experience grew more like our own:
“I can’t see anything,” said Bod. “It’s too dark.”
is dark. And unknown, and therefore frightening. It is, like the Bible
and J. K. Rowling tell us, “the last enemy.” Yet because of that, who
could be more fitting to help us defeat that enemy than those who have
already conquered? Perhaps Harry Potter’s experience of having his loved
ones with him as he faced the end is not so fantastical or so unique.
During the last days of my husband’s grandfather’s life, he told his
family of how he was visited by two little girls, who would keep him
company and talk to him when he was alone. He was quite a sane man, and
one not prone to believe in miracles, with the stubborn common sense of
an old New Englander. But he believed these little girls were the souls
of the two children his wife had miscarried decades before. Ghosts.
week ago, my mother-in-law, Nancy Hough, passed away from this world.
The sense of lack that we feel is very great; she was only sixty years
old, and her death was somewhat sudden. But as her family gathered
around her in her last days, I can honestly say that we felt no fear.
More than one of us have likened the experience to that of a woman
giving birth, and through our sadness, there was an overwhelming
sensation of love and even excitement, as strange as that may sound. I
have no doubt that we were surrounded by others who had passed that way
before, who helped us see it as it truly was: not an ending, but the
beginning of a journey.
is a description of another journey in literature, which is one of the
truest bits of fiction you’ll ever find...if you’re as nerdy as I am, it
won’t take you long to recognize it:
the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped
away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel
that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the
High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain
Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of
singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in
his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to
silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond
them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and
as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was
soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing
only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth,
and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.
Sam, it is difficult for me to hear anything other than sighs and
murmurs. Like Bod, it is hard for me to see past the darkness. But I
have the whispers of friends who have already made their journeys,
reminding me of the truth. And I have the witness of my little
4-year-old girl, who is so much wiser than I. She talks to her Nana
now more than ever. And I would not be surprised if her Nana decided
some time to whisper back.