I believe in ghosts. Not the creaky-stairs, “I-thought-you-let-the-cat-out,” reflection-in-the-window kind of ghosts but the welcome kind, the familiar kind, the kind that appear when I need them most. When Thomas Fuller said, “Seeing is believing but feeling is the truth,” it was my ghosts and me he could have been talking about.
This past winter my children and I lived a chilly few months without the climate-controlled warmth of central heat. Wanting to reassure the group of friends who pooled money to repair our furnace that while we were chilly, we were just fine, I found myself telling my friends about my grandmothers. One, who heated a converted dogtrot with a cast-iron coal stove and at 82, committedly used an outhouse even after her adult children rebelliously added an indoor bathroom to her home.
Another grandmother added a proper furnace to her depression era bungalow in the late 1960s but to my knowledge, never was the whole house heated at once, except, I think, at Thanksgiving when the kids’ tables were set up in the bedrooms. Even now, I imagine a whole family of cream-colored, fringed chenille coverlets trembling at close calls with cranberry sauce and sweet-potato casserole.
In the early months of this past winter — our own brave little space heater warming our kitchen or our pragmatically-shared bedroom — it was my grandmothers I followed through mornings and welcomed evenings alongside, who made life happen for my children and me with no thought for the temperature.
My ghosts appear in my dreams. When I’ve lost myself, their presence is so powerfully reorienting that it is as if they hold a mirror to my face and gently say, “You, remember? This is you.” Occasionally, an adored world-traveling, librarian aunt brings me a fresh copy of ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ (the first one having been forgotten in my fort and left to a week’s worth of spring rains when I was 11; I still have its remains). She always says, “I know you’d like this!” She’s so right.
When I’m lost, I even get the fine company of ghosts that haven’t been given up by the living. Childhood friends appear and we share a small-town, fall Friday night from the bleachers or a summer’s Saturday afternoon playing in the Tennessee River. And in my dreams, just for me, my brother strums “Here Comes the Sun” and my sister gifts me with a new sundress. My ghosts remind me of all I’ve shared, been given, how extravagantly I’ve been loved.
I tell my children that death is about bodies; it comes only to what we can see and touch, never to what our hearts and minds choose to hold. I tell them that after cells and chemistry and form become too damaged or too sick to continue their work of keeping the body alive, whatever is left, remembered, felt, that is what is ours to keep.
While I want my children to grow and play in the physical world, I want them to feel, experience, and trust the unseen. I’d like for them to believe in ghosts, too.
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