Imagination, ghosts or a combination of both, I guess it depends on what you believe.
My Dad’s death last summer was the most difficult event that I’ve faced in my short 50 years. It was more difficult than deferential equations in college, more difficult than choosing an alternate career, and even more difficult than moving 2000 miles away from family. All those things were intense emotional experiences. Fear of the unknown, doubt about personal capabilities, and long, long hours of decision analysis and preparation led to their successful completion. After the decisions and actions were made, my emotions dissipated into the background of memory. I processed it and filed away all that I learned.
I ventured to Amsterdam over Thanksgiving to bolster my mood, and stayed in San Francisco for Christmas. I still have family in Texas, and the first two weeks of February was the first time I’ve been back since my Dad died. This trip was uneventful, except for being iced (not snowed) in for 6 or so days, assisting with a cable upgrade for a friend, and attending a memorial service. My half-brother’s stepfather, 46, died from complications associated with pneumonia. Before the trip, I experienced several strange occurrences.
I feed the crows in my neighborhood. They recognize my face and call to me whenever I see them. I have identified two distinct flocks and one individual. They come to the street lamp outside of my apartment and look in on the parrots through a bay window, as well as caw for the treat. I think there are two groups: one group is two adults and a yearling, the others are related to each other some how, brothers, sisters, or a parent. There is also a solo who has a feather out of place on its wing; it sticks out at an awkward angle and must be drag on his flight. The solo is first at the peanuts, but immediately chased off. I call it bent feather. It hangs around and as the other two murders take turns chasing each other off, Bent feather will sneak in for a peanut, and is the last to leave. It is rare to get all three flocks at once, and most of the time it is one or the other and bent feather.
I’ve not seen bent feather since my father died last summer, and I think that the feather fell out, it found a flock, or bent feather met its destiny. I don’t know and don’t have any strong feelings about it. Although my emotional reaction to my Dad’s dead has been intense and long lasting, it’s been solely internal. I’ve not been over-wrought or weepy, just a general melancholy or unhappy sense of ambiguity.
I was in a deep sleep one night, and I felt a tug at my toes. The tug was strong enough to wake me, so I looked up from the pillow. Awake or dreaming, I was confused and reached over to put on my glasses. The time was 2:30. There was nothing at the end of the bed, so I shrugged it off and went back to sleep. In a conversation with his widow, she suggested that it was exactly something my Dad would have done. While sleeping in Amsterdam, I kept hearing someone moving around outside our room. We rented and a condo for a week with another couple. Neither of them was up. I made a plan to get up the next time. Before I put my glasses on, I saw four shadows standing at the end of the bed, circling it and looking down on us. I couldn’t make out in features and when I turned around to pick up my glasses, they were gone.
Just after Christmas, I was alone in my apartment in SF, and the kitchen was mess. Enjoying the holiday, I had not fulfilled my scullery responsibilities. I resolved to clean up the mess. I turned on the portable radio in the kitchen, and in the middle of KP, I heard tap, tap, tap in the dining room. It must be the parrots? Sometimes they will follow me into the kitchen and watch me work. The tapping persisted, so I stopped and took a look. The pets were not there. Hum? I went back to the dishes, and after a moment I heard the tap, tap, and tap again. I shrugged it off. A few minutes later I heard a low squawk or whisper of a caw. Either the birds are in the dining room, or a crow is outside the window cawing for peanuts. The parrots are busy in the living room chewing up a box. No crows were on the lamppost out of the window. I couldn’t see any crows in the vicinity at all.
Although I was trained in mathematics, the absolute language of science, I’ve always been curious about the soul. I wonder if my Dad’s passing has opened my psych to ghosts? The Navajo call it ghost sickness. Whenever a loved-one or potent enemy passes, the Indian tribe claim the living are sensitive and subject to haunting. The Navajo perform specific closure and protection rituals to help those left behind move past unresolved emotions. Protection for the spirit as well as from the spirit are necessary to guard against a strong emotions of the departed from caring on a fight or obsession with the living. In the Bardo Thodol, Buddhist priests perform specific rituals and pray over the deceased’s soul to help it get through the transition and temptation to not look away from the consequence of one’s life. The prayers and rituals encourage the spirit towards nirvana, or if the soul needs to learn more, a quick return.
In western Christian traditions, a priest, minister, or preacher reside over the departed with prayers and lessons for life. Depending on the deceased and families wishes, the contemporary tradition is a viewing period, a church ceremony, and a burial ceremony. In any tradition, the passage of a family member, friend, or even pet is a difficult experience, and everyone goes through it.
I was extremely detached while we went through his things after the funeral, his clothes, junk drawers, tools, guns, and the accumulated flotsam of the everyday. Instantaneous grace, I was fortunate the mood was jovial, because we joked as rodeo clowns when we tried on his large boots and long coats. I can see his red face, and wide open grin as he would have laughed with us. I still had a sense of his presence, but it didn’t seem real somehow, more like an unfounded suspicion or an event at a future date. Dad’s widow is still recovering, and she is doing well. Returning to his house, I still get a sense of his prescience, but it is more subjective, more a function of my personal memory than his spirit. The memories are simple and complex, good and bad; he was a good man. I’ve resolved not to forget any of it, but I know time creates a rosy fog. Life is moving on, and wherever Dad is, I hope he is well, whatever that means.
To answer my own question, ghosts or imagination, I still don’t know, but my emotions are more open to the possibility. It was a good trip.