Thursday, November 03, 2005

in which I risk you thinking I am a lunatic

One of the things I missed this Halloween was snuggling under a blanket with the scent and sounds of a crackling fire, watching old horror movie classics with the curtains drawn just in case someone might be outside watching me. I love the Shining and the Exorcist, or Friday the 13th and Halloween. Those movies don't scare me, because I find them fairly unbelievable. What does scare me, however, are movies or stories about ghosts or spirits. I used to have nightmares about Poltergeist and Pet Sematary (Cemetery). I've always maintained that I am UNINTERESTED in connecting with the "other side." I am fine in my little world of disbelief.

In my 101 things, though, I told you that I believe I once saw a ghost. And I do. I'll share my story with you, as long as we all agree that I am not crazy and didn't lose my mind for this one night.

As I've mentioned before, my little immediate family was the only family living in the United States, so we traveled pretty regularly to Argentina. My mother's mother, my Nonna, was the only person that came to visit us religiously. She lived with us from my birth until I was 9 months old, and then returned yearly, often staying for months at a time. In high school, as her health was deteriorating, she came to live with use in California. As you can imagine, she drove me nuts.

My Nonna loved me to death, but she was soooo nosy! She would ask where I was going, who I was seeing, what I was doing, and whatever my response, she had a story at the ready that didn't relate IN THE LEAST, but she'd find a connection somewhere.

Nonna was tough. She'd divorced my mother's father when my mother was 2, because she realized he was abusive. She raised my mother on her own, sewing clothing for a living and scraping together enough to give my mom anything she needed. When I met Josh, she told me that she was happy he was Jewish, because in the early years after her divorce, only the Jews would give her work because she'd violated her fellow Catholics' religious laws.

She was fabulous.

At the end of my first year of law school, Nonna decided she wanted to return to Argentina to visit friends and family, so my dad accompanied her for a short trip. He chastised her to never leave the house by herself and insisted he was happy to take her everywhere and anywhere, she just had to ask. But Nonna was stubborn. One day, when my dad went out, she decided to take a walk on her own. Although she had a friend with her, she fell in the hallway and shattered her leg. After being rushed to the hospital and undergoing surgery, the reality of the situation settled in. With a break like this one, she couldn't return easily to the United States and would have to be admitted to a nursing home, at least temporarily, until she had healed. In Nonna's mind, this was a death sentence.

She stopped eating and began saying that she was ready to die. At first, my mom and dad laughed it off and told her to stop being silly, it was just a broken leg. But within a few days, she stopped communicating and her health began to deteriorate. I booked a trip to Argentina for the next week, confident that seeing me would cheer her up. On the Sunday before my trip, my dad called my mom and told her that he thought my Nonna really was ready to die. That the doctors had told him that for no apparent or practical reason, her body was shutting down.

That evening, my dad put the phone to Nonna's ear and my mom told her that if she was ready to go, my mom would be okay. Nonna died that night, 4 days before I would have arrived in Buenos Aires.

I don't know the words to tell you how sad we were. My mom was distraught, I think I was in denial. Sometimes I would sit on the phone and my mom would cry and ask me over and over again how you die of a broken leg? It was terrible.

It wasn't until a few months later that I realized how far I was from believing she'd really passed away. I didn't see her every day since I was in Boston and she was at home in California, so it wasn't unusual to go long periods of time without seeing her. One night, though, I was sitting alone in Josh's apartment where I'd been staying while I summered at a Boston law firm. He was traveling to one of his exotic Midwest locations on a consulting project.

I'd been watching reruns of Sex and the City, and in one of these episodes, Miranda's mother dies. In one scene, Miranda cries in a dressing room as she realizes that she will never fight with her mother again. And then it hit me.

I'd never roll my eyes through another one of her stories, never hear her broken English ask me silly questions, never get to show her my new engagement ring. I'd never hug her, kiss her, fight with her again. So I cried. I cried more that night than I had when she'd first passed away and when I finally went to bed, my last thoughts before sleep were that I could not believe it possible for me to live another 70 years on this earth without seeing my Nonna again. It just didn't seem possible.

The next thing I remember is feeling a hand brushing against my cheek and sliding down my chin. I opened my eyes to a pitch black room, but above the bed in front of me was a shape. Not necessarily the shape of a person, but almost a cloud of shimmering sparkling light. The only way I can describe it is to say that it looked like oil and water when it separates, but the little particles of oil were lit up with this bright light. I gasped, and then it was gone. My heart was pounding as I fumbled for the lights and climbed out of bed. I dialed Josh's cell number with shaking hands and barely started to speak before the sobs began. I had only gotten a couple of sentences out when I remembered what my final thoughts of the night had been. I hung up quickly with Josh and called my mom. It took only a couple of words out of my mouth before we were both crying.

I slept with the lights on for the rest of that night, although given my tearful reaction I didn't think it would ever happen again.

Of course, there is always the possibility that I dreamed it, but I believe I was wide awake. I felt the weight of the hand against my face for hours after it happened- almost a tingling sensation. I don't know what it means, either, but I can tell you that it was beautiful and it made me believe that whatever comes after death, it cannot be bad because that shape and the lights were far from bad.


Piece of Work said...

Wow. That is a wonderful story. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing that.

liz said...


halloweenlover said...

Oh thank GOD. I was starting to freak out with the no comments. There is a reason I never tell people this story...

Frankie said...

That is so powerful, HL. I am crying over here!

blackbird said...

I know you were NOT dreaming.

RussianViolets said...

HL, I never used to believe in this kind of thing until my mom died, and I am CONVINCED that she visits me. It used to scare me until I started to accept that this is the only way that she can reach me. Your story is beautiful, and I do hope that she comes to you again (albeit in a less scary way).

Running2Ks said...

She was a wonderful woman, and that is so beautiful that you got to say goodbye to her.

I believe you.

And it has happened to us too.


KathyR said...


Thanks for posting this. I remember asking you about it.

I never know what to say about this kind of thing. I mean, I absolutely believe you. And I absolutely don't believe in ghosts, afterlife, etc.

I don't think you're nuts, dreaming, making it up. Seriously. You're too smart and real.

So, I'll just go sit over there.

Gawdessness said...

makes sense to me.
all of it.
I have a few moments like that.
Sometimes they bring me peace.
That's good.

Karan said...

and CUE the Twilight Zone music...

Chris said...

thank you for sharing that story. It was beautiful

SRH said...

Something like that happened to me when my grandfather died. I don't know if I believe that I saw a ghost, but I do remember feeling something and waking up from a dream about him just sobbing. I too was away from home so it didn't hit me right away. It's good that she told so many stories though, it keeps a part of her with you always.

Girl said... grandmother used to visit me in my dreams, but never like THAT. Beautiful story.

And speaking of "risking you thinking I am a lunatic"...have you gone to Target and gotten the shower curtain yet? Did you GET my comment?

Momtothelady said...

Oh HL. I truly believe that you saw your Nonna. I think that spirits can linger with us, and I even believe that there are shades of those who left us in new children that come into our lives. Lady ABSOLUTELY has some qualities that were unique to my Grandma, and is fascinated by pictures of my Grandpa (her husband) to the point where she smiles at him as though she recognizes him. My Grandma was also an artist and Sweetie and I have two of her paintings framed in our house, well from the time Lady could really open her eyes, she has LOVED to look at those paintings in particular. I don't think I'm crazy for wondering whether my Grandma is making another appearance in the form of Lady.

I don't know if I've ever told you this story, but my Grandma (same Grandma) had a series of strokes a few years ago before she passed away. The final stroke she had happened when she was up visiting my Aunt, and my Grandma ended up in the hospital, and her health deteriorated until she was moved to the Hospice room where we knew we would be saying goodbye. Depsite her failing health, she seemed to be fighting to hang on, and every day her outlook became more and more bleak but still she would hang on. We all took turns by her bedside, talking to her, sitting with her, and she could only look at us because she had lost her ability to speak.

One night, about a week into this, I had a dream that I was sitting next to my Grandmother in her hospital room. She turned to me and told me that she was so scared to die, and she didn't know what to do. I woke up right after she said this, and I couldn't fall back to sleep. I was haunted by her words, and the look of pleading in her eyes. Later that day, I went to the hospital to visit her (we all went every day), and as I sat by her bed I kept remembering the dream and the look of pleading in her eyes. At one point, we were alone in her room, and I leaned over to tell her that she didn't have to be afraid, that she would be okay, and that it would be okay if she left and that we all loved her and understood. She was not conscious, but I think she heard me all the same. About an hour and a half later, she was gone. She waited until everyone who was present had the chance to say goodnight and they loved her, and then she quietly slipped away.

Momtothelady said...

PS- sorry for the novel!!!


ccw said...

That is a beautiful story!

My mom felt/heard her grandmother once when she was a teenager. She wasn't scared b/c like you she said it didn't seem scary and it was someone she loved.

Jill said...

I don't think you're a lunatic. There is a lot in this world that we don't understand. I am sorry that you lost your Nonna, but it's great that you had such a beautiful experice of her presence, even though it freaked you out.

Beanie Baby said...

That is lovely. Thank you for sharing it.

Kris said...

I totally believe in this stuff happening. When Brian's great grandfather died (at 91) this summer, he appeared to his sister the next town over at his time of death. My MIL waited to call her for a few hours, called her at 5 am and she had been up for two hours crying. He's appeared and said, "I gotta go, I gotta go." Anyway, somehow it is comforting, isn't it? I'm so sorry for your loss.

Ninotchka said...

I don't think it's crazy at all. I think it is beautiful. I've had dreams in which loved ones who have passed have come to tell me they're OK. That sounds crazy too but you know what? Even if it is my mind conjuring up that image, as comforting as it has been: well, how could that be bad? Or "crazy?"

Kristin said...

I believe you. I've never had a supernatural experience myself, but I've heard so many stories from people I trust. There's so much we don't know.