I started wondering about ghosts. Like one of those beings that you can’t ever really see but you can hear from time to time on those Friday night reality shows I watch on Travel Channel. They never show enough to truly get you to become a believer, but it’s always enough to keep you wanting to tune in the next week. I did a ghost hunt in Chicago once. A few voices, which when it sounds like they say your name sends chills up your spine. We had some responses to our questions, and I experienced this very light touch on the back of my neck that would turn it’s self into frozen chills that would run throughout my body. It was definitely an experience you can tell people about, but you can never fully explain. It didn’t feel terrifying, those cold chills, they almost felt comforting. Like they were familiar to me. The names we got that night were ‘Arvid’ and ‘Rozella’ and they had been reunited just recently. If I am to take it at face value that would be the names of my paternal grandparents who had both passed away in the last few years. My grandma just January of 2013. I was asked to write something for the funeral, and I ended up writing something for both my grandparents. All those things you wanted to say when they were still there, but of course you don’t realize how much they mean to you, or how much you loved each other until they are gone. That was always one of the sadder and honestly, really quite shitty, realities of life. That you never fully realize how much something or someone means to you until it’s gone. Maybe it’s something we’re conditioned to do. It doesn’t mean we’re not grateful for them or that we don’t love them, but most of the time we don’t fully recognize that until it’s no longer there. We don’t tell people how much they mean to us while we can. I know I’ve done it while sitting and talking to their headstone, hoping that somehow they can hear me. Like the Ghost of their former selves is still wandering around and will just happen to hear you purging out everything you kept locked away so tightly in your heart out.
My Grandparents had both become ghosts when they were alive. My grandpa had pancreatic cancer, and managed to survive with it for almost a year. He was 89 when he was diagnosed. We watched it start to consume him, and see his transformation to a physical shell of the man he once was. Mentally, he never left. He knew what he was facing, and the mountain he was about to ascend. He knew he was facing the end, and did his best to keep his dignity intact. I never heard him complain about it, but he never did openly talk about his experiences with it. He did his best to keep himself the same as had been before. I think he spent more time focused on my grandma. She had been dealing with significant losses of memory for almost 20 years at that point. She was beginning to lose her grasp on reality. My grandpa did not, which I am still not sure if that made it more difficult to deal with him dying. The fact that he knew exactly what was happening and what was to come. I can’t help but wonder if he could feel the Grim Reaper standing behind him throughout this time, and true to who he was he fought it off. He was a pillar of strength, he fought his way through wars, through life, and through this. He fought off death for as long as he could have. I do remember him saying that he was ready to go, that he had “a hell of a life.” Selfishly, I never wanted him to go, but if he was ready to go, then you can’t stop it. You can never stop it. The last time I ever saw him, was the only time I ever heard him utter a complaint. He was a pain medication, and was strolling somewhere between sleep and wake. He muttered, “I hurt” under his breath. I sat with him, and held his hand for a while, and then got up and told him I loved him. I can still vividly see him in that hospital bed, and I will cry almost instantly at that memory. It stirs up at that pain that lays dormant.
My grandma had been a slightly different case. She had Alzheimer’s . Sometimes she had great days, and other times she had crap days. The last 10 years were mostly a black hole in her mind. That black hole was starting to slowly consume everything. She probably had no idea that my grandpa, whom she spent 73 years of her life with, was gone. No one will ever know for sure. The amazing thing was that if you prodded her enough, it would almost wake up dormant memories. She would tell me about living in Japan while my grandpa was stationed there during The Korean War, and how much she loved it. She could recall these details that most people would probably have forgotten in the decades since, but she remembered. Her face would light up, and she would become so animated, you just knew that it was probably the most exciting time in her life. She would talk about her kids, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you knew she loved them. She loved her family, and took pride in it. She was a little woman, just over five foot, but what she lacked in height and size, she made up for in personality. She was fearless, spunky and honest. If you did something she didn’t like, she would have no qualms about telling you exactly how she felt. She was ballsy. I admire her for that. I admire both my grandparents for that. They were honest, and genuine. They were not perfect and wouldn’t even pretend to be. They never let their issues run their lives, they dealt with them most of the time. Their love was endless and completely unconditional. You didn’t have to do anything but exist and be blood to earn it. In my years of teenage angst, I wish I had realized those things. I like to think it would have helped to know that, but of course you never realize it until after the fact. My ghost got in the way of it.
These honest, and endlessly loving people are just memories and feelings now. They are ghosts that follow me around, and I’m perfectly okay with it. At their cores, these are people and values I want to emulate in my own life. The love they had not just for their family but for each other, truly tested the vows they took. For richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse. They took those vows and meant them until they day they died. That’s what I find myself secretly wanting. I can’t bring myself to tell people that’s what I want. You want someone who will have your back and you their’s, even when you fight and want to punch each other in the face, even when you’re both nervous and sad and over-thinking everything, even in those moments of pure happiness. To accept you for who you are, and to utterly, completely, unadulteratedly and unconditionally love you until you both take your last breath.
That’s another ghost I have lingering behind me. I seem to have grown quite a collection of these. There is one that is bigger than the others though. My father. I’m just really beginning to see how things really were with him. He was a ghost throughout my life. Looking back at moments in my life, he was just a figure in the background. He was never a major part of it. I think the part that hurts with that is not that he was pushed out of my life, but that he chose to never fully walk into it. He’s an alcoholic, always has been and will most likely always be one. That was his true love, the bottle. Not his family growing up, not the career he had chosen or the wife he took, or the children they had. It was alcohol. I can’t honestly say that I believe he’s just an addict, and that it’s all a disease. Maybe it is, and maybe I’m just too hurt, angry and sad to say that it is. But in my heart, I can’t give him that out. I want him to be held responsible for what he’s done, and how much he’s hurt others. I found myself just wishing for years for an apology, even a completely insincere one. I just wanted those words out of his mouth. I thought that if I heard those then I could delude myself into thinking he took responsibility for it. He never did, and he never will. I never could fully understand how his parents could be one way, and he could end up being so different. So withdrawn from us, and so detached in his own world. I still don’t understand how he would willingly have a family and not care. This past summer was the breaking point for me. For whatever reason, I had felt that I tried to reach him on his level, and compromised maybe we could have some semblance of a relationship. I told myself that it’s better to try with the one father I get than to just completely shut him out. Honestly for a while, it was good. But I never got a father, and I never got to know who he was. Who he truly was died long before I was ever born. It died when he took his first drink. I don’t even know if the alcoholism is his ghost. It’s too present for him to just be able to sweep it away. This summer he turned from a ghost to a demon, ever present in my face. We fought, I got in his face and didn’t back down. I saw things and sides of him that I never wanted to. He threatened me, and regardless of what the threat was, a father should never do that to his own child. I haven’t spoken to him since. Now I’m left with the ghost of him. Trying to figure out how I can reconcile those feelings I have, what I can learn from it, and how I can let go.
I started writing this the fall of 2013, and thought it was done. Today (the 15th) would have been my grandma’s 95th birthday and all I can think of is her and my grandpa. How they were, and what they became. What presence they held in my life, and what they still hold in my heart and in my mind. They never fully disappear. I have spent my day thinking about ghosts. How people can become ghosts. How depression became more than ghost for me, it became a demon. How it has dictated and controlled almost every choice and thought I’ve had since it came slithering into my life, grasping firmly onto to anything it could. That no matter how hard I try to make something fit. Nothing does. No career. No school. No relationship. I can’t figure out if I’m damning myself to a life of indecision of if the depression just wants to keep me all to it’s self. That if I make a choice outside of it then I would no longer constantly feed my demons. That maybe then they would wither away and fade to ghosts that I could ignore.
Ghosts are the underlying theme of my life. Things that I want to forget, but can’t. People who have left. Feelings that always linger just below the surface. Everything seems to be a ghost in the right light. All those things I’ve quit in my life because I thought they didn’t fit. Those are ghosts now too. I still can’t put my depression in the ghost category. It’s still too strong and too present to be a ghost. I call that my demon. This grotesque thing that would consume me whole if I let it. I’ve been close to letting it before. There have been times where that call to give in was very seductive, but I didn’t. I’m not really sure why I didn’t give in, I don’t have a real reason for it. It just didn’t happen. It just feels like I was yanked back by some unseen force, making sure that my feet remain on the ground, however shaky that soil is.
Here I remain, all these years later surrounded by my ghosts. They manifest themselves on those lonely nights. The ones when I can’t get my brain to stop yammering away. When my guard is down and my armor is off, they come and present themselves as a reminder that they are still ever present. Things I can not ever touch. God, can I feel them though. The fear and anger from 13, the sadness from 15, the hopelessness from 17, the indecisive insecurity of 26. They are strong with me some nights. Those are nights they morph from ghosts to demons. I don’t hide from them anymore. I face them down. I feel them, as wholly as I can. I do my best to tell them to go away, and sometimes they do. But not before leaving that reminder. I am here. I am always here.
We all have ghosts. Whether you believe in their existence and they’re real ghosts, or it’s just a metaphor for our past, and these people who have done good for us, or those who have hurt us, or those we cling to even though we never knew them. I never liked the saying “Skeletons in the closet.” I think we have ghosts instead. A closet always made me think that we could leave these things behind, but we can’t. They follow us around. Our ghosts are a part of us whether we want it or not. At some point you have to make peace with them.
Face down those demons, and tell them who’s boss.