Friday, August 8, 2008

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Those among you who don't believe in spirits may not enjoy today's post much. I've always been a skeptic, but I am no longer doubtful.

I had an appointment with my psychologist this past Tuesday and I asked Bill to go with me. Over the past several months I have noticed that my mental health plummets with every physical downturn, leaving Bill to prop me up until my body returns to some semblance of normalcy. I hoped my therapist could help Bill and me develop some coping skills to prevent the inevitable downturns in my physical health from devolving into mental tailspins.

Among the many things discussed at my appointment was the need for me to create a safe space where I feel peaceful. Fortunately we are already in the process of creating that oasis for me. Thanks to Dave and one of his friends, the room in a lovely shade of green, reminiscent of shaded stalks of bamboo. We recently received the overstuffed chair and ottoman we ordered months ago. The fabric is a rich cream with red, orange, yellow and green Oriental poppies. In this large chair I look like Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann (see: to revisit this character). I can easily fit one of the kids into the chair with me, which makes for lovely snuggling time. We picked out cabinets and bookcases back in January, but the room preparations stalled because the money we set aside for the room went to Duke Hospital for my winter and spring adventures. I have spent money in far more enjoyable ways.

Out of the blue my mother called me last week and said, “Your Dad and I want to give you the money to finish your home office.” It is so like them to give what they have to their children rather than spend it on themselves. All our lives, they went without so that we could go to private schools and colleges. They gave us just the right amount, providing the things that were valuable without spoiling us or indulging us in every fad. This part of parenting they executed perfectly, far better than Bill and I do in our own family.

I was overcome by the gesture but quickly recovered and ordered the furniture. I started to dream of finally having my own sanctuary. I placed pictures in the frames that I bought for the room many months ago, threw away the accumulated clutter, and organized neat stacks of the items that I needed to keep.

From the garage I carried the framed quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower that used to hang in my office at work, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” Bill and I found the quote in an antique story when we were dating and it summed up our shared worldview perfectly. I always hung it in my business offices as a daily reminder of my desire to use my work to better the lives of children.

I described the room to my therapist and also mentioned that I planned to create a little altar to contain the various amulets that friends have given to me over the years and during the recent worsening of my illness. They include, among other things, my grandmother Amelia’s Italian bible and crucifix, a small framed quote painted for me by my friend Angela when my house burnt down in graduate school, a charm of the Chinese goddess of mercy from Nina, a crystal given to me by my friend Kim who had received it from her mother, an angel statue from my friend Jennifer, and many more.

“Ok, so you have a sanctuary, and you have sacred objects,” my therapist observed, “Now you need a guide.”

The appropriate guide is obvious to me: my grandmother, Amelia. While I never knew my grandmother in any real sense, I know that I carry her with me. I feel her in my ability to sew despite never having been taught as if her seamstress genes just became manifest one day. I must have also inherited her genes for candor and irreverence, her love of food, and her predilection for cursing. And, unfortunately, I also inherited the gene or cluster of genes that would ultimately sentence me to suffer from pulmonary fibrosis, the disease that took her life. Her fibrosis came by way of sarcoidosis rather than scleroderma but the result was the same nonetheless.

Sometimes I feel like I am on some a journey that parallels hers some 40 years later. My grandmother became an American citizen but she always longed for her family back in Italy. When she retired, she went to see her family a few times. On what was fated to be her last trip, she disembarked in Philadelphia where my mother greeted her, “I knew as soon as she walked of off the pier that she was sick,” my mother often told me. But I guess my grandmother withheld information or made light of it so as not to worry her pregnant daughters. I thought of my grandmother so much last summer when I was struggling in Italy; this time I would be the one coming home to America very ill.

When I was 4 years old I came down to breakfast one morning, “Mom, Grandma came to see me last night.” “Uh-huh,” my mom replied, thanking God that I started kindergarten a year early so she didn’t have to put up with my incessant chatter all day long. “She was wearing a really pretty pink dress,” I continued. My mother’s ears perked up, “Can you describe the dress?” she asked. Apparently I described the dress my grandmother was laid out it -- the lace, the buttons, the design -- down to remarkable detail. My mother was stunned because I was an infant at the time and there are no pictures of the viewing. “Did she say anything?” I told my mother that Grandma told me who she was and that she would lie down with me for a little while, “Then she got up, put on her glasses, and told me to be a good girl for Mommy."

"Then, she said that she would come back to see me someday.”

I, of course, have no recollection of this happening and spent my entire childhood petrified that Grandma was going to pop up when I least expected her.

Over the past 6 months, in my physical pain and mental despair, I would often call out to her, “Grandma, please come to me. You said you would come back.” But there was never an answer. Six weeks ago, that changed.

On the drive home from the therapist I turned to Bill, who seemed out of place in the passenger's seat.

“I told you about the shaking, right?”


Bill does not entertain beliefs in ghosts or spirits. This past weekend we were discussing what life would be like when I am gone. I promised him that my spirit would stay with him until he fell in love again, “Then I will leave you alone, unless she is a bitch. In that case I will haunt both of you.” Bill laughed and shook his head at me. Apparently he thought the comment was made in jest.

So I told him my story, knowing full well he would think that I was nuts. One morning I overslept and Bill and the kids were gone for the day when I awoke. I felt the bed shaking. I assumed it was Watson so I called to him. But he was not in the room. “I have got to stop taking so many drugs,” I thought to myself. Then the bed shook again, hard. “Ok, that was not drug induced,” I got up and looked around the room but found nothing unusual. I lay back done again and, once again, the bed shook hard. “Grandma, is that you?” I called out and the shaking ceased.

I looked at Bill after finishing, fully expecting to find him smirking at me. Instead his face was poker straight, “When did this happen?” he asked. The first time? About 6 weeks ago. And three times since then. “It happened to me last night,” he confessed, “I looked at you and you were sound asleep and still. Then it happened again.”

We were both quiet for a few moments. There we were two scientists, both logical to a fault, facing the reality that we had both experienced the same supernatural occurrence in the same place at different times.

Then a funny thought crossed my mind. Maybe Bill’s grandfather, Mel, had met Amelia. I had this funny vision of these two little old people running around our bed like children at play, seeing who could shake harder and wanting desperately for us to know that they are here.

Yesterday morning when I awoke, someone was holding my hand. I assumed it was Bill, but when I opened my eyes I discovered that Bill was not in the room. I looked at my cupped hand: It was empty, but it felt like someone else’s hand was there. Then it happened again this morning.

Maybe I am crazy, but I don’t think so. Someone is with me, and I finally feel safe and settled.


Anonymous said...

We know so much less than we think we do. There's so much that we don't understand, can't explain, and, I would argue, often can't even sense, going on around us all the time. I am one of those rare breeds that holds on strongly to a belief in a very real God despite nearly three decades of education that would love to beat it out of me. I believe in a real Heaven and a real Hell and that real people go there. I also believe in angels, demons, and the whole deal. I also believe that prayers get answered, and I know that a lot of people have been praying for you. So, while these bed-shaking experiences are a little spooky to me as I read them, they are comforting to you. It's all a matter of perspective in that sense....but none of it sounds outlandish to me. It all comes down to the fact that God loves you and knows exactly what you need.

Jawahiir said...

I know I am several years to late but your words have touched my heart.