It may seem odd to some to treat on the subject of death during Halloween, so close on the heels of the death of my sister, but you would have to know her in order to know that she had an entirely wicked and profoundly irreverent sense of humor. If she knew I was posting to tell a ghost story tonight–a real ghost story–not something made up–she would probably love it. Even though the ghost story involves her.
This is an absolutely true story. I'm telling it not only because I think that it 's appropriate for All Hallow's Eve, but also because it raises some interesting questions about the nature of life and death, consciousness, time, and our perception of reality.
There's a man named Joe B. who was a very close friend of mine. He shared numerous personal characteristics with my sister. He died in a tragic car accident in 1999. By that time, I had been working with him for 10 years and had been to Thailand and China with him many dozens of times. We were very close, but the relationship was deeply conflicted, because he was both charismatic and seriously bipolar. Although I loved the man in many ways–he was one of those people who could complete a sentence for me, and vice versa–he was also very, very difficult.
In the first 3 months after he died, Joe kept coming back to me in dreams over and over again. In every dream, we were in Thailand--his absolute favorite place-- and it eventually became clear to me that he basically wanted us to keep being together there, in this place he loved. In other words, he didn't want to go: he was clinging, stuck to this moment in our lives, and in life.
The dreams eventually became disturbing, because he just wouldn't leave. I finally looked at him in a moment of lucid dreaming and told him, “Joe, you're dead. You just can't keep coming back like this. You have to move on." In that last dream, he nodded at me to acknowledge that he understood. He disappeared from my dreams then for about 6 months, and only came back one more time, very briefly, in a cameo appearance to let me know he was okay.
He had not come back for over 10 years.
A month ago, about a week before I went to China, Joe returned in a dream again. When he came back, I thought it was very odd, because he had definitely moved on, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why he would come back after 10 years of complete silence. I decided to ignore it as a fluke, some unfinished piece of business I was working out in my subconscious.
It wasn't that easy. Joe came back the next night again. That night, what was left over when I woke up was a sense of great love for him. I understood that even though we had terrible moments together, the overarching relationship was one of love. It was a good feeling to know that.
Okay, I thought, resolved.
He came back again, for the third night in a row, about 3 nights before I left on the trip.
Enough was enough. I woke up that morning distinctly saying to myself, “Someone is going to die.” It was as though it was self evident, and I was dense not to have understood it before that. Joe had come to send me that message.
Well, I thought, perhaps one is just bound to imagine such things when a recurring dream like that arises. But I couldn't shake the impression, and of course I was worried it would be me. I have all these people to take care of, my children, wife, parents, and so on, I thought. Then I thought to myself stoically, “Well, I can't do anything about it if it's me.”
Then I started worrying that it was one of my children and I said, “dear God, please, don't take any of my children.”
Finally, I put it aside. I was superstitiously averse to telling my wife Neal-- or anyone else-- about it, because I felt that if I vocalized it, it would become real and gain power. Perhaps there's some irony in this, since it seems apparent in hindsight that it already had all the power it was going to have in the first place.
In any event, a day or two after my sister died, I suddenly realized that this was exactly what Joe had been trying to tell me. I feel quite certain that he came back to warn me.
Jeanne De Salzmann famously said, in a letter that she wrote after Mme. Ouspensky's death, "There is no death."
I've had ample evidence of that over the course of a lifetime, sometimes in most unpleasant ways that I wanted to have nothing whatsoever to do with. ( This post is hardly the only true ghost story I have--it's one of the least disturbing ones, in fact.) In other instances they have been nothing short of miraculous, blessings from above.
No matter how I try to process it, there is clearly a mystery to this question and a dimension that we can't possibly understand from this perspective.
In memory of all those who we love, and who are gone--
May our prayers be heard.