Some years ago I had an amazing experience with ghosts of two family members.
I grew up in a strong Catholic family, number six of seven children. Our Dad was a devoted husband and father, and a hard-working lawyer. Like many men in his generation, he was authoritarian, demanding and perfectionist. Being quick-witted and proud of his intelligence, he loved a good argument.
My father and I were polar opposites. His confidence provoked my insecurity. His quick speech smothered my wish for deep thought and intimate conversation. His anger ignited my smoldering resentments. I countered his demandingness with my own consideration of others. I would tread carefully around his angry storms when he had been drinking. I fashioned my ideal around the opposite of who my father was.
My father’s younger sister, Ceal, was his secretary. She, like me, was somewhat insecure, and he would put her down impatiently when she didn’t have ready what he expected, or misconstrued his dictations. It seemed to me that her shakiness and uncertainty was directly related to his harsh treatment.
I was in my late 40s when my father died. Even in his old age, our tumultuous relationship felt always on the verge of explosion.
Aunt Ceal died about a year later after a severe heart attack. I heard of her death by noon, and kept checking to see when it would be okay for me to try to speak with her. Not until midnight was the right time. She was in great distress. She had gone through a life review, and was berating herself about how little she had accomplished in her life compared to my father. I listened to her sad wailing for a while. Eventually I grew impatient with her, catching myself saying something to her with irritation, just like my father did. Ashamed, I began to put myself down. When she saw this, she recognized what she herself was doing, and snapped out of it. We had been fairly close in life. Now our friendship became much closer. I spoke with her daily for about five years.
During this time I was fixing up a vacant house. On breaks, I would dialogue with my aunt, typing into my laptop computer. One time while I was speaking with her, my father walked into the room. I was truly surprised. I’d had no contact with him at all after he died. He sat down in the chair next to my aunt.
Dad told me he was working on three things in the afterlife. He was doing some lawyerly work. He was helping people make the transition to their new life after death. And he just beamed when he spoke of the third thing, making violins for an orchestra. I still find that touching. His grandfather had been an artisan with wood. Dad loved the violin, though he didn’t play himself. He was proud of my oldest brother playing violin in a youth orchestra. And I still vividly recall his favorite record in the ’50s, Fritz Kreisler’s beautiful violin melodies.
When Dad finished speaking, the conversation switched to me and Aunt Ceal. I chuckled to myself as I saw him shifting in his chair somewhat impatiently. Just like in life, he was restless when not the center of attention. He got up, saying that this dialogue with me was Ceal’s job now. He needed to get back to his own commitments. I rose to bid him goodbye. As he walked out of the room, our eyes met. I don’t know exactly how to describe this, for I had no clear vision of him, only a sense of where he was, and a vague image. But our eyes met, and in that instant, my whole lifetime of conflict with him was reframed and healed. Never again would I think of him with resentment or feel hurt at his treatment of me.
We had both been philosophy majors in college, 35 years apart. In the reframe, we were college students together studying philosophy, taking wildly divergent positions, arguing intensely about our different points of view, and enjoying every minute of it.
In a flash this ghostly encounter became for me a miraculous, instant healing.
I can’t wait to share this with my patients. Thanks!