Next to the garage of the house I grew up in, there was a discarded tombstone. I was a curious kid, and somewhat morbidly intrigued. It just seemed strange that it was there, so I asked my dad about it. I don’t remember his exact response, but knowing him, he probably explained that it was for someone who had died, but then with certainty, probably assured me that, no, there was no body buried under our garage. But I couldn’t seem to let it go, and even from a young age I expressed my questions artistically, so I drew a picture of it. (Though it should be noted the dates I put on the tombstone were Born 1329 – Died 1977. Apparently the guy lived to be 648 years old. Just goes to show that even from a young age I was a not a “numbers” kind of person).
I also remember when one of my close friends in elementary school lost her father to suicide. Though I couldn’t fully comprehend it, on a deep level in my young heart, I understood the magnitude of her loss. The mystifying power of death. Still to this day, when I think of her, I can’t separate her from her dad’s death. I have always wondered how she was able to integrate such a loss.
In college, I remember somewhat enviously noticing a budding relationship of a vivacious young couple. Then I heard that she had been killed in a car crash. I couldn’t believe it. She had so much life in her, so much life ahead of her. I didn’t even know her, but I was affected by her death, and wrote a poem for one of my classes. I felt such empathy for the young man. How unfathomably difficult it must have been, to lose his young love, in a car crash in which he was the driver.
Several years back I stumbled across the story of a University of Washington student who drowned in Green Lake (a small lake that anyone who lives in Seattle has either walked, run, rode, or skated around at some point). Apparently he couldn’t swim…yet he had waded out to keep up with some friends, not knowing the ground would drop off abruptly into deep water. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and his abrupt death. He had come to Seattle from another state. I cringed to think about what his family was going through. I wanted to reach out the them, but thought they would find that odd – comfort coming from a stranger.
Over the years I have often thought about death, and my beliefs. I didn’t suffer any difficult losses when I was young, and my closest relatives lived on another continent, so even when my grandmother died, I felt one step removed. Is that why I was thinking about these people I didn’t even know? Perhaps trying to empathize, and prepare myself for experiencing the inevitable? I guess I’ve always been aware of how closely each of us walk next to death, and I have never wanted to take this for granted. But one thing I do know is that on a deeper level, it felt good to be thinking about these people. That even as a complete stranger, by thinking about these people, I felt like I was keeping a part of them – their spirit – alive.
So there we have it. Spirit. Spirit is something I believe in.
I understand why we have beliefs, and religion. To help explain the mysteries, to give some kind of context to those unexplainables, (like what happens after we die). But I tend to be very “practical” about what I believe in, and generally base it on my direct experiences in life. A couple of years ago, we had to put my dog down. She had lived a long life, 17 years, and letting her go was so painful. But on the day that it happened, there were signs of her spirit everywhere, they simply could not be ignored, even my husband agreed that I wasn’t imagining the coincidences. Sensing her spirit gave me some peace.
But this is where the question of my belief gets sticky. In trying to come to terms with the deaths of my dad and my husband, my belief in “spirit” is not coming through loud and clear. I don’t know if it’s because these deaths are so much harder to grasp, or I am still in shock, or denial, or if it’s because my mind has become a noisy hub of tangled thoughts, but it feels like a false notion that doesn’t give me nearly enough comfort. It’s NOT enough. Because really, I want more, I want the impossible. I want to know where they are, I want to talk to them, ask the how they are, get comfort from them, and I don’t want to have to wait to find it in some hidden meaning, or quiet moment, or murky dream. I want a clear physical message, not a shaky belief.
Some people believe that we carry “all the answers” within ourselves. I used to believe this as well. And I am trying to continue believing it. Because if I do, then I can see the thread…delicate as it is…of a young girl, who gave pause…and made a drawing about a man she didn’t even know, and somehow honored his life and death, and is, to this day, helping keep his “spirit” alive. If I can do that for others, then I can do that for “me”, right? I HAVE to find faith and belief for the dear ones I have lost, because what else do I have???