When I was a little girl I began to see apparitions; translucent figures or shadows whisking by. Sometimes I’d hear their occasional whispers as I fell asleep. Like most kids, I’d pull the sheets over my head and immerse myself within a cotton blend fortress. I don’t think my visitors intended to scare me but on occasion they did. As I grew older I became less fearful but the early years were tough.
The first night I saw a spirit I was terrified and bolted from my room as fast as my six year old legs would carry me. My anxiety was quickly dismissed with a kiss on my forehead and a “go back to sleep.” Since my folks didn’t believe me the first time I told them, I knew sharing additional experiences about Casper’s friends was out of the question. I never told anyone, not my pastor, or closest friends.
No one knew until 34 years later.
Dad and I were at lunch, munching on chili dogs and having a heart to heart talk about one of the most difficult subjects in the world.
He had advanced emphysema, and time wasn’t on his side. In spite of a ravenous appetite and a fondness for deep fried junk food, Dad couldn’t gain an ounce of weight and was painfully thin. The doctors told us that every calorie was used for breathing.
"I'm worried about Mom. She’s never been alone and may have a hard time getting used to it" Dad said while toying with the straw in his root beer. “When I’m gone I'm counting on you take care of her for me.”
"I’ll be there Dad. I promise” I said, reaching for another chili dog. “And if I mess it up, just materialize like all the others and tell me how to fix it.”
Then I stopped mid-bite.
Maybe he didn’t notice.
“Materialize like all the others?"
“Daddy, you’ll probably think I’m crazy but I see and hear spirits. Not all the time, but every now and then.”
His eyes widened.
“Yes, ever since I was a child.”
“Why am I just now learning about this?” he demanded.
“Once I tried to tell you both but no one believed me. So I didn’t talk about it” I sighed. “The reason why spirits appear to kids is because they don’t question what they see. Grownups do.”
There was a long pause as we both took another bite.
He spoke first.
“I suppose we've all seen and heard things that we dismissed because we’re frightened of the truth. There are millions of mysteries in God’s universe that we can’t begin to comprehend. No doubt this is one of them. I’m truly sorry that you had to shoulder this burden alone” he said, wiping the chili from his chin.
He studied the food on his plate.
“Not to change the subject, but I wonder if they have hot dogs in heaven. I certainly hope so.”
“So how does this ghost stuff work?” he asked.
“Fortunately my visitors appear to be passing through. I think they just want to be noticed. A few try to speak but I can’t understand what they’re saying. It’s like listening to someone talking underwater.”
“I’ll bet you’d understand me” he chuckled.
“I’ll bet I would too.”
A few months later Dad was in a coma and not expected to survive. As he struggled for every breath in an Indiana hospital, I was in Florida waiting for news. I longed to be there, but he was adamant that I not witness the inevitable.
So there I sat, feeling utterly helpless.
At 12:04pm I heard his voice, clear as a bell.
“This is Dad. You need to be brave and take care of Mom. Remember your promise.”
Just then the phone rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
It was Mom.
“When did he pass away?” I asked, choking back tears.
“Just before noon” she sobbed.
Because Mom was inconsolable I couldn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. If I did I’d be no good to anyone. I had to locate paperwork, policies, make funeral arrangements, empty the safe deposit box; so many tasks. In spite of Dad’s advance preparations, I still found myself fumbling through desk drawers.
“For Pete’s sake Daddy, where did you hide this stuff?” I groaned.
Then I began hearing “open that” or “look in there.” And I found what I was searching for.
Weeks later I was still trying to hold myself together but the dam was crumbling. Mom knew so little of how to handle her home and finances. Dad didn’t do her any favors by taking care of everything for so long. Until she was self sufficient, I had to do all I could for her.
One afternoon I heard Dad’s voice again.
“Shelly, you need to call your Mom.”
I was emotionally drained. No doubt Dad’s directive meant that Mom had another brush fire to stomp out.
I tried ignoring him.
A few minutes later he said it again using his “do it or else” tone.
“Listen to me. You NEED to call your Mom.”
I dialed the phone.
For the first time in ages Mom was genuinely cheerful which encouraged me. Maybe whatever was wrong wasn’t a big deal.
“You don’t usually call in the afternoon. Why are you calling this late?” she asked.
“I don’t know. For some reason I thought you might need me or want to talk.”
There was a long pause.
“You’re right I do want to talk and for once I want to talk about you. I’ve been such a mess lately that I’ve been blind to the fact that a very sad girl has been looking after me. My wonderful son-in-law told me that you haven’t shed more than a few tears since Dad died. You’ve been so busy propping me up that you haven’t allowed yourself to mourn your own father. It’s not healthy to hold it in, even though I know you’ve done it out of love for me.”
My lower lip began trembling, and my eyes filled.
“I can’t imagine how much you must be suffering. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me and let your ole’ Mom help you for a change. ”
With just a few words the dam burst and the tears gushed.
I didn’t think the human body could hold that much water. From 1,200 miles away Mom spoke words of comfort as I wept with abandon.
Dad didn’t tell me to call Mom because she needed me. It was I who needed Mom. She was turning a corner, starting to adjust to life without my father.
It was my turn to do the same.
Since that day Dad has been silent. Perhaps he knew it was time to let go, that we’d be okay. And we are.
I just wish I’d remembered to ask him if they served hot dogs in heaven.
For his sake, I certainly hope so.
Michelle Close Mills ©