ghosts


Ghost

Ghost (Photo credit: Pétur Gauti)

I have written about how Rob and I are haunted.

In the past I’ve attributed much of the goings on to the house itself. Speculated that it’s perhaps a conduit. But I think more and more that it’s just Rob and I. We attract a lot of – largely unwelcome – contact from “the other side”.

Well-meaning though it is, I myself am weary of the advanced spiritual warning system the departed whom I am closely, and not all that closely, connected to feel I need.

Twice in the last week, I’ve received shout outs.  Literally and by name. From the “beyond”.

Both times it was morning and I was abed. The first occurred after the neighbor woke me – again – when he started up his piece of shit diesel truck so it could idle the necessary 15 minutes before he left for work. Fifteen minutes. From 6:15 AM to 6:30 AM.  I wouldn’t need an alarm if I felt at all inclined to get up 45 minutes earlier than I absolutely have to on a weekday morning.

That morning, as I lay there wishing that the neighbor was working nights this week instead of days, I heard my name.  Rob was curled like a hedgehog to my right and clearly not moved by the sputtering outside, but the voice was on the other side of the bedroom door and not Dee’s though at first I thought it was her and that she was already up and downstairs.

I listened.  Nothing but engine in dire need of a tune-up could be heard.

The second time was just last Thursday.  I woke at 5 AM for reasons best explained by the fact that I am almost 49 and the plumbing is in various stages of being decommissioned.  I am zen about the early awakenings accompanied by sleep loss. It’s temporary – though “temporary” is relative – and I just endure, but on mornings when I begin my day two hours into sleep debt, I generally go back to bed once I have the child on the bus and Rob bundled off to work.

As I snuggled in, I heard a man call out my name in an urgent tone.  Like “hey, pay attention!”.  Which I did but nothing followed.  At first I thought Rob had returned because it sounded like him but then I realized it was my father’s voice.

Thanks, Dad.

The first incident I wrote off to randomness. After all, I’d experienced odd rattling of the blinds in the office a few times over the preceding weeks that amounted to nothing as well.  Sometimes the dear departed are just rattling about aimlessly.  Voices, however, are never without motive.  Ever.  If they bother to put something to vocals, something is up.

I endeavoured to remain calm.  I didn’t mention it to Rob.  He’d had a terrible week that began with semi-competent dentistry and a summons from his cardiologist for his yearly stress test.

“Do you want me to come along?” I asked.

“You can if you want,” he said.

In the back of both of our minds is the example of his sister, LW, whose husband dropped dead during his stress test.

But the second calling spooked me.  Dee was heading off to Girl Guides camp for the weekend and Rob was still recouping from 5 hours of dental surgery/torture/malpractice, and then there are elderly family, my sister’s husband heading out into the wilds of Iowa with a crossbow for the start of hunting season and the fact that the United States seems to be on the verge of imploding.

What the fuck, Dad? You couldn’t clue me as to what to focus on?

But now it is Sunday night.  Dee arrived home from camp with tales of blind people, their dogs and how haunted houses should have “medium” scary settings for children her age, and Rob hasn’t injured himself at all as he reno’d about this weekend.

As far as I know, no one in the family died, and the Frankenstorm might generate enough “love thy neighbor” vibe to curb the American tendency to get a bit “dramatic” in whatever aftermath the election gods – in their perverse way of deciding things – blesses the country with this time.

Voices from … elsewhere … nearly always reveal their intentions within a relatively short frame of time, so I sit with one shoe on the floor and the other waiting to drop from another dimension as though this were a Poltergeist sequel.


Hamlet, I, 5 - Hamlet and the ghost.

Image via Wikipedia

Can’t remember whose theory on dreams and the subconscious gave the most weight to the symbolic nature of the people, objects and situations that make up the scenery of our nightly home movies.

I blame Pat Robertson and the Progressive Left in any case for last night’s visitation regardless.

Normally, my dreams are populated only with people I know and the setting is most often a variation of the town where I attended university or a school building I once worked in. I don’t know why and I haven’t bothered to research what it means or doesn’t.

Dead people seldom have starring roles in my dreams. If the departed do appear, they have cameos at best. But last night, Will showed up, which shouldn’t come as a surprise thanks to the Robertson faux uproar, but I have to be honest – I was surprised because he has only deigned to grace my dreams a handful of times in the past five plus years and never as more than a walk on. Ever.

I was back in school. It was – god help me – the 80’s with  clothing and the hair styles so jarring that I actually commented on it to another character completely out of context to the situation.

I found myself back on Currier E2 in my old corner room (minus the high-strung room-mate) and Will shows up to visit me for the weekend. And you could have knocked me over with a feather when I opened the door and it was him. Normally, it’s Rob who rides shot-gun in my dreams. Very seldom do I dream that Rob doesn’t figure at some or all points.

Here’s the odd thing – as if dreams with dead husbands stopping in for visit aren’t odd enough – he was not young. His hair was longer, curled like Dee’s does at the nape, around the ears and that same cowlick that drives her to distraction and salted with gray. His face was lined a bit and his goatee salted as well.

This has happened once before where someone who’s been gone a while showing up in a dream looking his real age. My Uncle Jim popped into a dream not long before Will and I married, looking very much like the 65-year-old man he would have been and not the 39-year-old man he was when he died.

When I asked him what he was doing there, he said,

“I thought I should visit now.”

I had been on my way out to meet friends, but his arrival prompted me to suggest we stay in. He didn’t want me to change plans. He would come along after he changed into a clean shirt.

He was not the 30-year-old I remembered from before the ravages of illness. More solid. A bit thicker and hairy, but not on the order of a grizzly.

Throughout I was aware that he shouldn’t have been there but I got no further explanation from him about why other than he deemed the visit “necessary”. I sorta felt like he was less happy to see me than I was to see him and that the visit wasn’t for pleasure but one of those dutiful things a person does.

He watched me with an appraising sort of look. He seemed tired as though he’d come a long distance to spend time with me, but whatever he’d left behind him was still on his mind. He mentioned at one point that he wouldn’t be able to stay for more than the night. He had to get back. I didn’t ask where or why, and he didn’t volunteer any more information.

I’ve thought about it all day and I can’t figure out why – after all these years – he put in an actual appearance in my dreams. He has never felt the need before. It has a ghost of Hamlet’s father feel to it. Blunted purpose chiding? Perhaps.


Graves at Old Holy Cross Cemetery

Image by Fritz Liess via Flickr

Last Thursday, the ghost tickled the crown of Rob’s head while he stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Not an “attaboy”. Rob performs housework without the need for warm affirmations or pats on the head. It was a “heads up”.

So, when the call came later that evening to let us know that his uncle had passed away, the ghostliness of the day made sense.

But it was hardly the only sign this month, lights have been on that shouldn’t have been and there was that incidence with the shadow in Dee’s room. For myself personally, it’s been this persistent feeling that someone was going to die soon. It’s caused me no end of anxiety. First with Dee’s class taking a field trip into the city during the icy weather earlier in the month and then Edie and Silver driving through the mountains to and from Vancouver on their vacation.

It’s not as if we didn’t know about Uncle Francis. He had lung cancer and recently went into hospice, but death comes in threes. It just does. What’s true for the rich and (in)famous holds true for we lesser mortals.

This morning I awoke from a bad dream about a dinosaur trying to bite me (long back story that I’ll go into another day) to see Rob sitting up next to me. At least, I thought it was Rob. The room was Devil’s Den cave midnight. I couldn’t see my own hand when I reached up and then had to bring my hand down to find Rob, who was lying down and asleep next to me.

It was frightening. I sat up and noted that there were dark shadows ringing the bed and then I lay down and went back to sleep.

Tonight, we returned home after depositing Rob’s mom and future step-father at a hotel near the airport. They are heading home on an early flight. A message was waiting on the machine from my mother. My Aunt Peach died last night sometime.

You might remember Peach. I’ve written about her before. She would have been 103 this coming March. She was my grandmother’s youngest sister and the last of the Fagan siblings alive.

Gran lived to 94. She might have gone longer but for the dementia. Uncle Fran and Auntie Anna were 102 and 104 respectively when they passed on. The ones that cancer didn’t get young lived to 75 at the youngest and if they didn’t have bad hearts 90 and beyond. Remarkably long-lived, my dad’s relatives. If Dad hadn’t queered the deal with his drinking and smoking, he’d have cleared 100 easy, I’m sure. He still has two siblings – though I fear for not much longer – who are in their mid-80’s.

Will one of them be the third?

I really hope not though I know many folks who would roll their eyes and say that living to extremely ripe to bursting old age is long enough for anyone, so what’s the big deal?

It is a big deal to die, regardless of when. Death is one of the milestones. It represents fruition – which is a big fucking deal – and opportunity, which is nothing to sneeze at either.

Aunt Peach always made me a bit uncomfortable as a child and teen. She was forceful and larger than life though I towered over her even as a 10-year-old.

The last time I saw her was on our visit to Iowa last spring. She was playing bridge. It took us a good twenty minutes to track her down. No one knew where she was though everyone in the nursing home knew who she was.

She gave Dee a doll and probably more of her interest than she’d given me since I was that age myself. She barely acknowledged Rob or my mother, who was with us.

There’s quite the family reunion going on, if I know my dad’s relations – and I do.

I wonder if they are waiting on anyone?


I’m betting that Sylvia Brown kicked herself a good one when iTunes started hawking its latest app, a virtual Ouija board.

Satan at one’s fingertips, say some, but with so many of us related to the dead, turning our cellphones into a conduit to the other-side is an improvement over giving us a brain tumor and simply sending us there in person.

Touch screens being a fit made in … the beyond … the Ouija app is a must-have for anyone whose ever stored a loved one’s last voice message. No word on if the two can be interfaced.

The Ouija has a gruesome reputation thanks to Hollywood though Christianity besmirched it first, but whether one believes that the departed can be contacted or not, this app has a creepy feel.

I don’t have a phone that does anything other than be a phone, so I can’t speak to the appeal or use of apps in general, but I can’t imagine why anyone would spend actual money on an app that could potentially unleash poltergeists into their natural habitats – electronics. Doesn’t anyone remember Carol Anne and the television? Spielberg is probably ordering up a new sequel using a touch screen even as I type.

Though, now that I think about it, convincing the spirits that knock around our place to live in one of our cell phones could be a potential winner. If it helps them be less cryptic, I’d be all for it.


They call it “emerge” here. It’s Canada-speak for “emergency room”, and it confuses me in the same way that “ah” sounds are “aaaa”. Paaaasta versus pahsta. Just off enough to make me pause for a moment so my brain can catch up to my ears.

But whatever. When medical situations arise, Canadians go to the “Emerge”. And so went Rob and I on Friday just shortly before noon because he’d slept late and woke feeling light-headed and slightly heart-attacky again.

“I hope we don’t have to wait long,” he said as we walked in the front entrance of the Fort Saskatchewan Health Centre. Not hospital. It’s not big enough to warrant the title and that’s not my opinion only but the provincial health system’s too.

“Just mention the chest pains and follow it up with the fact that you had a heart attack three weeks ago,” I suggested. “I’m pretty sure that will warrant queue jumping.”

If there is one thing that Canadians pride themselves on it’s queuing up for health care. No one jumps the line. No. One.

Incoming patients are evaluated and served according to the seriousness of their condition but for the most part, everybody waits.

And waits.

I have yet to go to the doctor for any reason and not sit for at least two hours before actually being seen.

And absolutely everyone gets the same slightly understated care.

“Hi,” Rob greeted the admissions clerk, a big haired woman with that “another one” look on her face that they all have.

“Alberta health card please,” she asks even before inquiring what brings Rob to the centre that day because not having that card means that the next question is “and how will you be paying today? Cash or credit?”.

“I was here three weeks ago and had an angioplasty,” Rob tells her when she finally asks the nature of his visit.

Rob still has trouble with voicing the heart attack thing.

“And you’re here today…?” Because “angioplasty” doesn’t clue her.

“I’ve had chest pains …”

To her credit, he doesn’t get any farther. She directs him to the ER intake and asks me to come back for his paperwork.

Chest pains opens doors and makes hospital folk look attentive and even behave in a way that makes one feel as though perhaps their attention has been adequately captured.

That’s just an fyi.

We walked through the packed waiting room. I noted with interest the young punk-ish woman sitting between two RCMP officers manically chatting away for the alarming edification of all. A mother gathering her brood ever closer as the girl babbled.

“I told the operator that they could come get me and bring me to the emerge or send someone for my corpse.”

More on her later.

To gain admittance to the emerge wing, you go through triage which is manned by an EMT trainee – always – no exception that I have ever seen. You don’t see a nurse or a doctor until the trainee has practiced on you.

Rob assumes the position in one of two chairs they’ve set up for patient triage and the young man glances about with a slightly vacant but confused enough to convince me he is tracking mentally look on his face.

“Do you have paperwork?”

Protocol, people, it’s all about the proper paperwork.

“He’s having chest pains,” I explain, “the woman at admitting told me to bring him here and then come back for his paperwork.”

Big eyes. Falters slightly and then he begins intake while I head back for Rob’s passport to health.

At the desk the clerk has finished admitting Rob. She and her co-worker express horror at the fact that Rob is just 48. I am calm. That’s how it goes. Your spouse suffers from something that most people cringe away from and you are calm. Like there is another option, but people, by and large, find it hard to wrap their minds around. Been here before but forgot to get the t-shirt.

Meanwhile, the wild-eyed looking punk girl in the lobby is regaling the officers with her manic tales of suicidal intentions. As I listen, I gather that mental health services here are no better than in the States. The girl had been trying to get help for some time but units are full and the only way in is to suicide or state an intention to do so. She’d called the police, threatened to kill herself and they sent officers around to pick her up and get her admitted. She reminded me a bit of my brother when he is in one of his demonic up periods. I didn’t blame the others in the waiting area for seeking seats far away from her.

It took less than ten minutes to get Rob checked in and into a room. Chest pains rate a room as opposed to sitting in chairs that line the hallway. Which turned out to be good because an hour or so later, they brought a young man in on a stretcher and left him in the hallway – just across from the chairs – and he spent a good 30 minutes violently retching into a basin. Followed by another 15 or 20 minutes hacking up phlegm. I never did discover what happened to him though I knew that when Rob hit the 5 hour mark, the young man was still there. He’d been put in one of the cubicles and was no longer vomiting but they wouldn’t give him so much as a glass of water to rinse his mouth out because they were still waiting on test results. Canadian health care is big on assuming that anything could lead to surgery and therefore, no food or liquids.

Because of his history – Rob has a “history” now and it’s still something we are adjusting to – they followed the standard protocol.

Protocol demands two sets of bloodwork six hours apart and ecgs periodically over the span. In all, with the heart in play, expect to spend a minimum of 8 hours and as long as 12 being “observed”. And be advised that you could be in “emerge” for the duration.

There is nothing to do but wait.

We read and I occasionally broke the monotony by eavesdropping on the EMT as he admitted people.

One guy was quite interesting because it revealed something about the system here that in all ways but one is exactly the same as the plight of the un or underinsured in the U.S.*

He’d broken his arm.

A year ago.

He was in the Fort visiting his in-laws and his mother-in-law made him come to emerge because the arm was bothering him to the point where he couldn’t lift anything.

The nurse, and I, listened to his story and I suspect this is the norm for working poor.

He lived several hours away from the nearest health centre/hospital. He waited until the next day to go in because of the distance and he couldn’t miss a day of work. The x-rays revealed two hair-line fractures and he needed a cast but they wanted him to come back the next day for it. He couldn’t. A trip to the hospital cost him a whole day.

“It would’ve been seven hours,” he told the nurse. “I don’t have that kind of time to waste and the bus service ain’t that good. I wouldn’t have been able to get back until the day after.”

But as he was on vacation and in Alberta, health care works the same in Fort Saskatchewan as it does in Calgary, he let himself be talked into coming.

“i just need you to put a cast on it.”

Of course after a year it wasn’t that simple and the nurse finally gave up trying to explain it. She sent him to x-ray. Let the doctor deal with him – when he got the chance.

There was just one doctor on call. There is only one. There are five rooms and at least ten chairs plus a waiting room full of chairs. So in theory, the doctor can be responsible for over a dozen patients in varying stages of diagnosis and severity over the course of a shift.

The doctor this time – at least – discussed the situation with us and I actually got to listen in.

In the end, it wasn’t another heart attack. It turns out that the Lipitor is a hard drug and it could be that Rob won’t be able to tolerate the muscle pain it causes. Some people can’t. Some people are even debilitated by Lipitor as it breaks down muscle tissue in addition to scouring the veins of cholesterol. Lipitor actually triggered ALS in my cousin’s father within months of his starting it. He died a horrible death.

So it’s the Lipitor. The heart is okay. I am a tiny bit less worried about Rob dying on me anytime soon, but the ghost snuggled up to me in bed last night. Really. So things are apparently dicier than they appear.

*Universal health care sounds nice. You don’t have to worry about not being able to pay for the doctor visit or the trip to the hospital. But … isn’t there always? Drugs are covered. The time off work isn’t covered. And in a country where there are few big cities, many people live hours away from care. Getting to and from is arduous to impossible and that’s if they can afford to take time away from work or children. For the poor and working poor, the obstacles to care will always be. Just having access to care isn’t the end of the problem.


How does one politely tell the spirits to bugger off?

They mean well. I know this. Our dead family only has our best interests at the center of their wispy insubstantial hearts, but my personal preference is to live in psychically deaf ignorance of any coming catastrophes or even minor bumps. And I am not talking “bumps” in the night.

Or the early morning light.

I haven’t been able to get a full night’s uninterrupted sleep since Rob’s heart attack. Some of it, I will concede, is the reactivation of my caregiver’s spidey sense, but the physical presence(s) in our room are not helping.

For some reason, I am able to tune in to the frequency of the departed with nerve jangling clarity in the early morning hours. I wake nearly every night to the powerful sense of someone standing by the windows.

Thursday morning I was awakened by footsteps that started at the door and ended at the foot of the bed. I started because they were loud and opened my eyes to spy a human shape heading towards Rob’s side of the bed.

Sunrise filtered illuminated the shape and I assumed it was Rob. He is often up to use the bathroom on the main floor. I heard him ask,

“What’s wrong?”

“I heard footsteps,” I told him and thinking now that they were his, I went back to sleep.

Only it wasn’t Rob.

Later as I thought about it more – while sitting in the ER as the doctor tried to determine if Rob had suffered another heart attack – I realized that the figure was clad in light coloured clothing. Rob’s robe is dark and even when he shuns it – which he isn’t at the moment with my mother visiting – he is dark.

The chest pains turned out to be a reaction to the Lipitor, which is another kettle of fish for another day, but as I headed into town to spring Rob from the Fort Hospital – also a tale for a day soon – Metallica came on the radio.

Metallica is hardly in popular radio rotation anymore. When the rare song turns up, it usually comes at “interesting” moments in my life. As they were my late husband’s favorite band, I have to wonder at the timing.

“These are definitely messages for you, ” Rob remarked when I told him about it later.

Perhaps I should pay more attention than he did.


Elephants figure heavily in terms of memory.

“Memory like an elephant”

“Elephants in the room”

I was reminded of this by a friend dealing with dates embedded with ghostly elephants and as references do, it lead me here:

My oldest nephew always cuddled close during the heffalump sequence.

The interesting thing to me is how something as sturdy and true as an elephant acquired such worrisome emotional baggage.

Power of suggestion, I guess.