Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ghost Stories

Do you believe in ghosts?

I don’t.

I don’t think.

I laugh when I hear stories and secretly hope they’re not real.

I’m fascinated by ghost stories, though. I watch paranormal shows and movies like The Others and What Lies Beneath while the hair on my arms stands up and I constantly look over my shoulder.

In the last couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to two “haunted” hotels through work. I was excited about the trips. I thought maybe this would be my chance to see if there is really something to the tales, although I didn’t really believe there was. But the whole time I was there, both times, I was on edge for fear that maybe there was some truth.

My first trip was a conference a couple years ago. Pat and Sarah, a baby at the time, traveled with me to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley Hotel is the infamous hotel where Stephen King came up with the idea for The Shining while he was snowed in doing research for another book. It’s been featured on Ghost Hunters on the Sci Fi channel.

Even though I was creeped out during my stay, I never experienced anything except for jumping when I saw my white shirt hanging in the closet while I was getting ready before the sun came up. Those early morning conferences will make you hallucinate like that.

Two ladies from work traveled with us. One, we’ll call "T," was originally placed next door to Stephen King’s room. He claimed to hear children playing in the hallway at all hours and other experiences in his room. She asked to be moved to another room. The next morning when she told me her new room number I didn’t say anything, but as soon as she walked away I looked at my other co-worker, this one we’ll call "J." Our eyes grew and we immediately reached for the computer. Sure enough on the Ghost Hunters website, there was T’s room, jumping table and all. We kept our mouths shut until we arrived back home. She said nothing happened until her last evening.

T was sitting on the bed working when suddenly there was a knock at the door. She said she had an immediate uneasy feeling. Then there was a little girl’s voice, “Mommy, let us in.” Another knock. “Mommy, why won’t you let us in?” And then it stopped. No footsteps. The story is that a woman drowned her two twin girls in a room on that floor.


J claimed she also had an experience. She had stepped out to take a breather on a balcony that was next to her room. She heard footsteps coming down the stairs above her and then footsteps behind her, but she never saw anyone. She turned to see if anyone was there and saw a black shadow moving down the hallway. No shadows on the walls, just a dark figure walking down the middle of the hall.

I must place a disclaimer after this story. J frequently came to work smelling of alcohol, and this conference was no exception. She no longer works for my organization.

T was creeped out by the entire trip. She thinks the General Manager was a ghost. I have to admit he was a little creepy and loved to tell ghost stories. For instance, every New Year's Eve they close all the blinds and lock the doors to one of the ballrooms so the past employees can have their own party. He claims you can hear them talking and laughing and playing music.

My second trip to a “haunted” hotel was just recently in mid-October. I attended a conference at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, D.C. I had completely forgotten there were ghost stories about this hotel until I had breakfast with co-workers that had come in before me. T was one of them again, and believe me, she hated being there. The General Manager had taken all three of them up to the “Ghost Suite” the night before and tried to call the ghost out. T said they all had sufficient wine in them to allow them to laugh their way through, but she didn’t want to go back.

My last day there one of the ladies came into our onsite staff office completely freaked out. She said she had placed her shoes beside her bed before she went to sleep. She claims her closet light turned on and then off again in the middle of the night, and when she woke in the morning her shoes were in the closet with the heels lined up at the threshold with the door closed.

*Skin Crawl*

Later that afternoon the General Manager came to tell us that one of their housekeepers had just quit when a porcelain lamp went flying across the room in the Ghost Suite. I think she just didn't want to pay for the lamp.

Did I have an experience this time? I washed my face in the bathroom sink and when I looked up in the mirror a saw a figure behind me. A figure that turned out to be from the picture on the wall that had reflected just right in the etching around the mirror. I had let out a scream, though, and ended up doing my make up backed up to the headboard of the bed and it was done in record time, thank you very much.

I have another conference coming up there in a little over a year. I’m going to have to get Pat to go with me because I know my mind will play tricks on me.

So, do I believe in ghosts now? I still say no, and I’m still fascinated by the stories. I’m watching ghost stories on television as I type this. Also, I think General Managers love to scare the crap out of their guests.

What about you? Do you believe in ghosts?

Happy Halloween!

Booo-wah-ha-ha-ha-ha! (That’s supposed to be a spooky laugh.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10 Years

Today marks 10 years since my father passed.

10 years.

That's a long time to be without a father.

And an even longer time to miss someone like crazy.

This is an article I wrote about his death that was published in the United Methodist Reporter a few years back. I don't really have any words to describe how I feel about the significance of this day, so I thought I'd use this once again.

"A Holy Death"

It had been just a few months since my father’s death when I sat in a pew listening to my sister, Valarie, who was at the time the Associate Pastor of my church. The title of her sermon was, “The Divine Argument.” I could feel my husband’s hand squeezing mine as she described the pain and frustration my father and the entire family went through as he neared the end of his days. I’ll never forget her words: “This was a holy death.” I sat confused. I was still grieving. I still felt an ache in my chest every time I thought of him. I was still unable to eat a full meal knowing I would never sit at the table with him again. I could remember his anger as he lay dying. The pain from the loss of my father was palpable, and now my sister called it a holy death?

Our father had fought cancer for several years, always winning the battle, at least for a while. But in February of 2000 it was announced that the cancer had found its way into his bones. When they tested his bone marrow for a possible transplant, they were unable to remove a drop of liquid. The cancer had ravaged his body and was determined to win this time. Our father was only expected to live for a few months, so Valarie and I began making several trips from Dallas to East Texas to spend as much time with him as possible. In late September of that year he was placed in hospice care when his body began shutting down. Valarie and I took off work to be with him. He wasn’t expected to live longer than a week. We sat with him for three weeks and watched him hallucinate from the morphine.

Daddy had been a Minister of Music in the Baptist church for several years and was very skilled in woodworking. I sat next to his hospital bed in his favorite living room chair and watched him build things in the air. His hands gripped an imaginary hammer and nails, using the level to be sure everything was set just right. He also conducted his church choir. Though no music played, I could hear it in my head just by watching his movements. The most difficult thing to watch, however, was his argument with God. He wasn’t ready to go, and couldn’t understand why his time had come. He was only 74 and felt he had more to do, most importantly, watch his granddaughters grow and mature. He wanted to see where life would lead them. My father, a devoted Christian who held a Master’s degree in religious education, was pissed off and I was afraid he would never make peace with the inevitable outcome. I wanted to curl up next to him in his bed to comfort him, or maybe comfort myself, but I was afraid I would hurt his now frail body that was in constant pain.

My sister and I stayed in that house with our step-mother as we tried to tend to his needs, keep him company, and let him know he was not alone. The world stopped for us. Nothing else mattered during these three weeks. The house was like a cocoon, guarding us from everything outside those walls during this precious time.

During out third week with Daddy he experienced a second wind. His appetite returned, he could sit up a little higher in bed. He wanted to try to stand up and see if he could walk. We all knew he couldn’t, but we felt relieved to have him back, to hear him talk to us as Daddy always did. “Pass me the sugar, Sugar,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye. That night there was suddenly no anger and he wanted to begin his funeral preparations. Valarie sat right next to him writing down every word he said, wanting to be sure his wishes were met. I, on the hand, sat in the corner. Daddy’s bargaining with God may have stopped, but I wasn’t done with mine just yet.

No one knew just how long Daddy would hold, so Valarie and I worked out a plan to take turns going back and forth between Dallas and his house in East Texas. When my turn came to return to Dallas for three days, Daddy and I had a fight just before I was to leave. I ended up walking out of the house without giving him a kiss or an “I love you.” I just threw a goodbye at him and walked out the door. I was fuming. I had to stop for gas before I could begin my three-hour drive, so I pulled over at the gas station just behind his home. As I stood outside the car, the cool, autumn wind gently blowing, something told me to go back. It was as if the wind had whispered to me. I walked into the house and headed straight for my father’s bed. Leaning down over him I whispered, “I love you, Daddy,” and laid a kiss on his forehead. I can still remember how soft his skin felt. He looked at me with his crystal blue eyes, and what seemed to be relief, and said, “I love you, too Sugar.” I drove back to Dallas in peace. At 6:08 AM two mornings later I received a call from my sister. “He’s gone,” she whispered in the phone.

It has taken me a few years to understand what my sister was saying in her sermon. Now when I ponder the question if Daddy’s was a holy death, I think, yes. It wasn’t pretty like the images this term conjures up. A holy death is not a stream of light falling down around the dying as you sit next to them, your hands cupped under your chin. A holy death is feeling tired and broken, but you stay beside them. A holy death is cleaning the disease, like used coffee granules, from their chin with a soft touch. A holy death is being given the gift of time as you sit and watch their bodies shut down. It’s being given the nudge to go back and say goodbye.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letter to Pace

Dear Pace,

You turn 5 months old today. It’s going so fast. Too fast really, considering you’re my last.

Honestly, I’m a little sad and relieved at the same time. I’m getting too old for the late nights and early mornings, but I’ve loved watching your sisters bond with you. Each in her own way.

I’ve always known that your oldest sister, Savannah, has a kindness about her. A warmth that can settle your soul. When I’m not around she’s the one who can calm you when nothing else seems to help. She holds you tenderly and rocks you while speaking in a soothing voice. If I or your father need someone to take care of you for a while, she’s right there. When you’re older and you need someone to talk to or just sit with for a reprieve during rough times, Savannah will be the one to call. She’ll be your rock through life.

And there’s Sarah. Before you came home from the hospital I worried that she would have a jealous streak. Some of the attention she was used to getting would be given to you, and believe me she LOVES the attention. You’ll discover that. But Sarah showed an immediate interest in you and has grown to love you fiercely. And I do mean fiercely. She gets right in your face and sweetly says, “Ah-goo” a few times and then she shakes with such an intensity. I don’t think she knows what to do with the strong feelings she has. She may wear you out, always on the go and craving the spotlight, but you’ll never doubt her love for you.

I pray that the three of you will be a tight unit, able to help each other, laugh and cry with each other, and keep the family bond intact. Encourage each other to work toward your dreams.

And always remember…

Mom loves you.

P.S. So does Dad.