“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”–Jamie Anderson
It has been said that the best ghost stories are the ones written with psychological twists and unexpected turns. I suppose that means the ghost story I am going to share isn’t a good one. In fact, it seems more of a love story than a ghost story at all. And yet, despite that, it is the most tangible evidence that I have ever experienced of there being proof of afterlife. More so than anything else I’ve witnessed on this earth, and I say that having previously lived in a very psychically active house. Perhaps this is why it has taken me over two years to finally share this story. As odd as it is, it is every bit the truth of what happened that night, and for that reason I have struggled with how to write it. There is much justice that I must serve to this ghost story in its first retelling since it happened.
So no, this tale won’t be full of eerie moans and footsteps. There will be no things that go bump in the night. Instead, this is a story of life and death, of love and grief. Of the people left behind, and those who didn’t want to leave. The proof of love everlasting and how we never truly leave the ones we love. And I can’t believe that I am saying this, but I believe that Marvel’s Vision said it best when he stated: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Two years ago, on a hot July night (the 13th as luck would have it), I reluctantly crawled out of bed and made the trek to Raleigh to celebrate my beloved friend Amy’s birthday. I was coming off of the worst heartache I’d ever known, raw and questioning everything. All I had accomplished for days on end was laying in bed, but when it’s your bestie’s birthday, you brush the dust aside and join her for tacos.
The company was lovely, about 8 of us in total, all veterinary professionals at some level, with Amy as our common bond. A wonderful dinner in truth, even for me in such a down state. At the end of our meal, Amy was far too tipsy to drive herself back to her pet-sitting job, so I offered to drive her so she would save on an Uber. We laughed that my present to her was being her DD.
Amy was petsitting for her friend, staying the week at his house while he was out of town. This friend, who I’ll call Ethan for privacy, recently lost his wife, we’ll call her Janie, to cancer a few months prior. Amy and Janie were very close friends, and it was Janie who inspired Amy to begin her yoga teacher certification. It was tough for Amy to be in the house where she had once made so many memories with her friend.
I suppose it was that sorrow that compelled Amy to invite me inside to meet the critters when we arrived; two lovely pit bull babies, Olive and Evie, and a naughty kitty named Bad Penny. They were absolutely perfect in all the ways that pit bulls and naughty cats can be, and after a nice potty break, we found ourselves sitting with Olive and Evie on the couch while Penny leered at us from the kitchen.
We chatted briefly while petting the dogs, catching each other up on the week’s happenings. We’d both soon be traveling to New Orleans together so we talked of AirBnb reservations and what cemeteries to visit. And then Amy fell quiet. I knew she was thinking of her friend, and before long, she began to cry.
“I miss her so much. I told Ethan I would watch the girls no problem, but I didn’t know it would be so hard to come here and not see Janie. It feels like she’s everywhere in the house but no where at the same time.” The tears fell freely and I put my arm around my friend, unsure of what to say but always eager to listen and offer my shoulder. “I hope she’d be proud of me for finishing my yoga training.”
At the same time that I said the words “of course she would be”, I heard a very slight, bubbly voice say “oh, of course I am Ames.”
I sat bolt upright and the hair on my arms and neck stood up.
And almost in response, the voice said “Holy shit you can hear me. You can hear me!?”
Now, I never met Ethan or Janie. I only ever saw a picture of Janie once when Amy showed her to me before her funeral. And yet, I knew the voice was hers.
“Can you really hear me? Oh my God someone can hear me!” I can still hear the desperate relief in the voice even today. It was weary and almost hoarse, as if she had been talking for a long time with no rest. I couldn’t see her, but what I can only describe as an effervescence of static moved across my shoulders and down my spine to let me know she was there.
Amy saw that I was startled, “What’s wrong, pal?”
We both felt cold rush over us, not unlike the movies I suppose, and Amy somehow knew, “She’s here, isn’t she?”
I nodded, still confused as to what exactly was going on. I have never been a medium or been in any sort of medium-type situation. I have pre-cognitive dreams, but that’s the extent of what I can do. The hauntings I experienced in 2011-2013 were isolated to one house, and though we heard voices there, it was not like this. This was like hearing and talking to a real person who was there with me. We were actually interacting. To this day, I cannot explain or replicate exactly how it felt other than to say it was like the strangest game of telephone.
“If you can hear me, tell Amy I have something to say, something to find.” Janie said, the excitement building in her voice.
I was still stunned and silent, my mouth gaping open at this point. I think my lack of action frustrated Janie because she started to chant “Something to say, something to find, something to say, something to find, something to say, something to find…” over and over and over again.
“Uhhh…” I, still slack jawed, murmured with great uncertainty of the situation, “She says she um… has something to say and something to find.”
“YES! Yes you can hear me! Oh thank God! Yes, something to say, something to find. For Ethan! Top left drawer! Ethan! Top left drawer!” That became the new chant, repeated over in maddening cadence.
Amy stared at me wide eyed, and my body started to shake. I couldn’t decide If I was awe struck or terrified. Looking back, it was perhaps a bit of both.
“What does she want to say and find?” Amy asked after another moment of my stunned silence.
“Um… top left drawer, something for Ethan.” I mumbled, “She’s excited that I can hear her. I have no idea what’s going on and honestly I’m kind of scared.”
“Don’t be scared pal, she’s talking to you for a reason and I believe you.” Amy said, tears in her eyes, yet so reassuring and calm. “Do you know what drawer she’s talking about?”
“I have no idea” I was wide eyed on the couch, hair still on end. Janie was still chanting a mixture of “something to say, something to find, Ethan, top left drawer” when suddenly I felt a huge shove and I tumbled forward off the couch.
The extent of my knowledge of the house was the front door, the couch, and the back door where we previously let the dogs out to potty. Yet suddenly I was barreling down a dark hallway in a house I did not know, with a hand I couldn’t see pressing me forward in the darkness. “Next room on the left” I heard Janie whisper, and my body turned almost without choice into a room where I came to a stop.
Amy followed right after me as I stood in the darkened room. She flipped the light switch and I realized we were in some sort of office or hobby room. There was a dedicated yoga space on one side, with a canvas and painting supplies set up in the opposite corner. On the back wall of the room was a large desk. Covering all the walls were pictures of Janie and Ethan and the pets, from high school and marriage, to just before her death. The room was clearly untouched since she passed.
“Wow, okay, so this was Janie’s studio room,” Amy explained. “She taught me a lot of what I know in here. You think it’s in here?”
I stared ahead at the desk that faced us.
“Top left drawer, Ethan.” Came Janie’s eager reminder.
I pointed at the desk with a shaky hand. “I think it’s that desk, top left drawer. But I don’t feel comfortable opening it. I’m honestly uncomfortable about the fact that I just ran through a stranger’s house. I shouldn’t even be in this room.”
“I’ll open it,” Amy wiped some tears from her face, “if she’s telling you to, then we should. I should.”
With her hands trembling just as much as my own, Amy stepped forward and slowly pulled the top left drawer open. We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to find or what was going to be said from a drawer.
As soon as Amy pulled the drawer open, she gasped and began to cry again, tears falling anew. I leaned forward and looked to see that written on the top edge of the drawer, in looping cursive letters in black permanent marker, were the words: “Janie loves Ethan forever and always”.
My eyes welled up with tears, and I found myself talking to Janie in a whisper. “Is this what you were trying to say? Is this the something to say, something to find?”
And I heard her voice sob and reply, “Yes, because he can’t hear me, but you can. So I thought if you could show him the writing, to let him know for me? And this way it really is from me. Because I’ve been trying every day to tell him that I love him so much. I need him to know that I love him, because every day he cries, and every day I tell him, but he can’t hear me. I need him to know in a way he’d know it’s really me. I need him to know. I need him to know.”
My heart felt shattered in that moment. My mind went to my loved ones long gone, especially to Sammy, my grandfather, and Jonathan. How many souls were out there trying to give comfort to deaf ears? Don’t they know we know how much they love us?
I felt Amy’s arms come around me and we both cried, sniffling and teary eyed. It was so surreal to me, to be standing in a complete stranger’s room, hearing her disembodied voice asking me to let her husband know how much she loved him. “He knows,” I kept whispering to her, “I know he knows.”
After a moment, Amy walked around the room and shared memories of some of the pictures. She talked of some of the paintings stacked in the corner against the leg of the canvas, all different animals in vibrant colors. I had not moved from the place where Janie shoved me initially, but eventually, tentatively, I took a few steps forward to look at the pictures of the happy couple that plastered the walls.
There was one picture in particular of Ethan that made me smile. He was young, looking to be what I would assume fresh out of high school, and there was a heart drawn around his face. It was such a high school sweetheart gesture, such adoration and youthful love.
Again, I heard Janie speak, “Oh, my sweet love, my love, my love. Together forever, we were supposed to be. I can’t believe I’m gone. I can’t believe this happened, I never wanted to leave him, not like this.” The voice began to cry again and I felt as if a tsunami of emotion was bowling me over. It was all the love and sorrow in the world washing me over at once, with waves of anger and resentment there, too. As if she could sense it, Janie asked “Do you know a love like this?”
And if this situation happened the year before, I would have said “no”. But I realized in that moment that yes, I felt love like that. I was feeling it right in that very moment, from her and from myself, from what I walked away from in Savannah. All of the indescribable love that I could feel from Janie to Ethan was mirrored in myself.
I explained to Amy what Janie had said, everything tumbling out of me in an incoherent ramble. More tears, of course, but healing, too.
“Tell her I am proud of her, always will be.” Janie said, and so I did. And after a time, there was a faint “Thank you.”
And slowly, the strange static and effervescence faded away. The manic desperation was gone and the house felt normal once more.
After the events of that night, Amy told Ethan what happened. She explained to him the drawer and the message, what Janie needed to say and what he needed to find, that it was important he knew it really was a message from her and not something meaninglessly contrived by a friend. I remained completely anonymous in the process, so Ethan never met me or knew my name, as I preferred it to be that way. He was thankful for the message, and I hope it brought Janie’s soul some peace for him to know, and peace to him as well that she loved him so much.
I’ve never told anyone about what happened that night. Other than Amy, I couldn’t find the words to describe it. And if Amy had not been there, I would be tempted to write it all off as a dream.
In the two years since, I haven’t had anything close to the same interaction happen again anywhere else. Perhaps it was a one off thing, a perfect timing scenario where the right person was in the right place at the right time with the right soul. Amy occasionally still speaks of it, and mentions how much I was able to help both Janie and Ethan.
I tend to shrug it off because it was out of my control, I don’t know how it happened and couldn’t recreate it again if I tried. That’s not my talent or forte, and I was just a vessel in that moment.
And truth be told? I’d like to think that Janie is the one who helped me. If not for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because I wouldn’t have realized the truth of all that I held in my heart.