“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?”
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What a strange thing it
is to mourn an ending that
never once began.
“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”–Percy Bysshe Shelley
Founded in 1852, Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington was the first planned, rural cemetery in North Carolina. Much like its sister cemeteries of Magnolia in Charleston, and Bonaventure in Savannah, Oakdale is a winding necropolis full of Spanish moss, alluring angels, and gorgeous flowering trees and shrubs that just begs to be explored and adored. Meant to be both garden and graveyard, this large, rural cemetery mixes the beauty of life with that of death and mourning. In the era of its conception, Victorian North Carolinians often spent many an afternoon relaxing in Oakdale with loved ones living and long gone, picnicking and reminiscing, and the cemetery became so popular that families paid to have their long-deceased loved ones relocated to its beautiful grounds.
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Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light. –John Muir, Camping Among the Tombs
As of late, I find myself deep within the trappings of my own mind again. Considerations of times past, and the way forward, flash in scenes various as I mull over the meaning and the beat of my life. And most times? I find myself in my mental eye in Bonaventure, wandering its near-endless avenues. In dreams, too, she calls to me with her many residents paying me a visit here and there. It seems I can never quite escape her, as even in sleep, Bonaventure finds me in dreams.
I first came to Bonaventure at the end of March last year, though I had been drawn to her for some time. In fact, an entire trip had been planned months prior just for the pilgrimage of reaching Savannah and Bonaventure’s gates. When planning then, I knew in a vague way that it would be a life-changing experience. As with most of life’s lessons, just how life-changing this visit would be could only be revealed later.
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I cannot say, and I will not say–James Whitcomb Riley, Away
That he is dead- . He is just away!
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.
In late June of 2008, a mere three weeks after I underwent lifesaving surgery, I arrived at the local college campus to meet with someone I had only spoken with on the phone, a man named Jonathan. I was determined to completely derail my career and switch majors from elementary education to veterinary medicine, and he was the last roadblock standing in my way. I had filled out all the forms, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, but there was the problem of me being wait listed, as the program only had 64 seats. This “Jonathan” was going to get me into the program whether he wanted to or not.
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There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandchild.–Victor Hugo
After grieving for Sammy throughout most of my childhood, death, at some point, became merely a distant threat again. I thought of him most days, admittedly do even now, but tears had subsided into smiles as painful thoughts became fond memories once more. Plus, going through puberty and then my high school years? I had more than plenty to keep me occupied.
I took death, in, yet again, an abstract sort of way, wrapping myself up in the communities that were Goth and Geek culture in the early aughts. This was not an embrace of death, not fully. More of keeping an enemy at arm’s length. Using the fear as a shield, and then escaping into a digital wonderland when things got too “real.”
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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.–Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Winter has always been a season of loss for me. The three most impactful deaths in my life all occurred in winter, after all. On a historical and spiritual level, the season is inherently tied to death to begin with, given that for our ancestors, a harsh winter could spell doom. So I suppose it’s only natural. Lately, as I think back to those three I’ve lost, something has struck me in how I’ve processed each one, and how the digital age has changed how I’ve mourned them.
My first exposure to death, true death, was the loss of my cousin Sammy at the age of nine. I know that prior to his death, there were a couple of pets here and there that had crossed the bridge, but my grandmother and mother kept me insulated from what death truly was. It was an abstract concept to my child’s mind. People and animals lived, and then they went away. Less a feeling of loss, and more an absence, and I was already used to people being absent in my life. In that hopeful, childlike way, I thought little about the difference, and overlooked that while absent people may return, the dead do not. At least not in any conventional way… Read More »