I was raised Catholic. As an adult, I have abandoned the claim, but still feel connected, somehow, to a few of its rituals. Namely, talking to dead people.
Comfortably reciting prayers in catechism as a youth, I remember feeling not like I was talking to God, but rather like I was sending my thoughts, needs, or questions to a spiritual realm beyond that which existed in our earthly plane. For me, the plausibility of a guy behind some white pearly gates that judged his children was null; however, the likelihood that I could talk to the spirits of friends or relatives that had passed seemed reasonable. Mind you, I did not put any of them on a pedestal for their perfection; it was their imperfections that comforted me. They were real, with good qualities and not so good qualities, both. Just like me.
Only their death differentiated us.
Unfortunately, their deaths also left me paralyzed with fear. By the time I graduated high school, I had lost a significant number of influential people in my life. It was heartbreaking when my father’s mother passed; she spoiled me, and taught me to drink tea, and gave me my adoration for clean floors and cheese paired with apple slices. I did not want her to die, but simultaneously understood that she had a life well-lived and celebrated – her age an indication of this.
When I lost a dear 16-year-old friend, whose youth matched my own, my world turned upside down. I realized that at any moment, while going about normal, daily routines, one phone call could change everything. A friend that was, days previous, laughing on the phone with me, was now all but decapitated. Her body, mangled by a drunk driver, now rested in a morgue. My own body ceased to function.
Overcoming the post-traumatic stress is an ongoing process. I still cry every single time I put my wife on a plane. And, I still pray. Grandma, watch over her. Grandpa, keep her safe. Uncle Jeff, you understand how much she means to me, don’t take her away. Lauren, comfort her, be there for her up in the sky when I cannot. And Momma, I know you miss your daughter, but I am taking good care of her just like you would.
And you know what? It helps.
I realized, just this past weekend, while cleaning out our garage and the boxes of my mother-in-law’s mementos inside, that my relationship with my wife’s mother continues to grow since her death. We had only a couple years to know one another before she unexpectedly passed at 64; talking to her now, using her spiritual presence as a guiding light, helps me to not only feel close to her, but to know what to do. When I feel lost, she serves as my barometer. Will my actions make her proud? Are my words as kind as hers? Do I appreciate the little things, which are really the big things?
Perhaps my one-sided conversation with dead friends or family is a derivative of religion. Or, maybe it is simply self-soothing. Either way, it makes me feel better. And I think that’s the point.
Amy Andrews is Positively Smitten’s resident woman of worldly wisdom and will be sharing her advice through a weekly series published every Saturday.