I’m sometimes asked if my house is haunted. My father died there, my mother died homesick for it and, years earlier, she claimed to have been visited there by my grandmother’s ghost. The place is over 60 years old, and it certainly does contain its share of history.
I believe that ghosts exist. It even mentions them in the Bible. King Saul visits the witch at Endor to call up the spirit of the prophet Samuel, and we’re told that it actually happens. Jesus comes to His astonished apostles after His resurrection, and tells them He’s not a ghost. He doesn’t chastise them for thinking there are such things.
Since my father’s death nearly 14 years ago, I have lived in my family’s longtime home. And I must say that I’ve never been a bit afraid to stay there. No matter how dark and creepy the night, I’ve never felt anything there but love.
Is my house haunted? I feel the presence of my parents and my grandparents every day. But not only does it not feel ghostly, it doesn’t even feel as if they are dead.
They still exist. Because they no longer occupy a physical space, I can’t really say whether they’re near or far away. But I know that they are as alive as ever, and that they love me —and understand me — more than they ever could while they were on this earth.
When I came out as a lesbian, my mother was already deep into an Alzheimer’s dementia. I don’t know how she would have taken the news, though I suspect she knew even before I did.
My father’s reaction was a pleasant surprise — one of the biggest of my life. Though I was sure he’d be angry, he accepted the news with good grace.
My maternal grandfather had a tavern in Chicago in the 1940s. His bartender, Olive, was a lesbian, and quite open about it for the time. According to my mother, Olive’s friends all frequented the bar. It took me a surprisingly long time to piece together what that meant. Regardless of whatever it started out to be, my grandfather had a gay bar.
From somewhere in the cosmos, I sense not only deep love, but approval. No matter how various members of my family might have reacted to my orientation while they were alive, all are now included in the “great cloud of witnesses” that watches over me. This says something, I think, not only about them, but about what we will find when we reach eternity.
My parents’ deaths changed my perception of death. It brought it much nearer — only a generation away. My generation is next. Death is a passage to something else, as surely as gestation in the womb was the passage to earthly life. We should fear it no more than an unborn child fears birth.
Very often, LGBTQI people are made to fear death. From the moment we become aware of our orientation or identity, we’re threatened with hellfire. That probably has something to do with why what has been known as “Gay Culture” has been so obsessively focused on youth and vigor. We have faced growing old with dread, even though, of course, it was really the alternative that filled us with terror.
Understanding that our relationships are never broken — even by death — can help us make peace with growing older. When our parents die, we never really lose them. Outside of time and space may seem distant, but it’s right around the corner. Our deceased relatives are not scary ghosts — alien and horrible — but still entirely themselves, having preceded us in the last stage of life just as many of them did the first.
In our faith journey, we learn to relate to God person-to-Person. As in a relationship with a human being, we come to sense His love for us.
We likewise can sense that friends and relatives who’ve departed this earth are still somehow present to us, and that their love for us endures. They are where we will one day be, and we will all be together again.
Not only do they love us, but they’re happy. They have no axes to grind. Even if death parted us on angry terms, on their end all has been forgiven. If we weren’t out to them during their lives in this world, we are now.
I don’t believe that my departed loved ones still occupy my house. Because they exist outside of time and space, no house could hold them. But they’re always present in their hearts, just as they live on in mine.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.