The real question of life after death isn’t whether or not it exists, but even if it does what problem this really solves. — Ludwig Wittgenstein
I am waiting for my mother’s ghost. So far, she has failed to appear.
Do I believe in ghosts? Yes. Whether they are of our own or another’s making is not important.
My mother, proudly atheist, would have said she expected to disappear, a that’s-all-there-is view of life. She was the daughter and the granddaughter of Methodist ministers; neither were good men. When I was still young enough for her to sit beside me as I fell asleep she would tell me about lying in her own bed as a child and praying every night not to die in her sleep because she knew death would bring her straight to hell. Oblivion was the safer option.
Can anyone really wish for that?
Among my mother’s papers (myriad, obsessive, revelatory), in a folder with the poems about death and the quotes about living well, is an interview with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, she of dying’s five stages fame. The interview is not, as one would expect, about those famous stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — but about life after death and Kubler-Ross’s late life conversion to a firm belief in same. As a scientist, Kubler Ross’s words, it was the empirical evidence, the near death experiences that did it. Later, Kubler-Ross would speak of contact with ‘afterlife’ guides in a manner which would have done any19th Century Spiritualist proud. Before her own death, hobbled by strokes she was asked what stage she had reached. “Anger” she answered and said she would be making no return.
I wonder where my mother was on Kubler-Ross’s list. Certainly not acceptance, she didn’t die with that. Depression? Perhaps. If so, it seems unkind to ask her back, but among her things I find so many questions.
Love letters. dozens of them, from a man I’ve never heard about. Who was he? Did you love him back? Things she wrote about me that were unkind and seem unfair. Is that the way it really was for you? Terracotta tiles she painted with frail blue fish; they are beautiful. Why did you stop making things with your hands?
The more residue of her life I encounter, the more she becomes like smoke sliding through my fingers. A ghostly form sitting by the bed would be more corporeal. Who were you? I’d ask. I’d like to know.