The real question of life after death…


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


Statues, Berlin, (c) Carole Craig


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.


12 thoughts on “The real question of life after death…

  1. I don’t know if her ghost will come to you but it’s clear that the tangible things she left behind will haunt you for a long time. Thank you for sharing this with us. For years after my father died I felt him with me until one night a had a most lifelike dream. In it Jerry assured my father that he no longer needed to worry about me and Jerry promised him he would take care of me. He told Dad that he (Dad) was free to move on now. I never again had such a vivid dream of my father. I believe my relationship with my mother was similar to yours. I never felt her presence after she died.


  2. There were lots of synchronistic happenings after my first partner died of Hodgkins’ lymphoma complicated by HIV. No ghost or apparition, just really intriguing coincidences. It seemed I was more likely to encounter one of these whenever I went traveling anywhere, as if he were saying, “Yup, I’ve still got an eye on you, and have a nice trip.”

    Saw a few of the same sort of thing several years later, after my mother died. In her case, I actually asked for it. “Mom, if it’s not too expensive of spiritual energy, would you send me a little hello?” I feel like I did experience a synchronicity with her name on it–literally, as it was the next day that I saw her maiden name on a license plate frame–but of course some would say it was just my interpretation.

    I’d say, if you experience anything that seems like it could be a form of contact from Faith, whether vague or specific, consider it with your heart, not just your head. I’m a firm believer that we really need both to see the world fully.


  3. Oh, dear Carole, what we do to our kids in our ignorance or anger ! I also came from a Methodist background, but of a more kindly nature. Even so, I had my doubts until I read Tom Sugrue’s book on Edgar Cayce. The problem isn’t whether there’s life after death, but what the soul’s going to be doing after this particular tour. I also had a vivid dream of my Dad, where we just sat in an ethereal setting & listened to the kind of choral music we both loved. Peace & love to you.


  4. Carole,
    I admire your openness to questions as you uncover relics of your Mom’s life. As I travel some of the same lonely roads my mother was on, I realize how little I knew her but now understand her better. Many of the family taboos we have are illuminated later. Your sharing cuts through some taboos. Thanks. Jean Crossley


  5. Thank you Carole. How difficult it must be for you to read things your mother wrote about you, but how interesting to find so many things, like those love letters.
    My two sisters and I spent this weekend going through my mother’s clothes and other items. It was not as difficult a task we expected. No love letters, I’m afraid – just the odd question I wonder about and would like discuss with her. Like the fact that I was a born a year to the day after she got married. And I never recall that being mentioned.
    I had never heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, but am keen to look into her theories more.
    The garden here in Wicklow, even though it has been neglected over the past few years, is still such a pleasure and comfort for me and, thanks to Stephanie’s help, I was able to abandon the school for a full ten days.
    Please do let me know when you are back in Dublin.
    All the best, Liz


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