Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On Being Frightened

I can’t imagine there are people in the world who have not been frightened at least one time in their lives. Normal people, those without some kind of emotional disorder, cannot stay frightened perpetually. Fear builds slowly and this is called suspense or it leaps out at you   unexpectedly from the mist or darkness. This is called shock.

One of the most frightening moments in my childhood was SuperStock_1569R-218002when I was about 6 or 7. Regularly, my family would make the long journey from the big city, St. Louis, to the country, in North western Arkansas.  At that time, my grandparents lived in a quirky house which had apparently been a store in the 40s. Indeed the rooms were barely suitable for comfortable living.  My mother and father, brother or sister, and I would all sleep in the same room.

Off subject a bit, one of my happiest memories is listening to my parents and grandparents converse after the lights were off.  And, as in the real and larger life, one by one their voices would drop out of the conversation until there was silence. They are all gone now and all silently sleeping, except me.

My brother or sister and I slept in this mountainous bunk-bed with myself on the top and with my parents in a larger bed. Sometime in the middle of the night, on one occasion, I woke up and saw my mother standing beside the bed. Her silhouette was backlit by a tiny window high on the wall. She did not move and when I whispered to her, she did not respond.  Very strange, I thought. Summoning all my courage, I reached out to her but my hand passed through where she should have been. Most disconcerting of all, off the side, in the dull light, I could see my mother and father sleeping in the bed. How could it be possible.. the shape was definitely my mother’s.. but it could not be my mother. So who was this standing before me? What did she want? It was as though the person was too angry to speak, judging me without a sound.

I tried to make contact again.. “What do you want? Mother?”

No answer. No movement. I began to cry softly at first, a bit loudly as more time passed without reaction. Finally, somebody woke up and called to me but I was afraid to answer. My mother turned on the light and suddenly the shadow was gone. It took me a few seconds to understand what had happened.

The shape had been composed of various overlapping items, layered perfectly together to give convincing  illusion of a person standing before me. When the light flashed on, all of these conspiring menacing objects leapt back into their respective places. My sister moaned at my stupidity and the lights and rolled over. It was nearly 5 in the morning and for my grandmother, that was nearly time to rise anyway.

It was all very embarrassing but, thankfully, it was quickly forgotten.  Years later, after my mother died, for some strange reason this event had its parallel. The whole process of my mother’s illness, her death and funereal, my brother and sister’s behavior, and the long torturous return to Turkey was just over and the exhaustion and recovery part was just kicking in. When one loses a parent, it is a major dividing line in one’s life.. and you begin to see the world in terms of those who have lost a loved one, and those who have not.  People who have lost someone close to them are very different than those who have not. Talk to somebody who has lost a close person in their lives and they will tell you the same thing. Some jokes are not funny and when you watch a film you can know which type of person has written the screenplay.

Around that time, I began to have a spooky and inexplicable feeling that my mother was around me, a physical presence. I could sometimes feel when she was in the room. If I could explain it I would say it was like the difference between being alone and being in a room where somebody has just stepped out. It was not a good feeling. I had this odd sensation that she was not happy with my life there, with the life I had made. I kept trying to dismiss it as merely a part of the grieving process but it was quite disturbing sometimes. I worried that I was losing my mind too. Insanity begins at home.

Despite this fear, I worked up the courage to explain the feeling to a close friend of mine. She was very sympathetic and told me that she had a friend who was gifted on this subject. She would consult her and return with news.

About a week later, she came back with good news. “She told me to tell you that you were correct. Your mother had been visiting you. It is very normal, she told me. Sometimes the spirits of the recently-dead linger awhile. But she wanted me to tell you that your mother had left and she is happy now. She is with your father and she had missed him a lot.”

I was skeptical at first. As skeptical as I had been in the first place. Was it possible to cure one delusion with another? But, in fact, the “visits” happened less and less. I still feel my mother and father come to visit, hovering in the room occasionally, but it tends to give me strength now instead of fear.


  1. This is emotionally very strong, and people who had lost someone very close would understand what you mean better but the one's who hadn't will have idea how it feels.

    On my first year of my loss I would swear I felt someone was walking in my home, playing tricks to me. I was scared. And suddenly she vanished. Now I am not frightened, whenever she visits I feel better.


  2. I enjoyed reading this post Nomad.

    I also believe our departed loved ones linger and visit.

    Of all the grandchildren, my daughter was exceptionally close to my father. They had a strong bond. When my father was ill my daughter would visit him, hug him and they would both cry together, each knowing that their time together was fast diminishing. I would have to leave the room as it was too emotional for me.

    After my father died, my daughter dreamt of her grand father several times but she explains that the event was more real than dreaming.

    The first time, she saw herself in a place and my father was there dressed in white. He was no longer sick looking but healthy. My daughter kept on saying to him, "I though you had passed away". My dad said, "I have come to tell you not to worry and that I am fine and well." My daughter was crying in her sleep, woke up and continued to cry. As she was crying there was this cool breeze that kept brushing her face. The breeze was comforting. But then to her amazement, my daughter realized that her door was shut and so was the window. Although a bit frightened she understood it to be my father just passing a physical and spiritual message of comfort.

    I totally agree with you that life is not the same when our loved ones have passed.


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