Several of my stories – “Dawn Chorus” in Abandon Hope, “The Award” in Ghosts and “Annabel” in the forthcoming pamphlet “The Wedding Invitation” – take grief as a core theme. In doing so, they are following a tradition as old as humanity itself – possibly even older.
Grief is at its heart, a haunting. The living (and some would say the dead too) undergo a process of letting go. Part of this involves a reaction against letting go: a grasping after what once was. The contacts that one had with a person turn abstract. No less real, but different. The person becomes the story of their life, and the remnants of the energy they have left. The grieving process and the haunting process are twins.
Throughout history religions, philosophies and belief systems (humans, in fact) have codified, mythologized and ritualized the process of letting go. Every culture has its ways, superficially unique, but with underlying truths: The Tibetan and Egyptian books of the dead; the many and varied Shamanic systems for calling on Spirit Guides; The Five Steps of Grief; church funeral rites and the following wake etc. etc.. These are, in part, to provide understanding, to give a context, to help.
In the main, they do so. For anyone who has grieved, however, these systems only ever lend a partial (albeit, essential) hand. There is always a profound mystery left. There are always so many unanswered questions. There is always a void left behind.
Objects – often mundane – left by the departed, become stories of their living. Places or activities associated with the dead, still seem to keep them. Birthdays, anniversaries, the date on which they passed, all turn from mere days into remembrances. Letting go involves letting go of a part of a part of oneself: as if the dead were taking a part of the living. Ghosts are not a surprise.
The death of loved ones is heartbreaking. There is no way of escaping that one. It is a universal fact of life. But in the letting go, and in the void that is left behind, new stories can be told. Life can be given a new meaning.
One common theme in the tradition is the ghosts who seeks to right wrongs, to set things as they should be, to tell the truth. That truth can bring about a harmony, the harmony of peace and rest. To be haunted is to be searching for that rest. The letting go and the clutching close are reconciled by love. Love and stories.