All my life I’ve been a great believer in spirits and ghosts. I can’t honestly believe that when we die, there is absolutely no trace of us other than the memories of those still living. And so I guess I believe our heaven is our Earth, it’s where we wish to be buried or scattered. That thought process probably drove me to make the decision that when the time comes, I wish to be cremated so that my spirit can be set free in the wind than be buried and feel claustrophobic in some kind of afterlife in a coffin. This was a conversation that me and Dad had, his final wishes. Whilst it was never an easy one, it was essential because his deterioration in health was severe but also because he wanted to ask questions. And these sorts of questions are difficult to approach so I felt it was my duty to be open minded and brave to allow him to speak so freely.
One of those questions was whether I believed in spirits and an afterlife. I can almost remember everything as if it were yesterday. We were driving in the Peaks and he asked it out of the blue, it stunned me and at first it terrified me but eventually I told him my truths. I wasn’t sure whether I believed in “a God” but I believed that our spirits stick around a bit. He agreed and advised that when his time came, we should scatter his ashes over the hills at Eyam so that he was free to roam the wild and vast wonderland of the Peak District. After all his suffocation and struggle and being trapped in his illness, I think he was hoping that when the time came and his body gave up, his soul would finally be free of anguish.
It reminds me of some of the words the Reverend spoke at his funeral service. About how our bodies aren’t invincible, they are bound for struggle and illness and though our spirits feel alive, something inside of us will dwindle and our time may come sooner than we think. But that when our body succumbs to illness, we are set free back to the world which birthed us, and the spirits and memories will provide us with comfort in our darkest days. To enable myself to cope with grief, the last statement is so very true. Knowing his spirit isn’t far fills me with consolation and to have some of his ashes buried nearby means I can go visit and talk to him in the hills and valleys of a place that meant so much to him. Regularly I go to the church, light a candle for his spirit and say a prayer wishing that he is free of struggle in his afterlife.
Perhaps when we face death, we have to find solace in something. Some of us may be completely against the ideas of which I speak, but I can’t help but look for signs of his spirit lying close. It could be a word that evokes a memory, recurring dreams, or the regular sighting of a single robin that comes and sits with us when we’re out walking before hopping along and taking flight to fly free. Sometimes I talk to him, in my head or out loud. I listen to the music that he would have if he had the choice or write in my diary as he should be if he were still here. Though knowing his physical presence will never return, I look to the idea that somehow he is haunting me and providing me with the comfort I need.
We look to Easter, we think of forgiveness, of rebirth and of beginning a new life even after the most traumatic events that have recently passed. This morning on the way to work I listened to a service on Radio 4 and found myself moved to tears by the words of redemption even in anger and betrayal, as well as the beautiful melancholy chorus of hymns telling us of how even when facing death in the face, Jesus found strength to absolve the sins against him. And now all these years later, we learn from him that his spirit rose and soothed us. I guess I find that I look more to religion as a guidance, the words provide me with comfort, with hope and with relief from the grief that can feel all consuming.
The fact that we are upon the hour of celebrating the rebirth of someone so precious, it provides me with reassurance that not each day has to be difficult and that at some point we can all be born again, free of our pain. Whether it be that my Dad is reborn into something he would have loved like a bird or that robin that follows us around. Or whether it be that I myself can be reborn, reborn out of this despair and into the new life ahead of who I am without my Dad but still looking for the signs to know his spirit is following me. Right now I need to forgive myself, for the hurt I have caused to my own mind and body and to become the phoenix out of the ashes, to rise again as the best version of me and continue his legacy as if he were walking beside me.
Footprints in the Sand is a poem that is regularly shared when dealing with grief. My Auntie bought this poem from a cathedral on her travels and shared it with us, advising us that it helped her heal her pain when she too dealt with grief. I hope it can provide you with as much comfort as it has us.
Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”