True Stories From My Experience with the Other Side
When I was very young, maybe 3 or 4, I used to see “people” over near the stairway to the third floor attic bedroom where I slept in our house at 2841 Midland Street in the Brookline section of Pittsburgh. I would be laying there trying to fall asleep when I’d look over, and there they were, just moving around, talking to each other, not bothering me, but I knew they weren’t supposed to be there.
Once, I said something to my brother Ken, and he assured me that it was just the coats that were hanging on hooks near the stairway. I knew he was just saying that to appease me. I’d seen them. They were there. Not wanting Ken to think I was crazy, I just agreed with him that I must’ve imagined the coats moving around. I knew it wasn’t that, though.
I often felt the presence of an older guy when I was alone in that house, or out delivering newspapers early in the pre-dawn darkness. It wasn’t a threatening presence, more like a reassuring presence, like a guardian angel or something. As an adult, in my early 40’s, a well-respected professional medium who’d visited our church community did my reading, and acknowledged the presence of this older gentleman, who had been with me most of my life.
My paternal grandfather had died 3 weeks before I was born. I always assumed it was him. Sometimes I wonder if that was why my Dad was often repulsed by me? He had many unresolved issues with his father when his father had passed. Near the end of my father’s life, I was able to play a key role in his reconciling some of the issues he’d had with his Dad. Apparently, his Dad and I had many characteristics in common. Dad and I had been able to reconcile our differences over the previous couple of years, and by then he had become my new best friend. It was a remarkable turn-around of a relationship, that really blew everyone in the family’s minds. No one had seen that coming.
We moved to an older house several blocks away from Midland Street when I was 8 ½. That house had a 9 year-old blonde-haired girl ghost the entire time we lived there, which was 9 years. At least six different people saw her, including my mother in broad daylight. Mom was at the top of the stairs to the second floor, where 4 different bedrooms came off a central, round hallway. She said hi to the girl and asked, “Who are you?” My little sister was around the same age at the time. Mom assumed she was one of Maryrose’s new friends. The girl walked into Maryrose’s room, without a word. Mom followed her in, but there was nobody there.
I never saw the girl, myself, but often felt her presence. I never felt alone when I was in that house. We would later learn that the family who’d lived in the house prior to us, who were all dark haired, had once adopted a little blonde haired girl, when her parents were killed in an accident. She’d never fit in with the family, and had run away in her teens, never to be heard from again. We assumed that she’d come back to the house to find a family to fit in with. We were all kind of fascinated by her presence, and did our best to make her feel welcomed. I like to think we helped her restless soul find some peace and rest.
At age 24, I once awoke from a dream about a friend having died. In the dream, the friend was a girl named Janet, and while it was known she was dead in the dream, she was sitting on my bed smoking a cigarette. So, it didn’t make sense that she was dead. Dreams are like that — they often don’t make sense. But this one felt different, like it really meant something. I came to believe that it did. Later that same day, I would learn that my best friend, Reed, had died, right around at the time that I awoke from that dream. He had Hodgkins Disease, a death sentence back then, but we thought he had 5–10 years before it would kill him, and hoped that they’d find a cure before it did. Reed had contracted pneumonia, which is what had killed him.
After receiving that call, I got in my car and began the 4 hour drive from south Jersey to Connecticut, to be with our friends and his family. He was my best friend, and I was extremely distraught about his sudden departure. I had been up there the previous weekend. I had overdosed on something going around at a party at the house he lived in with his fiancé, Peg, and several others. Reed had come out to where I was, “out there”, and had brought me back. While I had felt pretty good out there, and didn’t, at that time, really feel like my life had any good purpose, Reed had left me with a sense that I did have something to live for. He had also, apparently, left me with an unquenchable thirst for finding out what that purpose was.
On the drive up for his funeral, as I drove through New York City on I-95, about a half hour stretch of the trip, I was flipping around to different radio stations in the big city. My dial landed on three different stations, each one playing the song, “Free Bird”, by Lynnrd Skynnrd — a song which happened to be one of Reed’s favorite songs. I definitely had the very real sense that he was riding shotgun with me from that point on, through the last hour and a half of that trip.
About six months later, after a long, lonely winter grieving the passing of my best friend in 24 years of life, searching for an answer to the question, “Why him, and not me?”, I had a memorable moment, alone in my apartment, when, after getting high on a couple of joints, I became overwhelmed by a sense of profound loneliness, and called out “Oh, God, I’m alone!” These words felt like they’d been torn right out of my soul — my ache was empty and felt oh, so cold.
I spotted a book on my kitchen counter, and picked it up and began reading. It was the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. I had never read it, though I’d gone to AA meetings for a couple of years, by then. I never really understood anything about the condition that I apparently had, I just went to meetings and didn’t drink. I had no awareness that the other drugs could be a problem, even with my earlier overdose. But, as I read that book that night, I felt like this was one of the answers I had been seeking ever since Reed had passed.
Just about then, out of the corner of my eye, I was certain that I saw Reed peering into my living room from the balcony outside. I went over to look, but he wasn’t there. Within a few days, I’d gone back to those meetings, and was led to N.A. Three weeks later, I got clean for good, completely abstinent from all mind and mood-altering substances. I celebrated 40 years clean early last year. In one of my early meetings, I again saw Reed looking in a window, and nodding in a reassuring way, letting me know I was on the right track.
He was “around” for the next year and a half, showing up in dreams at times, and appearing just beyond the periphery of my vision. I knew it was him — I could feel the presence of the one friend I’d had who had “gotten” me, and felt reassured each time. They had told me in NA that I never had to be alone again, and I just figured they were right. I still had my friend.
Then one night, about a year and a half into my recovery from addiction, he showed up in a dream again. This time, he was on the other side of my kitchen. There was a loud party going on, and he was trying to tell me something from across the room, but I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say. He left by the stairway next to the kitchen.
At work the next day, a restaurant called The Manhattan Restaurant, in Northeast Philly, a fellow waiter joined me on my dinner break, eating my dinner in a booth. He asked if he could sit across from me, and I said sure. He was a new waiter there — he and his brother had both started just the week before. I’d never really talked to him before that. He said to me, “Don’t freak out when I say what I’m going to say. This is just something that I do. I just need to tell you this, and then we’ll never speak of it again. Okay?” Having no idea what the hell he was talking about, I said, “Yeah, sure, man -whatever!” He seemed like a pretty straightforward cat, but I was beginning to wonder about him.
He went on to say, “Your friend visited me last night. He said that he’d tried to communicate with you through a dream, like he usually does, but he felt like there was too much interference and he wasn’t sure if he’d properly conveyed the message. This is the message — ‘you seem like you’re going to be okay now — it is time for me to move on, but I want you to know that if you ever need me, I’ll still be around. All you have to do is call. I will always be your friend, like you always were to me’.” True to his word, that young man never mentioned it again. Reed stopped appearing in my dreams.
I didn’t feel Reed’s presence until many, many years later. I had been away from “the rooms” for a number of years, for a variety of reasons. I had recently begun attending 12 step retreats up in Connecticut, where a brother in the program had invited me to attend these retreats of his home group. I had come to love those retreats, but the drive was killing me.
A fellow member had suggested I fly, then he could pick me up and drive me up to the retreat. I could only get a very early morning flight, but Bob was good with it. He had to chair a 10 a.m. meeting in my old home town, Windsor, where I had met my friend Reed. I was fine with hitting that meeting on the way to the retreat.
As I sat in the meeting and looked out the window, I could see the church, across the road, where I had first met my friend Reed, at a youth group called the Pilgrim Fellowship, that met there. I could also see the cemetery just beyond the church where we had buried my friend when we were 24. I was then 59, but as I looked out and saw that, I could once again feel the presence of my friend, smiling.
I knew that he was right there with me. It was all I could do to keep from bawling my eyes out, tears of joy at that wonderful sense of friendship I’d always felt with my dear friend, as he sat through that whole meeting, right beside me, letting me know that I was home again.
(To Be Continued)