Do you ever have the feeling, in a particular moment, that you have been somewhere before? I suppose I am talking about déjà vu but I think I’m also talking about dreams – and other phenomena that I’m not even remotely clued up on, like astral travelling and the questions around who really did build the pyramids in ancient Egypt and ancient Peru.
It’s that whole mysterious connectivity thing – where you have a moment or two of slight confusion because you don’t quite think that you have played out this role, this moment, before, but yet something about the moment is so familiar you can almost, but not quite, predict what’s going to happen next. You are almost, but not quite, sure that… you are aware of something that is about to happen. Somewhere deep within you, whether it’s your physical gut or your subconscious mind, something is familiar. Almost like an out-of-body experience but not quite, yes?
Yes. It’s nebulous in the extreme.
Luckily for me, most of these moments in my life have been positive. But I am puzzled by a world that is so mysterious in so many ways: never more so, for me, than when I truly get an inkling that the past, present and even the future really can collide; that people actually can communicate with the dead – and vice versa (and those whom we call dead may or may not be at peace at the time); that ghosts really might exist; that people whose connections are long severed in day to day life really might call out to each other in their dreams.
Once or twice in my life, I have gone to see a medium or tarot card reader, and from time to time I read my horoscope and revel in being born under the sign of the twins – I like the allowed (and avowed) duality of mind that comes with being a Gemini persona.
One of the mediums my younger self once went to see looked into my palm and told me that if I really wanted to, I could also cultivate ‘the gift’. I didn’t ever try to cultivate it, actually, but for a short while there it seemed, many years later, as if ‘the gift’ was trying to cultivate me.
Now, I do have Celtic blood running through my veins, and so it gives me licence to be poetic sometimes. Even fanciful. So humour me. The Celts have been on the cusp of strange and mysterious things for a long time.
There are three specific incidents to mention here. (There are others to mention, but not here.)
It began with my late grandmother, Jean Paterson, who was, as my sister poetically phrased it, ‘a tall feisty Irish woman who loved the mountains and the sea’. Her death came relatively suddenly and I, for one, was not really prepared, although thankfully I think that her daughter, my mother, was prepared – or at least more so than I.
I once gave my gran the gift of a toy puppet in the form of a dog, a little white scruff of cuteness, and when she died I asked my mother if I could take the toy with me. It sat there for a couple of years in my flat, and some years after my gran’s death, I was at home with my now-husband, Frank, one peaceful weekend. We were chatting in the lounge and I mentioned how much I wished he had known my grandmother.
“She would have liked you a lot,” I said to him. “She would have turned you into her smoking-partner-in-crime, and you would have enjoyed the view from the garden with her when she enticed you away for a nicotine fix and thumbed her nose at my parents!”
Then my own nose started to run and I went to my bedroom in search of a tissue. On the way back, I passed the little toy puppet sitting on a shelf, and on a sudden impulse I put it on my hand and held its furry softness to my face.
And suddenly, just there at my shoulder, my grandmother was with me. Nothing to see, just – a deep and abiding presence. And most importantly, a calm and peaceful presence.
I went back to the lounge where my beloved was still sitting on the couch and said, almost as though in a trance, “My grandmother is here with us now.”
And to his eternal credit he believed me.
We sat as the late afternoon light faded and I dreamily told him things that I felt were coming from her, and mainly that she was telling me she was happy and contented. And then she faded away as suddenly as she had come and besides the tears on my face, and the soft toy on my hand, there were no signs of a visit or a physical manifestation, just an abiding sense of peace within me and in the room.
Later I told my mother the story, and she also believed me. And she looked happy while she heard it.
But the next time I got a visit from the other side was terrifying.
Frank and I were on holiday one December with our then eight-month-old baby. I awoke in the night to a pitch black room that I had no kinesthetic familiarity with, and an overwhelming feeling of terror as I have never felt fear before. It came from nowhere because I wasn’t dreaming (as I am wont to do). One minute I was oblivious in sleep, and the next I was awake with my pulse racing and a feeling of terror taking over my whole being.
I tried to switch on the bedside light but it stayed off. I then crept my way down the bed to where my baby was sleeping in his cot at the foot of the bed. In absolute pitch blackness – as I have never before experienced – I felt my child’s face and body and he was just fine.
I shuffled my way to the door of the bedroom and tried to turn on the light, and again no luck. I assumed that it was a power failure within the holiday complex, but I needed to know. So I crept to the bathroom and again couldn’t put on any lights, though I had a tiny bit more ambient light as I moved around. I crept back to bed, having checked once more on my baby – I would have put him in bed with me but the blackness was so inky that I was afraid of bumping him on something in a strange bedroom if I picked him up and moved him. So I simply got back into bed and listened to husband and infant son breathing peacefully in the room with me, and eventually fell asleep clutching onto Frank’s back.
The next morning my enquiries brought no confirmation of a power failure in the complex, and I put the odd incident out of my mind. After breakfast we all went for a swim.
And then we came back to our holiday apartment and found out that a very dear friend of Frank’s, who had helped us host our wedding, had been murdered in the early hours of that morning: a dreadful crime of stealth, committed in the night by an employee who took a mobile phone and a few hundred rands together with Ian’s life.
Over seven years later I can only say that the tragedy of his death still brings a rawness to our throats and a mist to the eyes.
I still don’t really know what to make of that night, though I do believe that Ian has long since passed into the peaceful realms. The terror is now only a memory, but I don’t like to dwell on it because it still has a hold if I allow it to come through.
And my third visit from the other side was our beloved friend Heinke, who took her life when my first child was just days old and who quite a long time later – I’m very sure – also visited me in the guise of a dream to let me know that she was peaceful and happy. For probably the first time in a very long time.
I still miss her and I am still mad at her for not sticking around long enough to meet my boys. She would have liked them so much.
So what does it all mean? I was not looking for these manifestations and they came to me from out of nowhere, when my gaze was distracted.
Does everyone have the possibility of such visitations?
Is there really such a thing as a second sight?
Are there doorways to other dimensions touching our reality all the time but we just don’t normally see them – like, as a funny example, single-celled amoebas that are only visible when we train an appropriate tool on their seemingly peaceful waterborne existence?
And maybe the most important question of all: if you could actively choose to cultivate such a gift, would you want to?
Rest in peace, dear departed ones. I’ll see you on the other side.
Just, I hope, not too soon. I’ve still got too much life to live over here.