Tag Archives: Death

Is This How Ghost Stories Begin?

monday-blogs-2Everything I am about to tell you is completely true.

Some of the older residents of my apartment building like to tell stories about the people who have died here.

One person was young and died suddenly for reasons that I’ve never been able to tease out. There is a hush that comes over the conversation when the elders mention that death.

Someone else is rumoured to have died of smoke inhalation when he made the mistake of evacuating during a fire. According to people who have lived here a long time, that man passed away in the stairwell. They say he would have survived if he’d stayed in his apartment and put a wet towel by the crack under the front door to keep the smoke from wafting in.

The lights in our building flicker a lot. Sometimes the hallway outside of your apartment is brightly lit, and sometimes it’s dim. Lightbulbs burn out quickly, too.

Sound carries in strange ways here. I’ve heard what seems to be hundreds of marbles bouncing around on the floor above me. It’s also common to hear loud thumps and crashes that seem to be coming from every direction at once.

Speaking of sounds, I occasionally hear someone laughing just as I’m about to fall asleep for the night. It is so loud and clear that I could almost swear we were in the same room, but I never see anything when I open my eyes.

Sometimes a breeze whips around the corner of the lobby and prompts the elevator door to open again two or three times just when it was about to close and start moving up to your floor. There are times when that breeze has been so cold that it made me shudder and wrap my jacket around my body more closely.

Human and canine footprints regularly appear on the floor after it’s been mopped.

When the custodians put up the Christmas tree in the lobby, candy canes and old-fashioned ornaments always show up on it within a few days. I’ve never seen anyone place them there, and no one I’ve spoken to admits to adding to the decorations that the people who work in this building had already hung on the branches.

monday-blogs-1These anecdotes could be easily remixed into a modern haunting. There could be a man trapped in the stairwell who is forever trying to reach the bottom floor. Maybe he would be the one who was blamed for the flickering lights, cold breezes, and elevator doors that open over and over again.

The half-formed story about someone dying mysteriously could easily be expanded to include a pet whose footprints appear alongside hers, explain why our local ghost is so obsessed with the annual Christmas tree, and mention why she laughs so loudly at night.

Of course, there are logical explanations for all of these things as well.

A building full of people is bound to have the things breaking down regularly, including lightbulbs and elevators. When the population density is high, there will be folks dropping all kinds of things as they tidy up, do-gooders adding to the festive decorations without wanting to be noticed, children playing with noisy toys on wooden floors, and people who don’t realize how loud they are when they come home late after bar hopping.

It all depends on how you look at it.

Regardless of how you interpreted stories like these, I hope you have a wonderfully spooky Halloween!


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The Right Way to Grieve

Photo by Juni from Kyoto, Japan.

Photo by Juni from Kyoto, Japan.

The last two years have seen several deaths in our extended families. I haven’t blogged about any of them until now for many different reasons: my strong preference for privacy in certain areas of my life; I wasn’t sure what to say about them; other topics seemed more pressing.

The first person I remember grieving over was my grandmother. When she died I’d just reached the developmental stage in childhood when I realized death was permanent and would someday happen to me. I actually have more memories of missing her than I do of spending time with her. We’d moved around a bit while she was still alive, so I suspect that a lot of the nice  stuff she did with me happened when I was too small to remember it.

For a long time I felt like there might be only one right way to grieve.

– You had to be absolutely devastated that this person was gone.

– You had to believe that even the most severe suffering was worth them still being alive.

– You weren’t supposed to have any nuanced feelings about anything related to this topic.

Yes, it’s possible that I have extremely high standards for myself. 😉 Sometimes this is a good thing, but it can also become an unneeded strain in an already stressful situation.

One of the things I’ve been learning through these past few years is that every experience with death is going to be different because every relationship is unique. It simply isn’t possible for everyone connected to the deceased to have the exact same reaction to his or her death. A son or daughter’s grief is different from how a sibling,  pet, or second cousin might react.

That’s more than just okay – it’s utterly normal.

I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I felt when I stopped worrying about grieving the right way. There is no right way to do it. As much as I would like to type out a foolproof, bulleted plan for figuring out how to react to death, I can’t.

It’s something each of us has to figure out on our own.

The only thing I can tell you is this: if you’ve felt it or thought it, so has someone else. You’re not alone.

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Death and Winter

The middle of February is the deadest time of the year.

Most years those of us living in temperate continental climates have been slogging through cold and slush for two months and have four, six or more weeks left of it. Even the most stubborn trees have been stripped of their leaves and there are few signs of life – animal or plant –  on the land.

It’s difficult to stand in a forest or garden with the wind gnawing through your coat and remember that in a few months the sun will grow stronger and flowers will once again peek through the soil.

But it will.

This is the time of year when death is on my mind the most. Not in a depressed  or anxious sort of way, understand, but just the realization that all of us have a beginning, middle and end.

It also reminds me of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Low-Tide”:

 These wet rocks where the tide has been,
Barnacled white and weeded brown
And slimed beneath to a beautiful green,
These wet rocks where the tide went down
Will show again when the tide is high
Faint and perilous, far from shore,
No place to dream, but a place to die,–
The bottom of the sea once more.
There was a child that wandered through
A giant’s empty house all day,–
House full of wonderful things and new,
But no fit place for a child to play.

High tide, low tide, death, life, winter, summer. Nothing is constant but there is a pattern to it all.

Now to hunker down and wait for spring!


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The Deconversion Guide: Illness and Death

Part four of the series. Click here for part three.

Today’s topic: chronic illness and death.

As I don’t have a chronic illness I’ve asked a few blogging friends for advice.  A little later on in this post I’ll talk about my experiences as a family member of someone with longterm health problems.

Chronic Illness

I asked Daphne Purpus, Bruce Gerencser and Trey Smith three questions. This is what they had to say:

Would you be willing to share your experiences with this [how Christians respond to your illness]?


I was having cataract surgery (2 different times with 2 eyes since they won’t do both at once) and the place my eye doctor wanted me to go to is first rate, but run by Seventh Day Adventists… As I am sitting in the chair and the surgery is about to proceed, the surgeon asks if I mind if he prays for this surgery.

Ok, now you have me over a barrel. Can I say no? If I do will that affect his abilities, consciously or not? I felt forced into saying it was ok, and in each case they put their hands on my head and went through a fairly lengthy audible prayer.


The last church I attended was a local church in Ney. My family and I attended this church for many months before we stopped in November in 2008.  I considered the pastor a friend and the church was very friendly towards me. (of course I was not a declared atheist at the time) From November 2008 til today I have not spoken to one person from the church besides the pastor and I have not talked to him since March of 2009. No care. No concern. If I wasn’t willing to attend their church there was no need to bother with me. (even though I had and continue to have great physical needs).


Surprisingly, I don’t run into the issue very often.  Most members of my family are agnostic or atheist, so we rarely get into religious discussions at all!

What do you say when Christians offer to pray for you or say that their god can heal you?


 One doesn’t need a personal deity to subscribe to the idea that sending positive energies out into the world will have a positive effect…That being said, if someone says something like I know my god will heal you, then I start to baulk. The whole idea of prayer healing is a philosophical quagmire and even in my orthodox Lutheran days, I had problems with that. Why does god heal one person but not another. Is one more deserving?


Generally, if a Christian offers to pray for me I thank them and say nothing. I know they mean well and little is gained by entering into a debate with them about God or the efficacy of prayer. If a Christian asks to pray for me right at the moment were are talking I ask them them not to. It is one thing if they want to pray for me privately but I find people praying for me in my preserve to be offensive.


From time to time, evangelists come knocking on my front door.  If it is in one of those periods in which I’m using my cane, I have been asked why and I tell them about my condition.  That’s when I get the “I’ll/We’ll pray from you” gambit.  My typical response is “If it makes YOU feel better, go for it.  It won’t make me any better, but at least you’ll feel better and isn’t that what praying for others is all about anyway?

What do you wish they would say or do instead?


I understand that many Christians feel a need to pray for the sick and I certainly don’t want them to stop doing so. That said, I would prefer that Christians try and help me rather than pray for me. The easiest words to say as a Christian is “I will pray for you.” It is much harder to enter into a person’s life and embrace them as a fellow human being…What I need is help when life is overwhelming or when I face difficult physical obstacles.


Maybe, “gosh, that’s too bad” or “Hope you get to feeling a tad bit better in the coming days.”  I mean, there really isn’t too much a person can say.  It is what it is.

Trey, Bruce, Daphne – thank you so much for participating!

My Family’s Story

My sister-in-law has a neurological disorder that has yet to be officially diagnosed along with a few other health problems. Last year she suddenly became extremely ill, was hospitalized for a few weeks and didn’t fully recover for months.

It was terrifying. What is even scarier is not knowing what the future holds – will her health continue to slowly deteriorate? Will her symptoms eventually stabilize? Will she continue to be able to attend school and work? We just don’t know.

These are things I rarely discuss for a few reasons: it feels weird and invasive to talk about someone else’s health problems in such detail, there are so many unknowns in her future, I only recently learned more information about her and it’s hard enough to have a loved one suffer as is. The last thing I need is for this to be used as a witnessing opportunity.

A final link before I end this very long post: Grief Beyond Belief is an online support group for non-theists who have recently lost a loved one. It’s a truly excellent resource! I haven’t lost any friends or family members since deconverting but I’ll often read what Grief Beyond Belief has to say in order to prepare for that inevitable day.

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Celebrating Osama’s Death

Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid of his home in Pakistan over the weekend. I found out about this last night when Drew logged onto one of his social networking sites.

The first wave of reactions: nearly universal glee.

This makes me uncomfortable. Yes, Osama was responsible  for decades of severe human suffering. I completely understand feeling relieved or happy that he can no longer orchestrate the injury or death of anyone but there’s something that bothers me about spontaneous outdoor parties celebrating the fact that someone else is no longer alive.

Osama’s death is the end of possibilities. When someone is still alive there is always the hope of rehabilitation. A corpse can’t be tried in a court of law or sentenced for his crimes. The dead cannot atone for what they have done any more than they help those they have hurt find closure. Death is the last sentence in the life story of an individual. The loose strings of everything left unsaid and unlearned flap in the breeze. In this case there are a a hell of a lot of strings.

A single death isn’t going to nullify the danger of al-Qaeda. If anything I’ve read speculation that it will energize their followers and we will see more acts of violence against innocent people in retaliation. I hope these predictions are wrong, that if nothing else Osama’s death will mark the beginning of the end of their power.

No comment on what the U.S. should or could have done instead. I don’t know what the best answer is but neither can I celebrate the death of another human being.

A final thought. I’m borrowing this from the Facebook page of a friend but will leave self-identification up to that individual. 🙂

As you talk about this news, I hope you will consider how your response can counter rather than reinforce the cycles of violence that spin around us. And please God, help us bring healing beauty to the ugliness of violence in whatever small way we can. Today.


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