I Want to Believe: A Ghost Story

I Want To Believe

When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?
– Fox Mulder, Episode 1, Season 1 of The X-Files

Unlike FBI Special  Agent Fox Mulder, extraterrestrials are not my thing.  I am not fascinated by the existence of other beings who may or may not be visiting us from their worlds (performing hideous experiments on us).  It’s the world that shadows our own that I find interesting.  Another plane, another dimension, the spirit world.

I have a very gentle ghost story to tell – but first – meet me, the skeptic: I am not a religious person, nor do I consider myself spiritual or even superstitious. Black cats are just sweet felines and I’ve walked under a ladder or two to no ill effect. Even as a child I knew that the Brothers Grimm’s stories that I loved were morality tales and not about ogres and witches; that there wasn’t a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end and that the sinister genie that visited my childhood dreams couldn’t really hurt me. I was and am a very practical person who searches for the down-to-earth explanation for things.  Yet some of my experiences have defied logical explanations.  Once, as a preteen, my siblings and cousins and I lifted one of us several inches off of the floor with only our fingertips and the combined chanting of, “stiff as a board, light as a feather.”  Laugh if you will, but it worked and it scared the shit out of us.  Or, what about those ethereal strands of shimmering light that floated past me while out for a walk one summer night; or the time a scruffy, bearded man walked out of the Nevada desert in the middle of the night to help my brothers and me bring a dead car back to life and return safely home.

And it’s not as if I haven’t had opportunities.  I spent my childhood sleeping in a bedroom where supposedly a woman had died in a fire, yet I never once felt even the slightest ripple from her spirit.  For several summers, I made trips to the Lilydale Assembly in New York State to sit in on “message services” where mediums call out to audience members with greetings from those who have passed on.  Each time I was there I eagerly awaited my message, but none came.  Surely somebody out there wanted to share something with me?  Kel went to Lilydale once with me and was called on twice.  So either there is no “there” there, or I have a protective shell – a kind of spirit-resistant lead-coating, perhaps – that deflects contact from beyond.  Despite my apparent lack of spiritual attraction and my innate skepticism I can acknowledge this, however: I don’t know. I don’t know how we got here, I don’t know what’s “out there” and I don’t know what happens to us after we slip away forever from our loved ones.

Now, for the ghost story.  Sometime very late on May 12 or perhaps when it was just barely May 13, long after even the crickets had quieted, I was still unable to sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, thoughts were racing in and out of my head; I had a lump in my throat.  I was hot and then chilled. I finally settled into a comfortable position and then – as happens when our minds drift and calm – my sense of time and place slipped away.  I wasn’t in any place.  My brother was in front of me. I asked him if I could hug him and then I felt him in my arms. I could feel the weight of his chest against mine, feel his strength and solidity. My fingers rested atop the muscles of his back. I placed my head on his shoulder and he rested his on mine and as he did, I heard the words, I love you, Ann. I don’t say that he whispered them because that isn’t right – it was what I heard and felt – soft and quiet – not sound as I understand it in the waking world.  And then all of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of something rushing by me, just at the edge of sight. It slipped by me so quickly and then my arms were empty, truly empty. My brother was gone. I woke up or perhaps my level of consciousness changed and my first thought was: he was here. It felt so true. I fell asleep knowing he had visited me.  Since his death, I’ve had many dreams about my brother, but this was unlike any dream I’d had.  The frightening thing about an experience like this isn’t the idea that some essence of my brother is roaming the ether – it is the thought that it may never happen again.  What if that was the one and only time I again feel his presence?  If so, then it will be just one more thing about him to miss.

It’s not much of a ghost story, really, is it? Later, in the light of day, my practical and skeptical side made suggestions about what had occurred. My brother’s visit could have been a vision produced by the anti-inflammatory drug I was then taking for a shoulder injury. The warning label was about a mile long and quite possibly hallucinations were one of the many side effects.  Perhaps it was a dream offered up by my restless and grieving mind as a means of comforting itself and me. Our minds are so powerful that they sometimes show the eye something that isn’t really there – like the day I saw a baby reaching up its tiny arm as it lay in the middle of a busy road. I lurched towards it and when I looked again there was no baby. Just a crumpled brown bag being blown about.

So, no, I don’t believe the adage that seeing is believing. But feeling something – having one’s arms around it – that’s real. I felt my brother. So maybe my lead-lining isn’t impervious.  Maybe my brother had found a way to reach across the murky twilight between the living and the dead to put his arms around me and to let me know that he loved me.  This is what I want to believe.

Charles Andrew Oliverio
February 13, 1961 – July 5, 2012

Suggested reading for my fellow skeptics:
Spook, by Mary Roach
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer

41 thoughts on “I Want to Believe: A Ghost Story

  1. Pingback: I Want to Believe: A Ghost Story | Vegan Today

  2. Sophie33

    I think you are right, Annie!
    I had a same experience with my favourite dead grandmother. About the same thing, like you & I wasn’t on any drugs at all, at that time. I was 12 years old. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, beloved friend! 🙂 I also miss you on my blog lately,… 🙂 xxx

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      That’s amazing, Sophie! Thanks for telling me about your grandmother.

      Oh dear – I’m afraid WP has messed up my the blogs that I follow and I haven’t been getting your updates – and if I don’t get those, my scattered mind doesn’t remember ;-).

  3. slywlf

    Wow! You sound so much like me, so I quite understand your feelings. For the whole first year after my husband of 30 years passed I kept getting middle of the night visits – usually in the form of a unique-to-him triple knock on the door at 3AM. Then, just about the one year mark I found him laying in bed with me, looking as he had when we met. When I touched his back it was as real as could be, but then he turned his head toward me. His expression was such a mix of sheepish and sad and hope that I realized/remembered he was gone. I told him that it was time to move on – he didn’t belong here anymore. He nodded and faded away, and hasn’t knocked since.

    Now I have had a number of strange experiences over my life – like what seemed to be a relatively benign poltergeist for a few months – and I rather like the idea of there being ‘more’ than what we can see, touch and measure, but while I am open to these experiences I am a scientist at heart, a skeptic to the core. I don’t know…. but I hope 😉

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here. I think it was very brave of you to let your husband know that it was okay for him to go. It would be tempting to want to hang onto even a filament of him. And it’s reassuring to hear that my experience isn’t really unique (i.e., that I’m nuts!). Exactly: I don’t know, but I hope.

  4. Brittany

    Wow what a story!! I used to mess around with ouija boards when I was younger and yes..they scared the shit out of me. Real or not, the idea was enough to spook me. This story is a good one though, and if you felt something only you can know! I vote your brother came to let you know he is ok, and that it’s ok for you to let him go. Not his memory, but him.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Ouija boards give me the major willies!! I’ve never touched one – and I’m calling myself a skeptic ;-)…

      That feels right to me, Brittany. I think he needed to let me know he was okay. And truly, I was comforted by whatever it was that happened.

  5. celestedimilla

    Hey Annie! Thank you so much for sharing this story. First of all, I have to say that it was beautifully written. Secondly, I’m a skeptic too. At the same time, I do call myself a spiritual person. Mostly because I want to, have to, must believe that this life is not all there is. I grew up in a very religious family, but never really believed in God or had faith like my parents. I’ve always been jealous of people who have faith in something beyond because I believe it gives them a sense of serenity that I never had. I spent a long time searching for faith because I wanted it so badly. Then, after my divorce, I gave up. I decided that there must not be a God because how could a God make life so painful for me and so many other people and animals. But over time, I gradually started searching again. This time I searched in a more casual, less obsessive way. I didn’t really believe, but I opened my mind and heart to the possibility. And somehow some semblance of belief entered my heart. Most of the time I assume that this is because I want and need it and that it’s not real. Yet other times I believe that it’s because I really believe. My husband is a very spiritual person, and it gives me comfort knowing that he believes. I’m rambling, but I wanted to share that I’ve known others who have had similar experiences to what you experienced with your brother. Even my sister-in-law, who has always been a devout atheist, had a similar experience after her mother died that has made her wonder. I also know a woman who worked for hospice who heard many, many similar stories from people on their death beds as well as from families who had just lost a loved one. You know, in writing this note, I think I’m less of a skeptic that I realize. Just think of all the people who have had near death experiences and all the many, many people I’ve known who have told me about experiences like you’ve had. There must be something more Annie. I think I believe this more than I realize. Celeste 🙂

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Your “ramblings” are welcome any time, Celeste. I always enjoy and learn from your perspective on things. I am the same: I envy those who have an unshakeable faith. I was never that person. It truly must make facing death easier – or maybe that’s not the right word. Less scary, perhaps. After my brother died I read several books written by hospice nurses and doctors and their stories are awe-inspiring and also comforting. So much out there that defies explanation. Maybe, maybe there is a way that we are reunited with our loved ones…

  6. Somer

    Crying like a baby. It was real Annie. I don’t know if it will happen again, but he came to comfort you. How beautiful. Thanks for sharing this too. I love reading how other people have had similar experiences. xx

  7. tinykitchenstories

    Annie, it was your brother. My mother in law says that it takes them great effort to do this, so it shows how much he wanted to comfort you! My friend Steve visited me a few days after he died. My brain was also restless, and out of nowhere it all quieted and I heard his voice. “It’s okay.” Then one of his famous hugs. And it was over. But it was so comforting, and still is. {{Hugs}} to you.

  8. Alex Caspero MA,RD (@delishknowledge)

    Thank you so much for this post Annie, I’m not a believer or a cryer but your post did make me tear up a bit. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, died last year and I swear I feel her in the quietest moments. As a science gal, I’m never sure how to categorize the feelings, but they are real. Another book to add to your list: Deepak Chopra’s Life after Death, I read it when I was having a hard time dealing with a friends passing and it really helped.

    One year anniversaries can be really tough, I hope you are having a good day.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Thank you, Alex. I think you said it just right – hard to categorize (I really had to process the experience for a long time), but it felt very real. And thank you for the book recommendation – it sounds just up my alley.

  9. Jen

    I recently started following your blog (for the food!), but I wish I would have found it earlier. My Dad passed away from cancer last fall, one week after I found out I was pregnant. Two months ago, a couple days after the birth of my daughter, I was resting in bed (sick with a head cold) in that half dozing state, when I felt a presence on the foot of the bed. I thought I had had just kicked a blanket to the floor. Some minutes later, I felt the foot of the bed go back up, like some was sitting there and then stood up. I am also a bit of a skeptic, but immediately my thoughts went to my Dad. It would be just like him to worry about me and check in, not only to meet his grand-daughter but to make sure I was ok. After a nap, I awoke to find my daughter sleeping with her little hand busted out of her swaddle and nuzzled up by the side of her face, a gesture my Dad was known for. I had a few other similiar experiences in the days following, but none since. I am glad your brother has brought you some comfort, and will be thinking of you on this anniversary.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      I got goose pimples reading this, Jen! It’s so sweet and so sad at the same time – a dad still wanting to take care of his little girl and his new granddaughter. I’m so sorry about your father and I thank you for your words.

  10. Sarah

    When I scattered my parents ashes, I let them take me where they wanted to be. I am grateful my husband doesn’t question my decisions (at least out loud). I carried my Mom’s ashes in my backpack, along a lonely stretch of the Olympic Coastal strip until it was if I felt a nudge to look down. I saw a rock, that I picked up. It looked like my Mom, it had a torso, arms and a head, almost like a cross really. And its torso had a humpback, just like her. It was grey and white ribbon rock. I picked it up out of a tide pool and knew this was my sign. I left her ashes there, floating out into the Pacific Ocean. The rock came home with me and I often take her with me on hikes, weight be damned. The only thing that ruined it was turning around and realizing a couple had come up the beach and were behind me, watching me. Maybe they had not seen ashes spread before, but it broke the spell and I was bawling badly.
    My Dad…Kirk drove me up and down FS roads in Montana, along the spine, until I felt I needed to stop. I have no idea why a stretch of Flathead River called to me, I know my Dad grew up in that area and he and his Dad hunted and fished along Glacier NP and Bob Marshall Wilderness (legally? Hah…) I left him there, and it felt where he was meant to be. With deer and bear prints next to me….
    Sometimes we just have to let our mind go blank and listen. I don’t discount energy encounters by any means.

  11. Choc Chip Uru

    This brought a tear to my eye my friend. I do not believe in ghosts, but I too have seen my dead grandfather in my dreams every single time when I get sick and he takes care of me. Some things are too beautiful to explain them. Thank you for sharing your story.


  12. biggsis

    I love experiences that we know through feeling rather than feel through knowing. These are perhaps the hardest to describe, the most dearly held and longest remembered and break down the semantics of labels and definitions leaving just our humanity. Whatever that means, and whatever its origins, it is very special and shines so brightly when shared by the brave. Thank you.

  13. sweetveg

    Thank you so much for sharing, Annie. I hope it helps to know that you are not alone with your experience. My beloved grandfather still visits me sometimes, even though it has been over 20 years since he died. Love is amazing and powerful.

  14. tearoomdelights

    That’s a lovely story, Annie. The older I get, the more inexplicable things there seem to be, and I kind of like the fact that even with our great rate of progress as a species and our technological advances, so much is still way beyond our understanding. Who knows if we’ll ever get to a point where we can make sense of these things, but the mystery of them is part of their charm. I can understand your worry about it not happening again, I think that’s a perfectly normal reaction, but I’m glad that you had such a comforting experience. Maybe now that Charles has broken through your ‘lead lining’ once there will be other opportunities for psychic connections.

  15. Shira

    Amazing story Annie, and reading through the comments I can see how equally amazing is that you are not alone! I have a few of my own ghost stories to tell and haven’t a doubt in my mind that what you felt was your bother’s love for you, brought to you by someone who misses you as much as you miss him — a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing! xx

  16. narf77

    My father and I just didn’t get on period. Curious that he chose to leave us Serendipity Farm in his will…most probably because he loved it so much here and knew instinctively that we would fall head over heels and keep it rather than sell it like my more mercenary brother and sister would. I swore to Steve that if I even felt a HINT of my depressed angry father in this house once I set foot in it I would walk out the door and sell it. When we walked in dad was gone. A year to the day he died I suddenly smelled cigarette smoke in the kitchen…I followed the smell right back to the spot where he had a small table and sat late into the night reading, smoking and sipping brandy from a small glass and where he was found dead. I guess I don’t believe either but who is to say why we get the opportunity to commune with the unknown. I prefer to remain open minded in my own self.

      1. narf77

        I was pretty freaked out! It was like dad saying “don’t forget me alright?”. As soon as I became aware of the source of the smell it was gone and Steve couldn’t smell it at all. Very strange and I haven’t smelt it since (even though yesterday was the anniversary of his death 3 years ago).

  17. beautycalyptique

    that’s quite a story, yours, and the commenters’ stories as well.

    this won’t come as a shock now that I have heard from *everyone* who have lost a beloved family member that they’ve experienced something very similar. I have several stories to share myself.

    for example, several weeks after my father died, mum and I were walking the family dog on a sunday, bright sunlight, empty street, as a car honked.
    we ignored it, and then the sound repeated. as we looked at the source, we froze: it was a car totally similar to father’s (sold by then), the driver’s window down, a man looking like father, wearing his very distinct (highly fashionable and colourful) clothes. the man didn’t look at us directly but he waved at us, and he drove past us and down the hill, very slowly. it wasn’t scary at all, but the fact that we couldn’t really understand what happened, has left us somewhat shaky.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Oh my gosh! What an amazing story! I would still be puzzling over that one, for sure. Hearing that this kind of experience is “common” makes me feel quite okay about what happened to me. Thank you for sharing it!

      1. beautycalyptique

        Thank you for your story and for being the “trigger”! I am not too shy to tell my story btw, but it’s normally not the small talk kind of topic. Good that we’ve got the interwebzzz to get more exchange and to see we’re not all that different (I’m not talking about individuality, but about struggles, hopes, and dreams).

  18. Lauzan

    My father died along time ago, I’ve always had bitter feelings towards him for many reasons. Bitter dreams too, always the same. Something like 5/6 years ago, I saw him in one of my dreams. But this time it was a different and beautiful dream, so real, so special. He hugged me tight and I would have loved that that beautiful feeling of being again a little child protected by his arms would never end. I think it was his goodbye his way to tell me now he was at peace and that I had to move on with my life too…From that moment I never dreamt of him again. Thanks for sharing this post…made me feel hugged by my dad again.

    1. An Unrefined Vegan

      Laura, thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience. I’m so glad that you both found peace after years of bitter feelings and dreams. It’s no way to live. I’m so amazed by everyone’s stories and how universal they are.

      1. Lauzan

        Thank you, Annie…! So many stories, all beautiful and all telling us that family bonds are really deep and universal as you wrote.

  19. celestedimilla

    Hey Annie! My neighbor’s son is currently fighting cancer, and she’s been reading various spiritual books to help her cope. She recently told me about “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander, a book about a neurosurgeon’s near death experience. I’ve always been interested in NDE’s, so I decided to read the book. I just finished it, and all I can say is that you’ve got to read it. The author was a logical, scientist who dismissed an afterlife until he experienced it. This is a great book for doubters. If you do read it, let me know what you think. Celeste

  20. Pingback: Mom: A Meditation on Life & Memory • an unrefined vegan

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