Supernatural Non-Fiction posted February 14, 2019


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This is a true story.

Guilt-Free!

by HealingMuse


Prologue:

Some years ago, while working as a counseling intern in bereavement at a hospice* organization, I was assigned a client who was having some difficulties with her deceased loved one's post-mortem presence in her home. Being a devoutly religious Christian, for some reason incomprehensible to me, she was feeling guilty about contact from her departed aunt. (Statistically, this is the most common problem people seeking bereavement counseling present with. Names and circumstances have been changed to protect confidentiality, as this is a true story. For the sake of this story, we will call my client Lucy and her departed aunt, Sally.)


"Hi Lucy. Pleased to meet you. What brings you in today?"

Well, I took care of my aunt Sally for two years while her health was declining, following a contentious relationship with her because of her husband. He pitted her against me for years and she was very mean to me when I got divorced from her nephew. But when she got sick, no one else in the family would help her, so I took her in and devoted my time and energy to ensuring her comfort and coordinating her palliative* and hospice care."

"Well, that was very nice of you, especially since she had treated you poorly for years because of your divorce."

"Thanks. Well, my heart just went out to her. Her jerk husband abandoned her when she was diagnosed with cancer and began palliative** care. Her health began to decline and she could no longer care for herself. I suspect he had been abusing her, but no one knew. You know how charming abusers can be in public."

"Oh absolutely," I reply.

"So, one day she called me crying, and said she was dying and had no one else to turn to, not even anywhere to live! Nowhere to go. And she asked if she could come stay with me. Her husband had the house deed only in his name and he was selling their home so that he could buy another home with his new girlfriend. Her heart was broken. I couldn't ignore the pain in her voice and her tremendous need. So, I told her we could try it for a while and see how it worked out."

"You are a very compassionate person. That is very kind of you."

"Thanks. It seemed I really had no choice, although, of course I did. I could have said no...maybe, but I just couldn't bring myself to ignore her plea."

"So how is that decision impacting your life today?"

"Well, it was awkward at first, but she was so ill and needy that we became really close during the two years she was with me -- a very different relationship than we had when she was with her jerk husband, which was nice. She was a very kind person, but she was never allowed to show it -- at least towards me -- because of her abuser's threats, I came to find out.

"So, since she passed away three months ago, I keep hearing her walker in my house. Many times each day. She had a very distinctive way of using her walker. She would pick it up a bit, then scrape it on the floor as she half-dragged it to move it forward. So it was like scrape, thump, scrape thump. I am a very Christian woman and this makes me feel very guilty. I feel like I'm going crazy. This isn't supposed to be happening. I try to ignore the sound of her walker, but when I ignore it, it gets louder and louder and faster and faster. Like she's trying to get my attention."

By this point, Lucy is sweating, breathing quickly and shallowly, and nervously shifting around in her chair--sure signs of stress.

"So, have you tried acknowledging her presence when this occurs? I ask the client.

"Yes, it got to me so badly early on, that I finally said, "Sally! Please stop!" As soon as I said that the scraping and thumping sound of her walker stopped. But I felt very guilty for talking to her."

I explained to Lucy how very common this is and, while it may not be a sound like her aunt's walker scraping and thumping, most people do report some feeling or sense that their departed loved one is "there" with them after passing away. I shared that many people smell the deceased's special cookie recipe for no physical reason, or uncle Joe's distinctive pipe tobacco, or smell mother's perfume -- all without a basis in physical reality. I also shared what I'd been taught in training: "This is the number one issue that people come to counseling for in the bereavement field, in order to resolve their grief."

She looks both relieved but still quite uncomfortable, sweat on her brow and fidgeting in her seat. "Well, that's really interesting, but I feel so guilty because of my religion. I am very involved in my church."

"So, what is it about your religion that makes you feel guilty about this? It's not as if you are taking some action to try to draw her spirit to you, from what I'm hearing you say. Is that correct?"

She answers, "Well, that's right. I'm not doing anything to cause this, but...I don't know why I feel so guilty." Lucy promised to think about the source of her guilt during the next week, before her next session.

Although it was an inconvenient time to end the session, time was up, other clients were awaiting their sessions, and we had made great progress that day. She had agreed to do some art therapy homework to help her in resolving her grief -- drawing images of her deceased aunt and making a memory box to house treasures they had enjoyed together, pictures of them together, her aunt's jewelry, birthday cards -- things like that. Lucy stated she would bring the images and the decorated memory box with her next week for her session. She seemed a bit more at ease with her experiences, but still uncomfortable when she left.

When Lucy returned the following week, she happily showed me pictures she had drawn -- some with charcoal pencils, some with chalk pastels, of her deceased aunt. And her memory box was lovely. She'd purchased a suitable heavy cardboard box from an office supply store and decorated it with copies of pictures she'd taken at events they had attended together, and holiday photos of times they had shared together. She smiled brightly as I complimented her on her progress, and she continued to beam.

I smile, as Lucy continues to shine with her radiant smile, obviously beginning to heal from her deep grief, the result of her artistic endeavors related to her therapy. I then ask, "So, how have you been feeling since our last session? Last week, you'd told me that you've been feeling guilty about hearing your aunt's walker. Have you given this some thought?"

Lucy looked down at her hands, fidgeting in her lap. Her smile had faded away and a look of shame and concern washed over her face. Her posture absolutely drooped. "Well, I think I know why...it's because the Bible doesn't talk about this."

"So I think I'm hearing you say that you feel guilty about hearing your aunt's walker and feeling her presence because the Bible doesn't discuss this type of situation. Is that correct?"

"Yes," Lucy said softly, with an obvious air of shame and guilt weighing on her.

Not wanting to step on religious toes, I ask, "Have you spoken with your pastor or some of the ladies in your church group about these feelings?"

Lucy looks up, eyes wide with a look of horror on her face, "Oh, I could never do that! They would think I'm really a bad person because the Bible doesn't talk about this sort of thing."

I raise the possibility that their responses may not be so harsh, given the very high percentage of people who experience similar circumstances, accompanied by religious-based guilt, following the death of a close loved one, but Lucy does not seem convinced.

"I just couldn't," Lucy says softly, her head hanging in shame.

"OK," I say. "Have you ever been to the Field Museum in Chicago, Lucy?"

"No," she replies with a questioning look on her face.

"I've not been for many years, but when you walk in there are dinosaur skeletons in the museum -- some 20 to 30 feet tall. And they are real. And the Bible doesn't talk about dinosaurs either. Do you think it's possible that the Bible not addressing the type of experiences you are having is similar to the Bible not addressing the fact that dinosaurs once roamed the earth?"

She simultaneously lifted her head, eyes wide open, mouth slightly open in an "O" shape -- shocked at the thought. "I had never considered that the Bible doesn't talk about everything we could possibly encounter in life!" she exclaimed, with a sense of hopefulness. She appeared to be getting excited at the thought of having permission to think independently.

"That seems like a good possibility to me, Lucy." Maybe the Bible just leaves some things to people's individual discretion to deal with in their own way. Or maybe the authors of the Bible just felt some things were so obvious that they didn't need to discuss them, I'm obviously not sure, but I am sure dinosaurs once existed and I am now sure that you've told me the Bible doesn't address either of these issues, "

Lucy is again beaming radiantly, the shame and guilt apparently had been washed away by the concept of having permission-- for lack of a better word -- freedom, perhaps -- to think for herself regarding this matter.

We concluded our session, with Lucy once again agreeing to continue her art therapy homework of making images of her aunt and continuing to work on her memory box project.

Fast forward a week to our next session...

Lucy enters my office with a big, radiant smile and clearly excited to tell me something. She sits in the chair next to me and begins to recount her experience.

Breathlessly, she tells me, "You won't believe what happened!" She continues, "I thought about what you'd said about the dinosaurs and the Bible just not going there. After I'd finished painting a picture of my aunt and working on the memory box a bit, I had a light dinner and went to bed. As I was laying in my bed, before I fell asleep, my aunt appeared to me--a real-life ghost! And I didn't feel guilty! She didn't speak to me with words and she looked like herself, but many years younger. I had sort of an intense sense of knowing that she appeared to me to give me a message and what she was there to tell me. It was like hearing the words without them being spoken and a warm feeling of unconditional love all rolled up in one, but it wasn't words. The message was simply this: 'I wanted you to know that I'm OK. There is life after death and I want you to know that because sometimes you questioned that. I also want you to know how much I appreciate all you did for me in my greatest time of need. I am sorry for how I had treated you. I was wrong to be so mean.' Then she vanished."

"Wow! Lucy! That's amazing. How did that make you feel?"

"Well, at first, I was unsure of what I was seeing. I mean even though her face looked like her, she appeared sort of whitish--like a see-through cloud and like wispy, sort of like a thin cloud, if that makes sense."

"Uh hu," I affirm what she is saying by validating her statement.

"And well, I didn't feel guilty. When she vanished, I had the sense she will be with me, watching over me, maybe even guiding and protecting me, and that this is perfectly normal."

"That's great, Lucy!" I respond.

"And I think my grief is gone. Thank you for helping me through this difficult time."

"I'm so happy for you, Lucy! It's been a pleasure working with you. If you need to talk or meet again, you know how to reach me. Keep my card handy--just in case."

Lucy says she will keep my card and call me if she needs to talk more about her grieving process, but I know she has resolved her grief by giving herself permission to think for herself and allow for the presence of her departed loved one.



Ghost Story writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a Ghost Story. No limit on the word count.

Recognized

#473
2019


*Hospice care: As defined by www.medline.gov
Hospice care is end-of-life care. A team of health care professionals and volunteers provides it. They give medical, psychological, and spiritual support. The goal of the care is to help people who are dying have peace, comfort, and dignity. The caregivers try to control pain and other symptoms so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible. Hospice programs also provide services to support a patient's family.

**Palliative care: Defined by www.getpalliativecre.org
Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with a serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient�¢??s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

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