Where to begin….?
He stood in the small patch of garden, where a few oranges, lemons and limes swung gently on the trees. He had planted them when we first bought the villa and for many years we thought they never would grow and bear fruit. But he didn’t lose hope – always remembering to water them after particularly scorching Spanish days. Twenty years later, in spite of failing sight and being unable to walk far, because it strained his heart, he loved to wander down the short, stony path to inspect the crop, bringing back to the kitchen enough fruit for fresh drinks.
Now, having indicated the small orchard with pride, he drew attention to the mountain that towered, volcano-like, nearby. “This is where my ashes are scattered,” he said with a smile.
Many inexplicable things have happened around me, especially since Michael died, several when I was not alone and some reported by friends, all pointing to the fact that he is trying to reassure us that death is not the end. So where to begin …? Already I know that there will be no order to these jottings. To marshal my thoughts would restrict me … I would leave something out and have to search back and forth to place it in the right context. Read on if this won’t irritate you, but accept that I’m writing randomly. It isn’t my aim to change anyone’s mindset … Whether readers believe in life beyond death, or not, doesn’t matter to me. I was seventy-nine when I wrote this (now eighty-seven) and while my memories are crystal clear, I need to write them down. One day, if I am lucky enough to reach a great age and my memory has failed, some kind carer might read them back to me!
Michael went into hospital on September 6th, 2005, our 53rd wedding anniversary and died on September 10th. It had been a terrible week when he so badly wanted to get out of bed and couldn’t be allowed to move at all – and his words to the Psychic, who relayed the information that began this account, indicated that he had been unhappy and felt trapped, but now all was well.
Do I believe the message? Yes – I have to believe, because it came to me by such a devious route. The only thing I know about the Psychic is his, or her, location – London. The message was delivered to someone in Oxfordshire, who happens to live next door to Michael’s niece, who has never visited us in Spain and has no knowledge of the immediate area, yet all the details were correct. Our daughter Gaile, her husband John and our two grandsons, who lived in Cyprus, had scattered his ashes there and stood quietly for a few minutes, each with personal thoughts and memories, because we knew it was one of his favourite places. None has or had any contact with Michael’s family in England.
The fact that this message came, does not surprise me. Since childhood, I’ve had many proofs that there is life beyond the grave. Although only a few close friends ever knew, my mother was gifted with the extra sense that, in her case, often alarmed her. She was innately kind and gentle and only ever spoke of the strange things and ghostly spirits she saw, when doing so would help. Believe me – if she had been a sensation seeker, she could have earned a fortune!
The stranger’s message has made me realise that, for the sake of posterity, I should record everything I can remember about that aspect of my life. My mother’s psychic ability was totally accepted by the family … it was a fact of life, but hardly ever spoken about. It wasn’t anything I ever mentioned to friends as I grew up. Perhaps I sensed that they would think it strange, or even sinister. Perhaps even then, I knew my mother was different and was only too happy to keep quiet about it, but I hope it was discretion and not shame that influenced me. Only as an adult have I been able to appreciate just how amazing she was. Stemming from her own secure Christian faith she taught me, among other things, that thoughts are living things. I must never wish anyone harm, in case it created a pathway for bad things to happen to them … kind thoughts and only good wishes were allowed. It was hard to live up to her expectations as a little girl whose new pencil box had just been stolen!
I am not as secretive about her now and people always ask if I am also psychic. I’m not – at least, not in the same way but strange things have happened to and around me all my life – so …
This is what I remember
Almost everyone has had moments when something they half expect, actually happens – like thinking of an old friend, then bumping into them or suddenly hearing them on the telephone, but in addition to such experiences I have heard things – inexplicable in any normal way. Among my earliest memories, two things stand out, having alarmed me at the time.
At the beginning of the war in 1939, my mother and I evacuated from Sheerness, in the Thames Estuary, to live with her parents in Lancashire. Soon after we arrived, they also accommodated another relative from London, with her six-month old baby son who took over my room, so I had to share my mother’s. I didn’t mind at all; I was only eight years old and, if I awoke during the night, used to be comforted by the sound of her breathing – until the night I lay awake listening to it happily, and then heard the door creak open. In a shaft of light from the landing I saw her enter the bedroom! It took her some time to reassure me that there was no threat. Another presence in the room could only be the spirit of someone who, having passed on, still loved me and wanted to guard and comfort me.
It would have been easier for her to dismiss my claim as rubbish – impossible – and although upset, I would have had to accept that I was wrong, but perhaps she was glad of the opportunity to make me aware that there are many things beyond our knowledge. She wanted me to keep an open mind and not fear the unknown. I suppose, after that, I persuaded my mother to talk more about the spirit world. I accepted the existence of such a heaven, because she said it was where we would all go when our earthly life ended. Perhaps it was fortuitous that she had been forced to come up with an explanation which, to a child, sounded plausible, because two years later the baby and his mother returned home to London and I moved back into my own room where I had my second shock.
I think it was in 1942, soon after my father’s mother died, when it happened. My paternal grandparents lived within a few miles of us but I did not see a lot of them. Unlike the grandparents with whom I lived, they had a great many grandchildren … but I loved visiting them and sometimes meeting my cousins there. Grandma Ellen used to sit at the head of the huge dining table and play cards with us all … ‘Chase the Ace’ was her favourite, and she loved to win. I’m not quite sure why I’ve mentioned this because I never associated her in any way with what happened … I only recalled it to fix the date – so I must have been eleven years old.
Like most children of that age, I’d just changed schools – had left Elementary School and was now expected to do homework. It thrilled me to feel that I was now a big girl and important enough to warrant being given extra to study … it was only later that it became irksome, as it does with most young people when other things claim their time. Pleased with my enthusiasm, my mother allowed me to read textbooks in bed (as long as my light was switched off before the adults came upstairs); I was honour-bound not to switch it on again! The system worked until, having graduated to story books, I was more reluctant to put the book down.
My mother approved of my reading anything, but the rule still applied. One night, when the house was quiet again and I couldn’t sleep – totally gripped by a real cliff-hanger in the plot – I couldn’t resist, I used my torch and huddled under the bed sheets with my book. Suddenly, something smashed against the wooden bed-head. The noise was ear-splitting and the bed shook! I was terrified – switched off the torch and lay there, shaking. I expected the door to burst open and everyone to rush in, to discover what had caused the noise, but nobody came and the house was quite still. Gradually as I calmed down I plucked up the courage to turn on the light and look to see what had hit the bed. There was nothing at all there to account for the incident. I don’t think I told my mother, probably feeling guilty and not wanting to own up to being naughty.
Over the following few years I heard many stories of the supernatural but, surprisingly, not from my mother. It is a subject of interest to most people, whether they believe in ghosts or not and whenever I heard one with a ring of truth I would relate it to her and ask her opinion. She made me understand what was acceptable and what was not. Generally speaking, her yardstick was to question whether or not the story promoted a message for good or evil. If the latter, it should never be repeated; if harmless, its truth was less important, but should not be accepted at face value.
She was right. No sceptic can be converted except by personal experience. That is why it doesn’t matter to me whether or not you believe my anecdotes. There is just a chance that they might re-assure anyone with similar experiences, but who is without the comfort of a mother like mine. She never claimed to have all the answers; she was still searching for them herself. Much later, she told me how scared she was when she realised that she could hear and see things that others couldn’t. She was a regular church-goer and consulted her Vicar. He was horrified and made her feel worse by declaring all such contact to be evil and she must stop … fatuous advice, when she had no control over the situation. She didn’t think she was a bad person and asked other local Church leaders for their opinions. None helped. All told her to pray and reject such notions.
She stopped going to Church because she felt rejected. On the other hand, neither did she seek to become more deeply involved with Spiritualism. As long as she lived by Christian standards she felt at ease with herself. If the Church didn’t understand, then she didn’t feel comfortable attending services.
Long before the war – when I was about three years old – everyone was upset when they heard that Grandma’s only sister had died in Canada. My mother was particularly attached to Aunt Agnes and had been devastated when, on health grounds, she had emigrated with her husband. My mother was heartbroken, thinking she would never see her again.
Time passed and life went on, then one day, while out shopping, she found herself taking a different route from normal. When she stopped to ponder – wondering whether to carry on or backtrack – she saw an open door beside her and her eyes were drawn to a plaque at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A sign, with an upward pointing arrow, indicated that it was a Spiritualist Church and a meeting was in progress … any or all were welcome to attend. Almost without making a decision, my mother climbed the stairs. As she entered the open door at the top, a woman hastened to welcome her with a smile. The meeting had just started, but she found a chair and seated my mother next to her, in the circle of about thirty people. Many glanced towards her, seeming friendly, not minding the interruption, so she soon calmed down and became interested in what was happening.
Several different people spoke, some praying but some appearing to be giving messages to others in the group … “Messages from the other side,“ whispered the woman who had taken her under her wing. She had asked if my mother had ever attended such a service before so, on being told that she hadn’t, was keen to explain that this could be quite interesting – luckily she had come in time for the most important part of this kind of meeting. Even so, my mother was very wary of being ‘taken for a ride’ and decided that although it all seemed harmless enough, there was a lot of play-acting going on. It seemed that things were coming to a close and in spite of her earlier impressions, she decided she wouldn’t attend again.
An elderly lady sitting opposite, who hadn’t spoken before, suddenly stood and started walking towards her. As my mother gazed at her, she thought her eyes were deceiving her… The woman’s appearance changed. She seemed taller and younger and was no longer a stranger – my mother saw her aunt coming closer with arms outstretched ….
She was transfixed and could neither move nor utter a sound. The figure advanced until they could have touched, but my mother was unable to respond and the vision faded. The lady who had been ‘taken over’ stood before her and smiled kindly. “I saw you staring at me across the room and realised that you are also gifted and could see the person who was here for you,” she said, “That’s why I came over – you were so deeply distressed when she passed away recently, that she wanted to comfort you.” She went on to say that the lady was, “… like a second mother, and understood why you couldn’t respond. She doesn’t want you to worry or be filled with regret – she promises she will come to you again, when you’re ready.”
My mother was shaking and in tears – she had never experienced anything like that before and felt inadequate, angry with herself that she hadn’t been able to move or speak. The meeting broke up in great excitement … Most of those present were not psychic, they were there seeking help and guidance – so it was amazing to them that a stranger had walked in from the street and actually seen a loved one who had passed on.
The medium who had undergone the transformation tried to persuade my mother to join their inner circle and regular séances, but she flatly refused. She was totally against attempts to initiate contact with the spirit world. If they wanted to make contact, she knew they’d find a way. She was against ouija boards, for the same reason, and warned me never to use one. Her belief was that, by doing so, a channel was being opened for any entity, bad along with good.
Remembering her words, I have never gone out of my way to take part in such ‘party games’ but, under protest, have twice been drawn into a group having fun. But more of that later – I should at least try to set things down in order!
When I was almost four years old, my father took a post on Sheppey Island, so we went to live in Sheerness. Having started going to the Spiritualist Church, my parents found a branch and continued to attend Sunday services. They must have taken me with them but I have no memories of actual services. It is strange because I remember other odd incidents from the same era – such as sitting in my wheelchair with the hood and screen up, hearing the rain tapping on the canvas above me and the sound of voices as my mother spoke with a friend. I can’t think why that moment should have imprinted itself in my brain for so many years, when more significant events have left no impression.
I do recall walking along the seafront wall a couple of years later. I see in my mind’s eye the wide wall curving away from me, sand and sea on my left and a clear blue sky. My grandparents were visiting us and I was skipping ahead of the adults, enjoying the day out. Although I was keeping to the centre of the wall, which fell steeply on each side, my mother suddenly pushed my father ahead and urged him to run – I was in danger. He reached me just in time to grab me as I slipped and rolled to the edge. They all agreed that if he hadn’t instantly reacted, I would have had a nasty, possibly dangerous fall. Isn’t it strange that I only know of this because my grandmother spoke of it when I was in my teens … but I immediately remembered the beautiful, happy day.
Because we moved several times in Sheerness, I can place the following episode fairly well – it must have been about 1938 when my father came into my bedroom to make sure I was asleep. I was, but the scene from the window, under a full moon, was so striking that he called my mother to see and enjoy it.
They stood together for a few moments … then, as my mother turned, she saw another amazing vision in the moonlight that filled the room. She saw again, as promised, her Aunt Agnes. Although smiling, she then shook her head and pointed to the clock on my mantelshelf. The hands stood at 11.30. When my mother looked away from the clock, her aunt was no longer there. My father had seen nothing and did his best to convince her that whatever was happening, or had happened, there was nothing they could do about it. He knew she feared for her parents but was sure her aunt wouldn’t have come to upset her, so they must try to have a good night’s rest, to be able to cope. The following day, a telegram arrived from Granddad, saying that Grandma’s uncle had died at 11.30 the previous night … I can’t recollect him at all, although I know I was taken to his house once, long before we left Lancashire, and that someone there was ill.
At the time, I wasn’t told much, but talking it over with my father later, I wondered what had been the point of my great aunt’s visitation. He had obviously discussed the subject with others and the theory holds water, so I’ll repeat it here; those who have passed on are anxious to alleviate suffering on earth. They are also keen on spreading hope and the knowledge that all does not end with earthly death. Most of their appearances and messages are efforts to prove that they have survived in another dimension. Drawing attention to the time, at the exact moment that her uncle was dying many miles away, was proof. As I pointed out before – it was proof to my parents. Their experience can be told and retold, but to others it remains just a story!
It seems that the first indication my father had, that my mother was psychic, was a few months before their marriage. They were walking along a narrow pavement on a quiet street when, to his surprise, my mother paused and pressed herself against the wall for a few moments. He turned, wondering why she had stopped and as she caught up she commented, “Didn’t that nun have a beautiful smile …” When he looked around and asked, “What nun?” she turned and also saw nothing. Apparently, the people she saw in spirit were as real and solid to her as the living … so it follows that any one of us could be seeing ghosts from the past, without realising it (unless from a different era – a knight in armour would certainly attract our attention).
A little later, my father was singled out at a Sunday service and given a message. He was told that he would soon be leaving Sheerness to live in a location strange to him – he would not be returning to wherever he had been before. The medium said she could see the place where he would work. There was a cluster of large buildings in a green valley …with mountains and hills all around and, very near, there was water running over water. I suppose everyone expected the war to come and I remember, during the weeks before it started, the noise from the ack-ack guns in the fields behind our house. There was a constant pounding, which upset my mother greatly. The noise made her feel physically sick, and I expect she often thought about that message, wondering if we would all be getting away from it soon.
When the solemn announcement came, over the radio, we three were standing near the dining table – I think a meal had just been set out. They drew me to them and we all clung to each other. I didn’t really understand what was happening, but must have heard worried people talking because I was terrified that somebody would come to the house straight away, to take my Daddy away to fight.
It didn’t happen like that. I went to school as usual and took part in fire-drills – and was instructed what to do when the siren went. We were issued with gas-masks and had to practise putting them on. Inside its cardboard box, which I had to carry with me all the time, mine was black, but some (infant issue I think) were like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck masks – great fun.
There were air raid shelters at school, and we had a little Anderson shelter in our back garden. There were shelves inside ours for emergency food and drink, and bunks to rest on. We might have used it during an air raid, but not often, because soon after the war started, all parents were informed that children had to be moved outside a two-hundred-mile radius of London. If this couldn’t be done privately, children would be evacuated to the USA. Because they didn’t want me to be sent so far away from them, it was decided that my mother and I would go to live with my grandparents. I had seen a few ‘dogfights’ in the air and parachutes coming down, and was sensitive to the threat that hovered over us all, so although upset to be leaving my father, I was glad to be heading north.
My father stayed in Sheerness, expecting to be called up into one of the services, so it was not feasible for him to leave with us. The news that his company was transferring him to South Wales came as a shock. It seemed ridiculous to be moved to a new post when he would no doubt be in it for only a few weeks, but he had to go. In the event, he was informed that he was in a reserved occupation (a term used for essential war-work) and wouldn’t be called up to fight at all. He immediately joined the local fire service and became a fire-watcher too. He probably got a kick out of driving the fire engine …in those days not many people could drive, so he was given the job.
When he first arrived in Pontypool, he immediately remembered the message he had received about working somewhere surrounded by hills. Sure enough, when he found the factory, a glass manufacturer, it was in a beautiful valley and alongside it was an aqueduct. He could hardly wait to write to tell my mother – he was amazed.
As a child, I went to Communion every Sunday morning at St Thomas’s, with my friend Anne. In the afternoon, I often attended services at the Spiritualist Church in Hall Street (I think), St Helens (I wonder if it’s still there …) and always found them fascinating. For the most part, the pattern of worship was quite similar to that in church. We sang hymns and after ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ the person conducting the service delivered a kind of sermon and would ad-lib a few extra prayers. Then the visiting medium was introduced – usually, but not always, a woman. These visitors travelled long distances from their own churches, so that they had no personal knowledge of members of the congregation. In this way, ‘messages’ could better be assessed. I always took note of my mother’s reaction to these mediums and soon learned to judge for myself whether their words were likely to be true or false.
Anne never came to Hall Street with us, but was more than happy to make sure I didn’t lose touch with more conventional religion. She is ten years older than I am and has always been like an older sister. We were born in the same house, my Grandparent’s – they hadn’t yet moved into their own house – so was also like a younger sister to my mother. She later became one of my daughter’s Godmothers, so has always been close and one of the few people who knew that my mother was psychic. Now approaching her ninetieth year, she is the only person who shares my early memories. In any real or imagined crisis, Anne would always hasten to our house to discuss things – hoping for Divine Guidance. She didn’t always get it – because, as she was repeatedly told, it wasn’t something to be turned on and off like a tap.
I have recently chatted over the ‘phone with Anne and she still recalls vividly the night, in 1944, when she dropped in to see us, seeking some words of comfort for a friend of hers, whose friend, a Polish air-force pilot, had not contacted her for many weeks. All her attempts to discover information about him had failed because she wasn’t listed as next-of-kin and enquiries were blocked at the first hurdle – it was wartime and strict secrecy was essential to protect troop movements or casualties. Warning posters were everywhere … “Be like Dad – KEEP MUM” … “Careless Talk Costs Lives” … so it was impossible to find out whether he was dead or alive.
I was present when Anne handed an envelope to my mother, with no explanation other than a hope that ‘something would come to her’.
It seems that my mother was particularly gifted in psychometry. She had only to handle an object and she could discern an incredible amount of information about it – who had handled it – or who owned it. We sometimes teased her into reading tea-leaves and she went along with the fun – telling us to swirl the dregs round the cup and turn it over on the saucer, to drain it. She pretended to see pictures in the leaf patterns and, sometimes to her own surprise, came out with amazingly accurate observations; handling the cup before giving it to her created a link she could pick up.
Anne said that the letter inside had been handled only by her friend and the person who wrote it so, with her eyes closed, my mother carefully removed it from the envelope and held it without unfolding it. Almost immediately, she declared that writer of the letter was a young man, not in the other world, but still living and confirmed that this answered the question which Anne’s friend had asked. Of course, Anne then wanted to know everything or anything that could be gleaned about the writer. There was little else to be learned, but my mother did ask whether the girl had any association with Plymouth and Anne promised to find out.
The following evening, Anne returned to say that her friend had no knowledge of and had never been near Plymouth. Even so, my mother felt that there was a connection and her friend would soon find out what it was. Less than a fortnight later, she did – when a letter arrived from the young man. He wrote from a Field Hospital in Plymouth, where he was recovering after being shot down a couple of months earlier.
My own cousin Billy, a pilot, was killed in action at the beginning of the war; he was twenty-one.
Although I didn’t really know him, I always thought of him when, during Spiritualist services, mediums described the final moments of a soldier, sailor or airman who had returned to make contact with loved ones on earth. These verbal images were harrowing, yet the wives or mothers seemed overjoyed to be hearing that their lost loved one was restored, whole and happy in the after-life. Before delivering the meat of the message, the medium would always describe something, or refer to an incident known only to the recipient. Once the message had been validated, so that it wasn’t being given to the wrong person, it was always ‘wrapped up’ in such a way as to be meaningless to an outsider. At ten years old, I thought this was very unfair – I was fascinated and curious to find out how much of what was said was true. For instance – what was the really important ‘something’, for which Mrs P had been searching everywhere; was it really in a small wooden box on top of her wardrobe? … And what was the hurtful thing that somebody named Peter had said when he and Mrs M were together for the last time, in Southport? Whatever it was, he was filled with remorse and pleaded for forgiveness. Messages like this were common and, as my father had said, illustrated a desire to prove that we will live on in spirit … the most important part of us will survive death.
In September 1941, Michael’s parents were living on the border between Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. They had first met my parents in St. Helens, before any of them were married. His father was a stonemason and was supervising work on St. Helens Parish Church (he personally worked on the font) and was in lodgings. He heard a neighbour practising the violin, discovered the name of her tutor, who turned out to be my father. At that time my father had a small orchestra – my mother was the pianist – and they played for local dances. Although they remained friends, contact was maintained only through odd notes on cards at Christmas, updating each other annually on the highlights of their lives. They suggested that when my father came home on leave, we three should visit them for a couple of weeks. They hadn’t seen each other since my birth and were anxious to renew the acquaintance. Michael and I then met briefly, as he was living with his grandparents a few miles away in another village, to be nearer to his school in Stratford-upon-Avon.
We didn’t meet again until September 1948 when, once again, we went for a short holiday.
I was seventeen and a half – he was twenty on the day after we arrived. I don’t know whether or not Michael’s parents had known previously about her visions, but probably not, judging by their astonishment when she suddenly described a little girl who had joined us. I’d noticed that my mother had seemed distracted throughout most of the evening and apparently she had been unwilling to discuss the presence of the child, hoping the vision would go, because she couldn’t really understand what was expected of her. As usual, it was impossible to ignore such persistence and she described the visitor, hoping someone would recognise her. We heard that the child was anxious to explain that she wasn’t to blame, but as nobody knew who she was, there was little to be done.
An hour later, my mother told us that the child, who had not left, was really upset and wanted to be recognised. She looked about six years old, we heard, and was getting tearful because she couldn’t make us understand, so we all decided to sit quietly, in the hope of learning more. Gradually, more and more facts emerged. The first one was a shock; whatever had occurred was within yards of where we were sitting. Michael’s father, had built the bungalow at the end of the war near a quarry, so he and Michael’s mother cast their minds back. The child’s message implied that her death was the result of an accident and there had been several in and around the quarry during the war. Specifically she wanted everyone to know that she did tell her brother to come home and it wasn’t her fault that he wouldn’t.
The child’s name eventually rang a bell. All they knew of the event was that a little girl had been sent to fetch her older brother home. He and a friend were playing in the quarry, which was only a few minutes’ walk away from where they lived – and when they didn’t soon return it was assumed that the girl had joined their game. It transpired that the boys had found an unexploded bomb. It blew up and all three were killed. I can imagine the parents perhaps thinking that if only their daughter had delivered the message and the children had returned straight home, they wouldn’t have died. It would account for the girl’s insistence that she wasn’t to blame. Until then, Iris and Billy hadn’t realised that the tragedy happened anywhere near where their house was built, and Iris said she would find a way of telling the parents what we had just heard. We visited the bungalow often afterwards but never heard from the child again so, hopefully, she was at last able to rest in peace.
After the holiday, Michael and I began writing to each other – postcards at first – then letters – and before Christmas he came to stay with us in South Wales, where my parents had been since 1945. I had stayed with my grandparents until much later, to finish school exams, but was still at college – an Art Student. Fortunately, as far as I was concerned, during that, and other visits he made to us before he left UK on his first overseas posting, my mother didn’t come up with any more strange visitations, or weird messages. I felt quite disloyal to her, dreading such revelations, because in my eyes, she was wonderful. She was kind, and fun to be with. I didn’t want anyone regarding her as peculiar. It was a relief when I realised that Michael accepted her as different but harmless – it was as much as I could hope for and we never discussed the subject then.
Much to the delight of our parents, we announced that we intended to get married when he returned from the Far East, his first overseas posting in the army, but I was too young (according to my parents) to accept a ring and be engaged officially. We were convinced that we were meant for each other and didn’t really mind – neither of us doubted that we would be together one day. We hoped he would be able to come home halfway through his three-year tour but he was not granted leave. It was during the ‘Emergency’. It was never called a war for political reasons, but it was a long and bloody battle, fought mostly in the Jungles of Malaya. Many lost their lives and, at home, we listened to every news bulletin on radio and TV …yes – we had our first set in 1949 – a 12” black & white. It was a worrying time and bulletins were all too brief. It appalled me that other people were carrying on with their daily lives, scarcely giving a thought to the fact that our armed forces were at war. It was a completely different atmosphere to that which had prevailed during WW2. It wasn’t on our doorstep – so it didn’t exist apparently! Very few people seem to know much about it now, even those my own age.
At first he wrote to me regularly and often – sometimes twice a day – then, early in 1951, his letters stopped arriving. His parents (whose home was far away in Oxfordshire) were also worried at the lack of news and his mother constantly reassured me that she knew her son was honourable and would have told me if he had changed his mind about our relationship, not just stopped writing! I wanted to believe her, of course, but was fearful. Post from Singapore, where he was serving, was slow in each direction, so I continued writing regularly, trying to stay positive, even though asking for a reply soon. After seven months I’d had enough and wrote to say that it was obvious he’d had a change of heart and although I hoped he was well and would return safely, it would be my last letter to him.
Time after time, I asked my mother to think about him and concentrate, to see if anything would “come through” … but, as usual, she said that communication couldn’t be forced; if we needed to know, we would be told. A few weeks after I wrote releasing him of any commitment to me, my mother and I were sitting quietly together. She suddenly put her sewing down and interrupted my reading. “I’m sure Michael is faithful and will come back to you,” she said. My eyes followed hers as she stared at her hands. They were held stiffly, fingers and thumbs curved tightly together. She told me that her hands felt stiff and as if they were on fire. She knew that his hands had been burned badly … and she told me I would hear from him soon. Two weeks later, the letter came. As long as my letters kept arriving, Michael had been happy and he was contrite, not having written when he could … then a fire had broken out at the jungle camp and, putting it out, his hands were injured. Later, after he returned home, in 1952, he confirmed that for a few weeks his hands had been tightly bound. He admitted that he could have dictated a letter to someone else … but we both knew it wouldn’t have been the same, so I had to forgive him.
In spite of this and the revelation of the quarry tragedy, a few years earlier, Michael was still sceptical. It wasn’t long though before he had another demonstration of my mother’s second sight. My family home was in South Wales and from the time he returned to the UK in February, to September, when we married, Michael drove from London to spend every weekend with us. He was leaving a little later than usual, as he was about to go on a short course. At the end of it, he would be going before a Regular Commission Board, to convert his temporary rank. He had little idea what to expect and we certainly had less, but on the day he left, my mother picked up an envelope that lay discarded after the morning’s post had been opened. On it, she drew a vertical line with a circle at the end. “If you see something like this, be careful,” she warned.
When he returned, successful, he said he’d recognised the shape and hesitated in surprise, just before the team in front of his lost their grip on a cable they were carrying. A row of old tyres had been strung up and each team had to manoeuvre a twenty-foot long cable through them. As the leading man of his team he was directly in line with the cable as it swung back through the hoops … If he had not hesitated, would it have smashed into his head? We’ll never know!
If that wasn’t enough to convince him, then another incident a couple of weeks before our wedding, certainly did. We had been out for the whole day – driven for miles to Brecon Beacons – seen some beautiful scenery and were returning tired but happy. As night came on and Michael switched on the car headlights, I remarked that they made things much better – I didn’t much like darkness. In fact, I told him, I’ll confess to you something I wouldn’t dare tell my mother – she’d think I was silly. Knowing my mother’s familiarity with ghosts and apparitions, he laughed as I knew he would, when I said that sometimes, in bed at night, I’d pull the covers over my head and say, “If there’s anybody there go away, I don’t want to know.”
The subject was long forgotten by the time we reached home, to be greeted by my mother, who always waited up for our return, not being able to settle until she knew we were safe, and we all sat together enjoying our bedtime hot chocolate. I could see my mother staring at the space between us as we sat on the settee and, in fact, my heart sank. No matter how genuine I knew her to be, I was always faintly embarrassed by her visions. I couldn’t have guessed what her first words would be…
She announced that there was a gentleman with Michael and gave us a detailed description of him – he was very formally dressed as a Canon of the church. She even gave the initial of his name. It meant nothing to Michael, but his mother later confirmed that he was a distant cousin of hers who, until his death before1930, had officiated at family weddings.
Apparently, although he was connected to Michael his message was for me and was something to do with what we’d been discussing in the car on the way home. Many subjects had been covered on the drive home and we looked at each other in astonishment – it sounded so weird. Then my mother leaned forward. The visitor was showing her an open book and she strained to read it… She said it was the book of Psalms and was open at Psalm 91. The gentleman pointed about halfway down and smiled as he faded away.
Of course, we leaped to the book shelf and opened the King James Version to Psalm 91.
There we read the following:
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Had I harboured any doubts before, about there being a life after death, they would have vanished at that moment, as Michael’s did. Although wary, and not eager to explore further, his acceptance made it easier for me to tell him of anything out of the ordinary that had happened to me and to keep him up to date on any new experiences.
We had been married a year before anything else happened. We were in an army hiring – accommodation that was half a detached house – ours being mostly the top half. I was on the upper landing about to go downstairs when I became aware of a clock ticking – a regular, slow, heavy beat. I tried to locate the sound – it was fainter in the bedrooms, so definitely on the landing, near the outside wall. It was unnerving, but I didn’t feel threatened.
At such times I cross my fingers and think about the 91st Psalm and another incident that happened at a Spiritualist meeting, which I attended with my mother, when I was about eleven years old. The medium spoke to my mother, who was obviously satisfied with the quality of the message she was receiving. I was aware of this, although I cannot recall what it was – I suppose I was only half- listening. Then the medium nodded towards me and smiled. “You need have no worries about your daughter,” she said, “Her life will be a pathway of roses”. There has been sadness in my life. I lost my first baby and have mourned the passing of my grandparents and parents. Michael was my rock and now I mourn him too … but mainly due to him, my life so far has been good and most of my memories are happy.
A few weeks after I heard the clock on the landing (only on that one occasion) I mentioned it to my landlady, when invited for tea in her half of the house. She was thrilled to inform me that when she was little, fifty years earlier, a huge grandfather clock had stood there, at the top of the house.
I was pregnant then, with my first baby, and I’ve since wondered if my mother had any inkling that it wouldn’t end happily. She seemed overly concerned, but most potential grandmothers are the same and I was leaving England to have the baby in Germany miles away from her, so it would have been strange if she hadn’t been worried. Anyway, Michael went on ahead. I packed up the flat and went back to my family home for a few weeks, until a quarter was available. It had no significance at the time but I found a long-forgotten book that a medium in the church had given me when I first started attending Sunday services there. To be honest, it had made me laugh …it was a pretty description of the Spirit World where children who die grow up. Yes – it said that they all grow and learn and develop, to take their place in helping those still on earth.
I thought about the book many times as my daughter grew up. Her brother would have been exactly a year older and I wondered if he was growing up too. She was less than two years old, still sleeping in a cot, when we returned to England from Germany. We were living in an apartment, on the ground floor of a lovely old house – Old Dean Hall. The walls were solid and the ceilings high and our huge, leaded light, bedroom windows made the most of even the faintest moonlight. When something woke me in the early hours, a few nights after we moved in, my first thought was that Gaile had somehow managed to climb out of her cot. I was aware of a heavy weight across my feet and as I became more alert, it shifted and slid off the edge of the bed. I had seen nothing, but expected to find her on the floor beside me, when I switched on the light. Nothing was there to account for what I’d experienced … both husband and daughter slept on, undisturbed. We had no pets to blame, so I wondered, was the author of the book right? My first impression was that it was a child and even when it proved not to be my little girl, I didn’t sense that there was anything to fear, so I just added it to my list of unexplained mysteries.
When Gaile was four, she began to speak of playing with a friend in the garden. We lived in a small bungalow and no child could have come to the back of the house without my opening a side gate to allow them access. I have known of children who, without doubt, were psychic. Their parents never revealed that they were unable to ‘see’ in the same way and didn’t ask questions that might have worried the child. In this way, as time passed, the visions were forgotten – fading completely from memory. I also knew that many children have vivid imaginations, so it would have been unwise to suggest, in any way, that her friend might not be of this world, but I did keep a close eye on her. One day, much to my relief I saw a little girl climbing through the hedge behind a greenhouse at the end of the garden … the mystery was solved – or so I thought.
A few weeks later I heard children laughing outside – two distinct voices, mingling happily. I couldn’t see them from the bedroom window, but decided to take some fruit juice and biscuits to them. As I left the kitchen and walked round the side of the house I could still hear them. Even as I turned the corner and saw Gaile sitting against the wall, under the window of the room where I had been when I first heard howls of merriment, I could distinctly hear two voices. Only when I realised that she was alone did the sound change. Gaile, still smiling, happily accepted the juice I offered her and after a few moments I sipped the other myself, before returning to my chores.
I refrained from questioning Gaile then, and the subject didn’t come up until a few days ago. To my surprise, she can’t remember the small girl who came from a neighbouring garden, but insists that her ‘friend’ was a boy – just a little bigger than herself. Apparently, it gradually dawned on her that he appeared only to her and, I suppose, that was when his visits ceased. We didn’t tell her that she was our second child until she was very much older but, since then, she’s wondered if it was her brother who had been her friend.
Whereas I seem to be clairaudient, Gaile has what she has always accepted as hallucinations – but would never claim to be psychic. Her youngest son did, however, often ask why the old man kept coming into his bedroom at night, to sit and stare at him. He was four years old and they had recently moved into a very old house, where all was strange to him – so the nightly visitor was just one more thing. It was an RAF hiring and eventually they moved again, to a quarter. One day, the estate agent rang her and asked if anything weird had ever happened to the family in that house. Apparently, the place had been renovated and modernised for the next tenant, who declared it to be haunted, and wouldn’t stay there. Gaile’s theory is that the old man put up with them because they accepted it as it was – but was upset when someone wreaked changes on his home. She could be right!
After returning from Singapore in 1966, Michael and I belonged to a badminton club that met once a week. There were many members and long waits between games were inevitable. Someone had brought a ouija board with them to pass the time and at least a dozen people were around it, screaming with laughter. Michael and I were watching and when one of the group yelled at us to ask it something, Michael said, “Find out where my lighter is!” and the answer came immediately … ‘DINING ROOM’.
It was a strange answer and we told everyone it certainly wasn’t there because the lighter had been mislaid months ago and it wasn’t a big room, we’d have found it already. Even so, when we got home we did look – moved the few pieces of furniture and even looked in the cutlery drawer. Weeks later, it fell out of a cardboard folder, when Michael opened it to update some files he’d been working on almost six months earlier. The folder was with others in a small writing bureau – in the dining room, of course!
My first encounter was with a make-shift board many years earlier. It was in 1958 – I remember because our daughter was born in Germany and we had taken her in her cot to the officers’ mess on the army camp. While she slept (and our husbands were in conference in the office block), we wives were having a pleasant evening and quite happy for the first couple of hours. Eventually, some left and about five of us remained – getting more anxious and bored. Would the meeting never end! Someone suggested we should make a ouija board. In spite of my protests (I really did feel a bit scared), scraps of paper were set in a circle round the table – all with letters of the alphabet and another two with YES and NO at the top and bottom. A glass was produced and we all placed a finger on it. Several silly questions were asked and I was scarcely aware of the answers but I know we were all laughing a lot and I began to relax.
We were running out of questions when someone had the bright idea of asking what would win the Grand National. Being in Germany, none of us was very interested or informed about it but we asked anyway and the glass immediately started to move. It gathered momentum and shot up to ‘YES’. We weren’t impressed and wanted something spelled out, so we asked again. It leapt so quickly up the table that we all accused each other of pushing it and asked the same question again. The glass began to whirl round and round as if furious at being asked the same thing over and over …then almost knocked the YES off the table. At that moment, while we were all laughing hysterically, our husbands walked in and we calmed down, cleared the table and explained what we’d been doing. They were loftily amused – silly women – can’t leave them for five minutes without them falling apart! …When ‘Mr What’won the Grand National, the following day, my friends and I were astounded. The name had meant nothing to us but we were annoyed that none of our husbands had recognised it as being a runner, and backed it. It was actually Gaile’s other Godmother, Doreen, who instigated the session. We are still in touch, so I must remind her of it one day!
Writing of those days in Düsseldorf brings to mind another bedtime-book incident. My husband was fast asleep when I returned to bed having settled our baby daughter in the adjoining nursery. Although it was about three-o-clock in the morning, I read for a while before putting off the light and settling down. Within minutes of closing the book, there was a sharp double rapping noise within inches of my ear. It was just like the sound of knuckles knocking on the hard cover of the book. I was so startled I almost leaped out of bed, waking Michael. He hadn’t heard anything and put it down to my being half-asleep. He wasn’t at all grumpy about being disturbed, being one of the lucky people who fall asleep when their head touches the pillow. This latter fact was illustrated because within a few seconds of switching the light off again, the rapping was repeated. Alright, I thought as I turned over and tried to settle down, somebody is trying to tell me I shouldn’t have picked up a book in the middle of the night when I need sleep.
You’ll have realised that although I lost my full-term baby son (with hindsight we realised it was through a medical mistake, sue-able these days!) I did have a daughter a year later. I am so fortunate that now well into her adulthood, we have a wonderful relationship. Sometimes, when we are enjoying things together, (we hadn’t lived in the same country for over twenty years until 2007) I feel undeserving. I should have been more considerate towards my own mother. I am filled with remorse, thinking of the letters I promised to write and didn’t – or the times I could have visited her but didn’t because it would have meant leaving Michael to fend for himself. He would have coped without complaint… I should have gone.
The fact that my mother had once declared that she “wouldn’t see sixty” came back to me too late; she was only fifty-five when she died. The telephone call from my father came at twenty minutes to midnight on a day when I had had a cheerful letter from her, telling me how much better she felt. The shock kept me awake, in floods of tears, all night. The following day we drove from Camberley to South Wales. It was late when we arrived and we went straight to bed. By that time I was so exhausted, I slept until I heard Michael get up and leave the room. As the terrible sense of loss came back, I felt my mother’s arms around me. I was being held gently but firmly and hardly daring to breathe, I kept my eyes shut, trying to hang on to the moment … then, in my head, I heard her say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to go.”
Gradually the moment passed, leaving me almost euphoric. It was as if we’d had the opportunity denied us in life to say goodbye. The sensation stayed with me and I told nobody about it. I felt that if I spoke of it, it would somehow be diminished, be lost to me, because it would be dismissed as a dream. After a few days, I even wondered myself …had I been half asleep? To my own satisfaction, the question was answered, when my father at last brought himself to speak of her final moments. He knew she’d had a heart attack and as he held her, she clung to him and cried, “I’m so sorry …I don’t want to go.” When I heard repeated, the same phrase I’d heard, the sense of her presence came back to me. Without a doubt, she really had been with me in spirit, thirty-six hours after she died. As I hadn’t told anyone about her coming and her words, there was no point in bringing it up then, so I hugged the experience to myself for many years.
It was selfish, as it might have brought some comfort to my grandparents. After they died too, I thought of all the things I should have asked them …for instance – did my mother ever speak of seeing or hearing anything supernatural when she was little? Now, I’ll never know (not in this life anyway)! One thing Grandma always did, whenever something was mislaid, was to ask my mother to concentrate on it. Sure enough, it always worked. She would stand still, eyes closed, then suggest a place to look – and there it was. So after her death, we all continued to do it – at first almost as a joke, but after exhaustive searches, when saying, despairingly, “… for goodness sake, mother, where is it?” …Whatever it was would come to light almost immediately.
One instance of this was when Gaile was about nine. She was anxious to finish some embroidery before going to bed. I let her stay up an extra half-hour but it was taking too long so I told her I expected to find her in bed when I came up to say goodnight. When I returned she was in bed, but hunting for her needle … against all warnings, she’d taken her sewing to bed with her! Having previously explained the danger, I was extremely angry. Before allowing her to move, I ran my eyes and hands over the eiderdown, all the sheets and pillows …no needle. Then I stripped the bedding off, searching every inch. Satisfied that it couldn’t be in, or on, the bed I remade it – although still examining each item as it was put back. At last she was tucked up safely, but I was still perturbed …where could it be? It wasn’t tiny, it was more like a darning needle, so I said aloud, “For goodness sake, mother, where is it? Find it for me.” Where it came from, I have no idea, but we both saw it at the same time – standing upright, sticking out on top of the eiderdown.
That was probably the first time Gaile and I shared the same weird experience. In later years we discovered that we are telepathic – at least it seems that when she is particularly worried or excited about anything, I pick up specific details about the cause. These cameos always come to me in my sleep as if I’m dreaming, but unlike a dream (and I do dream a lot) they have a different quality – a stark reality. I always used to describe them to my husband so that he could validate them. The first of these came after Gaile had been working away from home and not visited us for several months. We were expecting her to come for a fortnight at Christmas and about a week before her arrival I dreamt that she rang me and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’ve started smoking.” In my dream, I was horrified – how could she be so stupid, when she knew how hard it had been for her father to give up cigarettes? She sighed and said, “I need it to steady my nerves.” As soon as he woke up I told Michael about it and he said it was incredible – and, “What a damn silly reason for smoking, anyway!”
Two days before she was due to visit, Gaile rang up and Michael answered the phone. Her first words were that she needed to tell us something before she came home and would he please break it to me because she knew I’d be upset. She was astonished when he told her I knew already that she’d taken up smoking. She said she wouldn’t be able to get through the holiday without a cigarette but thank goodness the addiction didn’t last and we didn’t have to worry for long.
There have been other instances, all proving that a link does exist, but the next significant one was after Michael and I left UK and went to Brunei. Gaile and John had married in December, a few months earlier, and we had been there for only a few weeks – so the news she brought to me in my dream one night was totally unexpected. We were still living in the Brunei Hotel – excited by the new surroundings and preparing to move into our own accommodation at the end of the month. One would have expected my dreams to be of jungles and rivers, but instead, in the dream sequence, I was in bed, in the hotel (where in fact, I was) and the telephone rang. I switched the light on and saw that it was 3 a.m. I was alarmed about the earliness of the hour, but picked up the phone and heard Gaile at the other end. She was excited and said she was sorry about the time difference but couldn’t wait to tell me that she was pregnant. The dream then faded and I woke up, her voice still ringing in my ear.
Of course, I waited until morning to relay the information and Michael was very dubious – in spite of so many times previously having been proved reliable, he thought that perhaps, this time, it couldn’t be true – not yet anyway. I pointed out that the room I’d been in, when taking the call, we’d be leaving within a week, so we were likely to hear the good news sooner than later. A couple of nights before we moved out of the hotel, we were both woken up when the telephone really did ring. I switched on the light – it was exactly 3am. The phone was at my side of the bed and I picked it up – not feeling at all worried this time!
I held it so that we could both hear Gaile’s announcement and, astonishingly enough, she said exactly what I’d heard before … An apology for ringing so early came first, and it took a great deal of restraint not to butt in and say – she was forgiven, because we knew she was pregnant!
The first of my strange dreams came earlier than those I had of Gaile. Michael’s parents had visited us and over breakfast one day, the conversation turned to my mother (then deceased) and how impressive her visions were. Billy, his father, often used to tell my mother that if she’d born a couple of hundred years earlier she’d have been burned at the stake as a witch. He always delivered these words with a chuckle and she joined in his laughter, not the least upset. She never went out of her way to try to prove anything – always saying it didn’t matter, he’d find out for himself one day.
In spite of everything, he could never quite accept that there was a Spirit World and it was that particular morning that came to mind just after he died. I’ve forgotten whether it was the night before or the night after we attended his funeral when, in my dreams, I was being drawn slowly through a dark tunnel. There was a bright light at the end of it and as I drew nearer to it I saw something silhouetted against the light. It seemed to be only twenty or thirty feet away when I saw what seemed to be a bench and seated on it was father. He smiled and chuckled as he waved his hand about, indicating his surroundings (totally obscured to me by the blazing light). “It’s wonderful here,” he said, “They let me do what I like …but I still don’t believe it”.
As I drifted away, the circle of light became smaller and his laughter faded. Darkness surrounded me again and I awoke, wondering if I had been in the tunnel people spoke of when they returned to life, after a brief moment of death. If it hadn’t been for that reference to his still not believing it, perhaps I would have been able to put the vision out of my mind – accepting that it was just my imagination – not really communication with another world. Knowing him so well, it was exactly what I would have expected his reaction to be, finding himself able to enjoy the afterlife as much or even more than he had enjoyed his earthly one – still himself, but free of pain.
You might, understandably, prefer to dismiss my claim to have seen him, as wishful thinking – after all, there is nothing to substantiate it, but the next vision I saw in my dream-state was of Iris, Michael’s mother. She was wearing a long white gown, which struck me as strange because I’d never seen her in anything like it, in life. She walked towards me holding something out. Smiling, she said, “There’s a letter for you.” I told Michael and we could hardly wait for the postman to come that morning. There was nothing significant delivered and we forgot about it until his sister rang up at lunchtime. She said that letters for both of them had arrived that morning, at her address, so she had re-directed his and it would arrive the next day. However, she did tell us what it was about. Apparently a distant relative of their mother’s had died intestate and they were beneficiaries. The amount involved was very small and everyone who inherited returned more than half, to pay for a gravestone for him, but to us it was significant that his mother had communicated with me.
Michael had glaucoma and due to bad advice when working in Qatar, he lost the sight of his right eye completely soon after he retired. The sight in his left eye was also failing but he could still read or watch TV with glasses, for short periods. Without glasses, he was quite lost and whenever they were mislaid, everything stopped until they were found. Wallets and keys were in the same category, so you can imagine how often I cast my eyes heavenward and said, “For goodness sake, mother, help!” It always seemed to work, but I’m willing to acknowledge that they would have been found anyway, sooner or later. It just amused us. “Ask your mother,” he would say, when we ran out of places to look.
I was brought up to understand that I should never ask, or pray, for anything for myself, but only for things that would benefit others. In the same way – I should remember that people who have passed on before us are not idle, they have important work to do and I should never bother them with trivial requests. So there are many times when I resist the temptation to voice a plea for help. I am thinking particularly about the inexplicable re-appearance of my sewing machine ‘feet’. My neighbours, in Spain, live in England for most of the year and offered to take my very heavy sewing machine back for repair as they had driven here by car. The special feet – about a dozen of them – were laid in a thick preformed sponge sheet that was stored under the lid on top of it. They weren’t necessary for the repair, so I removed them and placed them in a plastic bag, which I rolled up and stored (I thought) in a small cupboard where I kept cottons, zips, buttons etc.
They don’t always drive out, so it was almost a year before the machine was returned, in good working order. Once I’d tried it, I hastened to put everything in place again and went to the cupboard for the feet. The bag wasn’t there. It was puzzling but I expected they’d be somewhere nearby, even though I couldn’t imagine why I would have had occasion to move them. Before returning to the UK, they asked if I was happy with the machine and I said I was, but mentioned that I couldn’t find the embroidery feet. I showed him the empty compartment and he said they hadn’t even realised there was a lift-up lid there – so was I sure I had removed them. If not, they would enquire at the repair shop. To their relief, I was absolutely sure I’d given it to them empty.
I don’t do much real sewing now – mostly running repairs – but every time I used the machine, I lifted the lid, at first automatically, before remembering the feet were missing. Then I kept looking at the empty space as a kind of reproach to myself for being so careless, and each time it set me off on another fruitless search. I looked everywhere, even in the most unlikely drawers and cupboards and to my friends’ repeated enquiries; I always had to report that I had not found them. At last I concluded that I must have thrown them away. Perhaps they had fallen from the cupboard into the wastebasket – I faced the fact that I would never see them again.
Although regretting the loss of the embroidery feet, I could manage without them, but having struggled to replace a zip one day, I was suddenly really angry with myself for losing the whole set of gadgets. “Give me a clue, mother”, I said, looking heavenward. “Where are they?” I didn’t put the machine away because I had more repairs to do, so it was still there on the table, exactly as I’d left it, when I sat down again to sew, the following morning. As usual, I lifted the lid – then sat staring for a few minutes, not believing my eyes. At last I dragged my eyes away, shut them and looked again, certain the compartment would still be empty, but it wasn’t. The whole set of feet was there. Lying neatly, each in its own slot, they looked as if they had never been anywhere else.
I jumped up to go and tell Michael immediately, but turned back halfway, to re-check that my eyes weren’t playing tricks. Last time I’d handled them they’d been in the plastic bag – so where was it? I hunted around and looked in the waste basket, but there was no sign of it. To this day, I never use the machine without checking that they are there, but have resigned myself to not knowing how. My friends were astonished when I told them, but related to me a similar incident that had happened to them – the mysterious and inexplicable return of something long-lost. They didn’t think I was losing my faculties, thank goodness. They always invited us for supper when they returned on holiday and after Michael died I went round there alone, four or five days after their arrival. Their vehicle had been broken into in France and the remnants of one suitcase were scattered. Only one shoe of a favourite pair of could be found. They had given up searching for it and the single one still stood alone in the wardrobe. They didn’t mention the shoe that night – it wasn’t significant then. The following morning, I had a call to tell me that after I left, they were together in the kitchen clearing up, and had, quite naturally been discussing the sad fact that Michael was no longer with us, but both said that they almost felt that he was, it was quite uncanny. They eventually returned together to the sitting-room and there on the floor, in the middle of the carpet was the lost shoe. Having other people witnessing incidents like this is wonderful. Michael was a very strong character. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he wants to make his presence felt. By involving my friends and other family members, he is also protecting me from being stigmatised as going mad!
The night he died, Gaile and I returned home, arriving just before midnight. We had been given some papers when we left the hospital and sat to read them. I was in Michael’s chair and switched on the extra bright desk lamp he’d used. It gets very hot so when I handed the papers to Gaile, I switched it off. A few minutes later she queried something and passed them back. I turned to click the lamp on again and it was already on. I said I thought I’d switched it off and she assured me that I had – she had not only seen it go off, she had heard it. We both felt a little less lost, thinking he might have come home with us, after all.
The following morning another neighbour came to see if there was anything he could do. He wanted to sit for a while in Michael’s study, where they had often chatted. He said it was difficult to believe Michael was not still there and we told him about the light coming on the night before. Gaile was behind him and I followed as we walked away, down the hallway to the kitchen. As he went in, he flung his arms out theatrically and said, “Well Michael, if you are still here, this is your chance to prove it, we’re all ready.” Immediately, we nearly cannoned into each other as we all stopped in astonishment … strange voices suddenly boomed out. It was Radio 4 loud and clear. I immediately went to the kitchen radio, although I hadn’t switched it on and the sound wasn’t coming from that direction anyway. Then we moved a tray and a fruit bowl aside and there, against the wall was the little portable radio that Michael always took into the garden. He had left it there when he came in from the patio, over a week earlier, the day before we left home to go to the hospital. Before you suggest it, I have to point out that had it been left on all that time, the little batteries would have been completely flat.
Gaile’s father-in-law died a few days before Michael’s funeral. So, immediately after, her husband and the boys had to fly to England for another funeral. It was a really terrible time for them all but they understood why Gaile needed to remain here with me. I was really grateful, but of course she couldn’t stay long. They were all soon back in Cyprus.
Many odd things happened during the weeks I was alone – nothing alarming, just unusual.
Garden furniture was inexplicably moved out of place and within hours of being set right, chairs would be dragged away from tables again, as if they’d been used. This happened often, even on completely windless days, yet it had never happened before, in all the years we lived here.
We have always been tidy with keys – every bunch has its own hook, colour-coded with name tags, but as his vision worsened Michael often misplaced them. It upset him to have to call me to find one he’d lost, so I often did spot checks on the keys to make sure they were restored to the correct hooks.
On my own I don’t have that problem – hanging them where they should be is habit, so I automatically go directly to the keys I need. But one morning my neighbour buzzed at the patio gate and I pushed the remote to let him in. I then dashed to the cupboard for the kitchen door keys – three on one ring and a single for the iron security gate. I was at the door when I realised I’d grabbed the wrong keys. It took a while to find the correct ones and I had to keep him waiting. I eventually let him in and explained the reason for the delay. We looked at the rows of keys and he agreed that it was extremely unlikely that I would have misplaced them in that fashion. Was it Michael making his presence felt again? I don’t know, but it is on my list of strange happenings.
I had a lovely letter from Michael’s niece, in which she mentioned his love of music. In particular she remembered listening with him, to Prince Igor, and I made a mental note to find the cd and put the music into my computer. Later that day, when I went into the room where Michael had his cd collection, it was the first thing I saw, lying on top of the coffee table, near the player. A coincidence, of course – just thought I’d mention it in passing.
Gaile returned to Spain in early December and a week later we left together, to spend a weekend in England, on our way to Cyprus for Christmas. I was naturally upset as the ‘plane took off from Alicante and I stared down at the hills below. Somewhere down there was my home. “I feel that I’m leaving him behind,” I said. Her reply – not to be silly – he needed a holiday as much as I did and would like Cyprus, was only half in jest! He had been too ill to make the trip but I knew he would have loved to visit them there.
We had booked an hotel near Manchester for two nights so, after a night’s sleep we were able to spend the whole day with Anne, who is now almost blind. It would have been too much of a strain on her to stay late, so we went from there to pick up John’s mother, to take her out for dinner (fortunately, she lives only about ten miles away from Anne’s home). We hadn’t booked a table anywhere; we were relying on her to choose a restaurant, being more familiar with the area.
There was a place she’d not been to for a long while, but had always thought that the food was good, so we decided to go there. On arrival, we discovered that the restaurant wasn’t open on Sundays but we could have a bar-snack. It was then too late to drive back, so we checked and discovered that the bar-snack was a very adequate, three-course meal. Thankfully, we settled in an alcove and were soon enjoying the meal. The bar was empty by then, apart from us and the staff. When he came over with coffee, the barman asked if we had any objections to someone playing the piano. We couldn’t see the piano anyway, but of course we didn’t mind at all.
Soon, the pianist began to play and I stopped mid-sentence when I recognised the music. Being Hungarian Gypsy Music, I was surprised to hear it on a keyboard but delighted anyway. I commented quietly to Gaile that it had always been one her father’s favourites. I’m not good at remembering titles, but knew this one because I’d heard it when Michael and I were enjoying our first night out together, after Gaile was born. We were in the Old Town, in Düsseldorf, dining at ‘Zum Kurfurst’ and a trio of violinists wandered between tables, playing requests. I wouldn’t have been able to name anything – so was impressed when, with great aplomb, he asked for Monti’s Czardas. Every time I heard the strains echoing round the house from records, tapes or CDs, I always remembered that romantic evening …and the title of the music!
My thoughts were back in ‘Zum Kurfurst’ again as the piece ended and flowed into another old favourite – and another – and another … Gaile and I were entranced. We couldn’t have compiled a program which covered more completely our family favourites of long ago; old fashioned, yes, but a lot of memories flooded back with every note. The performance came to an end eventually and after a while Gaile went to the bar to settle the bill. We hadn’t seen the pianist but Gaile couldn’t help commenting, saying how much we had appreciated the performance.
When she rejoined us, she looked stunned as she repeated what the barman had told her.
Apparently nobody on the bar staff even knew he could play the piano – he worked in another part of the hotel – had just finished his shift when he felt the urge to play, so had come to the bar and asked permission. He wasn’t even an older person, as one would have expected from his choice of music – he was in his early twenties. I have wondered since why we didn’t follow this up and discover more about him and what made him come to play for us that night, but it was then after midnight and we faced a long drive the following day. We were entertaining guests for dinner at the hotel we’d booked in Peterborough and, the day after, we had to go to Luton, to fly to Cyprus.
“At least we can now be sure that we didn’t leave Daddy behind, in Spain,” Gaile commented.
As we landed in Cyprus, I said, “Let’s hope he’s still with us” and what happened the following morning made me believe he was.
I woke up early on my first day there and, as there was no sound of activity in the rest of the house, I decided to read my book. For a bookmark, I’d been using a folded postcard-size advertisement from one of the hotels and it fell to the floor as the book opened. It wasn’t worth picking it up – I’d do so when I needed it, I thought. An hour or two later, someone brought me coffee. After they left, I read until the drink had cooled a little and then decided it was time to get up. The folded card was not where I expected to find it. Never mind, I thought, it must be under the bed, although it was unlikely to have bounced on the carpet. I groped under the bed and couldn’t find it. It wasn’t anywhere under or near either the bed or the bedside table. I shook the sheets and pillows, even though I had seen it had fall to the floor.
After washing and dressing, ready for the day, I searched again. I was on my knees peering under the bed, when Gaile came in and asked what on earth I was doing. Having heard the tale, she declared that she’d find it. Insisting that it didn’t really matter – I could use anything as a bookmark – didn’t cut any ice. Neither of us like admitting defeat! So everything came off the bed again and the space under it was searched. Even my nightdress was unfolded again and shaken out. It was no good – she at last agreed that it had vanished. I was sitting near the door when Gaile gave up and I stood up to leave. She passed me, opened the door, then turned as she held it for me, but she suddenly stopped and pointed behind me. “Is that it?” she asked. There, about eight inches away from both the bed and the table – exactly where I had expected it to fall, was my bookmark. Where had it been? We can’t imagine.
After the holiday, Gaile returned to Spain with me, to make sure all was well. She had dismantled computers and other things, for safety and security, and she needed to restore everything to normal for me. There were many times when we needed things for officialdom at large, and she was thankful that her father had been so well organised – she went unerringly to places on his computer and found information we needed. Many of my friends have taken the same precautions, so she wasn’t surprised at his foresight – just grateful. I recalled the moment, fifty or more years ago, when Michael insisted that I should learn all there was to learn about everything from balancing the household budget, to driving a car. He always said that when anything happened to him, I must be able to cope alone.
The idea that I would ever have to cope alone was one I dismissed … it couldn’t happen – when the time came, we would ‘go’ together; I didn’t want to think about it. Nevertheless, looking back, it seems that, like my mother, he had a premonition that he would go first. Statistically, it does happen that it is usually the wife who survives the husband, but his desire to ‘educate’ me always seemed pressing. Gaile is so like him in many ways, and was a great comfort to me. Her support, throughout, was fantastic and I had to remind myself, often, that I mustn’t be selfish. She was grieving too but had her own home and family who must be missing her …so she had to leave.
After a few weeks back in Cyprus, Gaile was taking a phone call from a friend in England. His words began to fade and as she strained to catch them she was suddenly stunned to hear her father’s voice on the line calling her name clearly and distinctly. She was overcome and ended the call immediately. Now she wishes she hadn’t – perhaps she could have answered, or heard more. I think probably not, having always understood that even the smallest communication takes a great deal of spiritual energy.
One of the most recent incidents I shall note here happened when I was securing the house before leaving to join friends for lunch. The small, inside window shutters were closed but I expected to return well before nightfall and considered opening them. There are grills outside but we’d always been in the habit of swinging the shutters over, even if we didn’t bolt them, so that, at a glance, they appeared to be closed. I decided to open them fully so that the indoor plants would benefit from the daylight and, with this in mind, walked towards them. There is a cabinet in the window bay, where I store DVDs and video tapes. It has glass, double doors which are held shut by magnets. They can be operated individually and need a firm push to close and a firm push to open them, which, either way, they do quite noisily. There is no halfway measure – they are open or shut.
I was about two feet away from the cabinet when, with a very loud crash, both doors swung open together. Alright, I thought, they can stay as they are …whether it was a directive from above or not – I decided there was no point in not playing safe!
I am blessed with many friends but I only discuss with those who are closest to me, the strange things that have happened during the last nine months – those who have every confidence in my sanity! They were as close to Michael as to me, and I think that, even if only for his sake, they are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. At least three of them can bear witness to one or more of the things I have related. Gaile, of course, knows the truth of my telepathic dreams …
As I have said before – it matters little to me whether or not any passing stranger believes me. I am writing this for my family. It is possible that my mother’s ability to connect to another dimension will one day be inherited by another child and if knowing about her enables the parents to cope with the consequences, then my time will not have been wasted.
Gaile is here in Spain with me now. Whether anything else of note occurs – whether or not anything unaccountably strange ever happens to me again, is in the lap of the Gods… Rest assured, I will not go looking for it. I might not even add it to these notes … they have served their purpose.
© Mai Griffin 2010