Living in a World of Ghosts
by Loren Rhoads
One summer when I was a kid, my mom tried to find things to entertain me and my younger brother. She decided it might be fun to go to the cemetery down the road and make rubbings of the gravestones there.
As we roamed around with the roll of butcher's paper and a box of crayons, Mom showed us our grandfather's grave. He had died of a heart attack before I was born. Next to his headstone stood a little gravestone for my cousin Karen.
Karen had died as an infant, killed in a car accident while I was a toddler. She would've been the closest cousin to me in age, even closer than my brother, who was born the year she died. Her headstone had a carving of a bird flying out of an opened cage. It said, "Think of her still as the same and say she is not dead. She is just away."
You know how you can feel those moments where your life changes? Standing in front of this little gray headstone changed mine. It was the first moment where I understood what death was, that it could take away babies as well as old men. It was the moment where I stopped feeling safe.
I wanted to believe that Karen and I were still connected in some way, even though I don't have any memories of her. In reality, I have nothing more than a photo of the two of us as babies, lying on a soft white blanket. Still, I wanted her to be my guardian angel, watching over me, moving through life with me. I wanted her to be a ghost, someone who could look at life from the outside and advise me. I wanted some kind of protector.
Weird things happened to me as a kid, but nothing I could point to as an actual haunting. That's why I was so surprised, years later, when my friend Blair showed up as an actual ghost. I tell that story in my memoir, This Morbid Life. Here's an excerpt: