Restless spirits speak at Old Baptist Cemetery ~ Hannibal, MO

Years ago, I watched an old cemetery caretaker locate occupied, unmarked graves using dowsing rods. George was a devout Christian, yet seemed to have no issues utilizing this bit of witchery to accomplish his tasks.
Last Wednesday, using the same technology, I conversed with some restless souls at old Baptist Cemetery in Hannibal.
It was ostensibly your standard haunted tour, with stops at various decaying structures and stories of “what happened one time” but I did NOT expect the tour to end this way.

It was hotter than Hades, with barely a breath of breeze stirring except when our tour trolley was in motion. There was the expected aforementioned stops and tour guide banter, but as the trolley struggled up the last hill to reach Old Baptist Cemetery, the energy changed. The evening cicadas sang and ancient headstones leaned drunkenly, if they stood at all. Years of obvious neglect had left it in a shambles, and the professional side of me cast a slight frown on the use of a cemetery for tourism, but all that vanished when the dead began to speak.
I got my pair of dowsing rods, grasping them as George had shown me years before, and cleared my mind of any expectation or anticipation.

Then they moved.

They aimed to my left so I turned and they straightened as I faced their desired direction. My footfalls were soft, deliberate as I followed each gentle swing of the rods. Finally, I found myself at a clump of shrubbery, with a jumble of headstones underneath.
The conversation was silent, all mental, with the rods speaking for the other side. If the tips touched, the answer was yes. If they didn’t move, it was no.

Is this where I’m supposed to be?
Yes

Are you buried here?
Yes

I wanted to take a picture of the stones, but it didn’t seem right to do so with asking.
May I take a picture of the headstones?
Yes.
I moved some branches aside and snapped a few camera shots, including the one above.

I didn’t know what to ask next so I turned and started to see where to check out next.
The rods quickly swung around, pointing back to the headstones I just turned away from.
OK, I thought. Unfinished business.

We aren’t done visiting yet?
No

Is there something I can do for you?
A pause…
Yes

I had a strange feeling coming about me… not necessarily sadness but more of gentle anger, if that makes sense.

Are you upset?
Yes

I wasn’t sure what to ask next. Then thought occurred:

Would you like me to say a prayer for you? (Now this goes against my heathen nature, but in days of old it was tradition to pray when visiting the graves of family.)
Yes

Are you a Christian?
Yes
I mustered out a prayer that this restless soul would find peace and rest in the next world.
I paused for a moment, thanked and bid farewell to this soul and turned to see if the rods would swing back that way.

They didn’t.

I had a shorter experience at some toppled markers along the tree line. In short, I think they just wanted their presence known.

Now, as this experience unfolded, I had memory of visiting a palm reader and spiritualist a few years back. As she touched my hands, she yanked them back almost immediately, almost as if she had gotten an electric jolt from me.

She seemed very unsettled and surprised as she stammered out a question.

Have you had a lot of relatives die recently?

Ummm nope.

She continued “I see death all around you” and it obviously didn’t sit well with her.

I smiled. I told her that it was probably my job.

And with that, she relaxed. That makes sense, she said.

She went on to say that I had a unusually large number of spirits attached to me.

Now that surprised me.

She explained that they were attracted to me because of the kindness I had shown them.

Them?

She smiled. Yes. Don’t you realize that very often you are the last person to touch their physical form on Earth?

I guess that I had never thought about it, but it sort of made sense.

She closed her eyes. There’s one in particular right out front. A little boy, 8 or 9, maybe. Dark hair. He’s very close to you.

At that moment, I realized exactly who she was talking about. One of the worst funerals I ever had to do. A true heart breaker. A nine year old who died in a house fire. His service was so stressful that I had started smoking again because of it.

I asked her if there were any spirits attached that I needed to be concerned about. She said no. No evil or ill intent found among them.

As I stood in that cemetery, I decided that I would ask if she was right.

Are there spirits attached to me?
Yes

Is one a little boy named Brian?
Yes

Are there any spirits attached that I need to worry about?
No

At that point, the tour guide summoned us all to return to the bus. Others with me had some experiences just as interesting. If you find yourself in Hannibal, take the tour. Place your skepticism aside and take a walk through Old Baptist with an open mind. Ask questions that only you know the answer too.

My guess is that you’ll find the answers among the tombstones.

My first almost girlfriend… rest in peace

Allow me to grovel at my extended absence from this blog.  Life had delivered a few sharp blows that sucked the wind right out of my writer’s sails…but today, I saw something that forced me back to the keyboard.

Sadly, it’s tragedy that brings me here.

Any of you that know me understand me as an awkward person.  Always have been.  Always will be to varying degrees.

In high school, I was even worse.  Exponentially so.

I never went on a date in high school.  No dances.  No movies.  No senior prom.  I was too painfully shy.

In my junior year, I was required to serve 3 weeks as a social service project.  I chose Children’s Hospital where I thought I could feed babies and pull little kids around on wagons… and I did those.

But I also met a beautiful girl my age there.

Her name was Shannon.

She happened to be very down to earth and friendly.

I was awestruck.

I looked for any excuse to hang around in her vicinity.

I talked to her.  Conversation came free and easy.

I screwed my courage up and asked her out on a date.

She said yes.

Fairy tales would have had us falling in love, complete with white picket fence and Volvo station wagon.

Ok… probably not a Volvo.  Her dad happened to own a Pontiac dealership.

But my life is no fairy tale.  And the date never happened.  Not through her own fault, but due completely to my own cowardice and insecurity.

I never followed through.  I never had the stones to call her and set up the date.

Every now and then, I would flip through a photo album and see photos of myself and a couple of high school chums in our blue volunteer vests hanging out at Children’s Hospital.  I even had a picture of Shannon and I in there.

I would smile.  What a silly, stupid kid I was.

And then today happened.

I was enjoying a gas station hot dog for lunch and flipping through the paper and a headline caught my eye.

“Funeral set for cancer patient beaten to death”

I started to read the article and dropped my hot dog in disbelief.

It was Shannon.

Now I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since then…but I was still sad and shocked.

She was seeking treatment for cancer in the Chicago area.  Sitting at a bus stop.  Some lowlife subhuman came up behind her and bashed her in the head.  For apparently no reason whatsoever.  Not robbery or anything else.  The guy simply ran off.

What the actual fuck is that?  What sort of piss poor excuse of a world is this really coming to?

She was on life support for about a day.

And died.

Died trying to fight death from another source.

A blogger friend of mine wrote a very popular post called “A Senseless Death”

Donnie, I have to compare this loss as just as senseless as the one you wrote about so beautifully.

Godspeed Shannon.  You’re with your dad now.  Watch over your family.

I am sorry for the way your life ended here.

 

 

 

The Demon Why

Yesterday, I read an amazing blog post by my friend, Don. You can find his blog at donofalltrades.com. Don is a good cop, maybe the best of them. He understands how compassion, kindness and humor can defuse and remedy a lot of the awful situations he faces every day. I admire him and his writing is superb, but I especially admire his ability to do a job that I once thought I wanted but realize that I don’t have what it takes.
His latest post is called “A senseless death” and by reading it, an all-too-familiar demon was summoned.
The demon “Why?”
Through my years as a funeral director, I have had many encounters with clergy of all faiths who have been unable to dispel this particular demon satisfactorily.
He’s a demon that I just can’t seem to shake.
I have one of those jobs that brings things into my life that makes me wrestle with “why” on a regular basis.

*Why does a 6 year old have to take a bullet from some sub-human and die?
*Why did two sons from the same family die a couple of years apart? Both of them under 40. In unrelated circumstances. Why did I have to try and bring comfort to their wonderful, loving parents who hugged me and handled the loss seemingly more at peace than I did?”
*Why did the mother of an 8 year old boy (whose death from cancer stirred emotion from even us weather-beaten old salts) get murdered only a year or so after his death?
*Why did the friends of my parents have to suffer the loss of 2 children? One from suicide and one from a car wreck?
*Why did all the prayers of so many people that were being said from my father’s dying wife have no apparent effect?

For all my conversations with clergy, the common theme seems to be faith.

And forgive the brevity of this post, but I am having a hell of a hard time keeping faith alive when confronted with the demon “why” every day. I don’t know how my friend Don holds it together when he sees even more than I do.

September Requiem

At risk of sounding like a moody sentimentalist, days like today always bring out the pensive thought.

Many people will look at today with somber reflection, if not reverence.

Just as many will say “so it happened.  Get over it and let’s move on.”

But I can’t.

I remember this day in vivid detail.

I heard about the first plane hitting the first tower on some banal syndicated radio show (Bob and Sherri-some piped-in pathetic attempt to make up for the station’s own lack of local talent).

They talked of tragedy and unfortunate accidents…

then the second plane hit.

You could hear the fear and disbelief in their voices.  After all, I believe that their own show was broadcast from New York.

I ran from my car into the lounge where everyone was huddles around the television.  Raw footage was being sent in from every direction, and raw misinformation was pouring in from the same vicinity.

I think if one moment defines this days immortality to me, and perhaps me alone, it was the filming of one person clinging to the window frame of one of the towers, and then jumping.

The camera followed him down, but we were spared the impact shot by another building screening the streetscape from the camera.

How does one forget that mental picture?  How does one move on?

I admire those who can.  These strike me as being similar to those who make hasty, simple funeral arrangements for their own in a weak attempt to avoid the pain and grief that ride shotgun with the Reaper.

I have never believed this to be effective method.  Pain and grief are patient and calculating.  You may dodge the bullet for a moment, but that sucker has radar and can lie in wait, for months or years if need be, until you decide to poke your head up to see if the coast is clear or not.

It can and will hit you, when you aren’t looking or expecting it.  It might manifest itself in the destruction of a relationship, or the overindulgence in drink and/or agriculture.

But you will feel it.  Like the bite of a razor sharp knife whose initial sting is mild and the blood doesn’t appear immediately.  But those wounds always need sutures to heal.

The skyline of Manhattan is like a gap-toothed hockey player’s smile.  It’s still there, but with obvious subtractions.  The psyche of the nation is very much the same.

But for a short while, we were like a dysfunctional family in a bar fight.  Someone punched my sister(and I might hate that bitch) but you are not going to hit my family and get away with it.  Differences are set aside and the family fights as one unit against everyone outside the family.

We were able to do that as a nation.  Politics, race, economic status were finally taking a back seat (albeit temporarily) to us being the America that we always wished we would be.

For a very short time…  and then it was back to business of bashing each other as per the usual protocol.

As a people, we each stand at different vantage points, scanning the skies and heavens to wonder if something like this might ever happen again.

Maybe not today.  You’d sound crazy if you walked into the Hancock Tower in Chicago with some Chicken-Little tale of doom.

But then again, you would have sounded just as crazy if you would have walked into the lobby of WTC 1 on September 10, 2001 with a description of what their tomorrow would bring.

And I think that’s why I choose not to let go, move on and forget the falling man.

I wait and soothe my children with nonsense to ease their own fears of hijacked planes and school shooters.  Because they deserve their childhood, and because their fate is not always in my hands and my mind will not allow me to consider the unthinkable.

The falling man reminds me every day that we know not what tomorrow brings.  To live in our moments each and every day.  To give our loved ones real hugs and passionate kisses.  To look them in the eye and speak the words they crave.

The falling man deserves more than just being an anonymous footnote on some Wikipedia entry.  He had a family that went through his mind as he fell.  A family that waited in vain for him to come home that night, just to see, touch and speak with him one more time.

The most valuable lesson, and unforgettable teaching of the falling man is to always remember what is the most treasured part of your life.

That, friends, is why today is worth remembering.