Kin to a Ghost

Scene: Driving into mom’s driveway with mom after picking her up at adult daycare.

Tom: Look at that big old house, mom! It’s called Cheswick, but I call it the “Helen House”!

Mom: The “Helen House”! Do I live there?

Tom: Yep.

Mom: Did I make it that charming?

Tom: Yep! You did it!

Mom: Well, in that case, I need to work on it some more, because it is charming!

Tom: Yes it is.

Mom: Who lives there, now?

Tom: We do, mom. You and me.

Mom: We do? That’s a mighty big house for just you and me. Who is in there, now?

Tom: Nobody, mom. We are out here.

Mom: Well, we need to get in there right now so it won’t be lonely.

Cheswick - 1796

Cheswick, the house mom lives in and has lived in since my dad and she bought, hauled 500 yards from its original location and restored in 1973, was built in 1796.

That’s means it was built only 20 years after we won our independence from the Brits!

Mom has lived in the Cheswick for 38 years.

The Franklin family, who my folks bought it from, lived in it for 90+ years. That only leaves eighty-some years unaccounted for, although I do know a Baptist minister ran a boarding school at Cheswick prior to the Civil War.

This is curious because my dad was a Baptist minister as well, and mom was a teacher before she married dad. What are the odds?!

My two daughters have always suspected this old house is haunted and with creaking floors and squeaky doors, it sure seems like the right place for ghosts to want to hang out. After all, Cheswick is 215 years old! You have to believe a gaggle of ghost would have found it to their liking by now. They just don’t make houses made for haunting like they used to.

If there are ghosts in Cheswick, they could be coming from any of the handful of families that have occupied it, but one thing is certain, after last night, I know one of them is coming direct from my family tree.

Although it was a quick encounter, I know who this ghost is. And, by all rights, I should know, After all, I was kin to her when she was living.

The ghost I am referring to was my younger sister, Nel!

Last night was not only a quick encounter, but my first with my sister the ghost, or any ghost for that matter.

Here’s what happened.

My mom sleeps in a four-poster bed my dad made for them about the time I entered the family as the first born.

I don’t think I was conceived on that bed, because I don’t believe my mom and dad ever did what it traditionally takes to make babies. I think my sister and I were “lowercase immaculate conceptions”.

I just can’t picture my mom and my dad, you know, doing what it takes to make babies. Period.

But, hey, that’s not what this story is about. That’s what therapy is made for.

Anyway, when my mom crawls into that four-poster around 7 to 8 pm, she gets lost somewhere close to the center of its great big mattress, tucked away under a sheet, a blanket or two and a hefty bedspread. It could be the middle of summer or winter and it’s always the same.

She is one tiny bug in a big rug, that’s for sure.

Every night, she keeps the two table lamps located on either side of the bed on all night, but dimmed down real low.

She doesn’t really need the lights, because once she has settled in, she has settled in and most times sleeps all night without even once getting up to go to the bathroom.

Her bathroom ritual occurs just before she crawls into her bed and just after she wakes up around 8am the next morning. It’s like clockwork. I am with her all the way to make sure she doesn’t fall. I call her my little Weeble Wobble!

Four nights a week I sleep one room over from her so I can stay close in case she needs me or to calm her after an occasional bad dream.

Even though the two rooms have a door between them, I keep it open.

I also keep the receiving end of a baby monitor close at hand with the transmitting end right next to mom’s bed on the bedside table

The room I’m in was my sister, Nel’s. She slept in it, right next to mom and dad from the day they moved in until her death just this past March after a long, hard fought battle with Alzheimer’s.

Last night, the ghost, that I will call Nel until proven otherwise, brightened and dimmed, brightened and dimmed, brightened and dimmed the table lamps in mom’s room that I had dimmed after helping mom get to bed earlier last evening.

I counted three sequences before Nel turned them completely off, only to turn them on and then off again, you guessed it, three times.

All of this happened around 6 am. I couldn’t help but witness it while lying, eyes wide open, in Nel’s bed in what was her room. For some reason, I suddenly felt like an intruder … an uninvited guest.

I crept into mom’s room to make sure it wasn’t her playing games with the lights, which it wasn’t, because the fact was she was oblivious to what was happening. She was sound asleep and I suspect preoccupied playing the leading lady in an adventure filled dream of days gone by.

There was no one hiding under the bed or in the closets. Plus all the big old doors to the outside were locked tight. Believe me, I checked.

And, there was no sound of anyone walking in or near mom’s room. As I mentioned, this old house creaks even with the lightest of footsteps, so being stealthy, at least as a human, is impossible.

It was getting downright spooky and my sister, though I never saw her, was, almost instantly, my number one suspect.

One, she was a joyful prankster.

Two, mom had screamed out Nel’s name three times in a restless sleep earlier that night.

Three, Nel knew those lights and the rheostats on them like the back of her hand.

Four, there didn’t seem to be any malice associated with this brief encounter. And, my sister never had a malicious bone in her body.

It just seemed like a friendly ghost with way too much time on its hands.

Or, and this is my theory, one that wanted a little attention from her mom.

But, the real giveaway was the baby monitor. I heard the constant static sound from the receiver in Nel’s room suddenly stop hissing, but the LED light was still burning red, so it was on, indicating the electricity had to be on, too.

Three different times, I went into mom’s room to find her sleeping and the red transmitter light off on her monitor. And, yes I checked the electricity there, too, and the power was on. Yet, when I would go back to Nel’s room, the static sound would be back on … indicating that somehow, mom’s monitor was again up and running.

Three times this happened and my sister loved to do things in threes. She had to know I was staying in her room and that the main connection between mom and me was the baby monitor. Smart sister! She was connecting with both mom and me at once. Real smart for a new ghost, but Nel was always a fast learner.

For a split second, I thought the ghost could have been my dad who passed away in 2002, but then I didn’t think so because even though he was a prankster and funny in his own right, I believed he had too much respect for mom to wake her up or startle her while she was sleeping.

I also didn’t think it was dad and Nel because they would have used an old ghost trick and teamed up to make lots of unexplainable things happen at once. You know, spinning clock hands, whirling chairs suspended in mid-air, shoes walking across the floor seemingly on their own … that sort of stuff.

No, the more I thought about it, this was a one ghost job and a ghost that had been one big part of our family.

I also think the motive was pretty clear, if ghosts still have to have a motive like we mortals do.

I think Nel was playing gentle pranks on mom because, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, The Three Things in Life We Cry About, mom doesn’t remember Nel (except in her dreams, when she calls or screams out Nel’s name), hasn’t grieved for her and refers to her only as “that girl”.

These two were inseparable in life, so much so that we called them both Nelen! So, I think it has to make Nel a little sad, no, very sad.  Although, being Nel as well as being an angel moonlighting as a ghost, she must have a heavenly gift of understanding everything and must realize that it’s mom’s dementia that keeps mom from remembering her daughter and “bestest” friend.

Besides, Nel never had it in her to be anything but loving with mom, or anybody for that matter, so I can see how just a little playing around, in order to connect, might seem quite appropriate to her.

Maybe she just wanted to get mom’s attention in a gentle way and to whisper, “It’s Nel, mom. I am still here with you and for you, mom. Between dad and me up here, there and everywhere, Tom right there next to you, and Tovi’s and Lissi’s families just down the road, we’ve got you covered. It’s all going to be alright. We promise, mom.”

Maybe that’s what it was all about … a promise.

After all, I am a believer … as I always have been when it comes to my family.

The last thing I did before going back to bed was dim the table lamps in mom’s room, pull the covers up under her chin, kiss her forehead and whisper, “We love you, mom.”

About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

10 responses »

  1. Think “the signal” was just for you, Tom. Reminds me of the “Ghost” movie, and how hard it is for spirit to influence the world we live in. Must have taken Nel some effort to hit those lights! And I ‘spect she knew exactly where you were, as well as your mom….Sometimes we need the reassuring “signals”, and those are the times we get them…Reassuring in the sense in letting us know, there is more on the “other side”, even at the expense of being a little frightening. But, also reassuring in being familiar enough to recognize the “peculiars” of the characters we know and love…Sounds like a great story! And one I can believe!


    • Bion – Thanks for your thoughtful , comments. Sometimes I think you come from the “other side” or have somehow, someway visited there. Your insights and wisdom are both illuminating and inspiring. Thanks!


  2. I loved this story, as I do most of your blogs, as I am caring for my mother (age 89) also. She is not deep into alzheimers yet but her health is very poor.

    I saw my brother once after he passed away. He was telling me he was waiting for dad to pass over too.


    • Sheryl, you are not only an artist (the multifaceted kind) and have creativity oozing from your pores, but you have funny bones in your body and an irresistible spirit way down deep in that artist’s soul of yours. I enjoyed my digital cruise up, down and around your blog(s). I love creative people! We are a special lot and should be branded as national treasures and be able to get deep discounts on everything and pay no taxes and get free healthcare and get to ride monkeys anywhere we want and play with silly putty forever! You are a one of a kind original (that’s good)! Thanks for coming my way. I am open 24/7/365 …. operators standing by!


      • Wow, Tom! That was way nicer of a reply than mine warranted. Sometimes it is just hard to be funny, so I went for simple. Thank you for all of your comments.

        I did “mis-word.” I don’t know for a fact that’s why I saw my brother, but I think it is. We thought my dad had Alzheimer’s and was getting very difficult. As it turned out, he died that fall of Hemochromatosis.

        Your mother sounds like such a joyous, fun lady and her son has inherited that.


    • Have been revisiting the comments on Mom’s and my blog and just wanted to thank you again for yours. Comments like yours are what make my journey feel less lonely. It sure does take a village ; )


  3. That would be just like Nel! I believe too!!!


  4. I think of Nel and all the fun we had together. I should say all the fun I had with Nelen. I love these stories and each one touches my heart. I look forward to each one. Thanks for sharing all of this with us. It makes me feel I am still apart of Helen and Nel.


  5. How very dear, Tom. I’m still waiting for a visit from my dad — we had a deal! Because I want it so, I’m confident that he visits me frequently, and perhaps even offers a guiding hand of sorts, but I am likely too wrapped up in whatever to recognize the whisper, gentle nudge….or the hand gently (of course) across my mouth!


  6. Pingback: My variation of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ « Savanvleck’s Weblog

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