When I saw my first ghost, I was nine years old, visiting my grandmother in North Carolina. I was playing on the front porch when an old man appeared. He was sitting at the opposite end of the porch, fast asleep and snoring loudly. At first, he startled me, because he hadn’t been there a minute before. But I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I was riveted by his every move, and an eerie feeling enveloped my body. Suddenly, he woke up from his nap, grabbed his chest, and fell right off the porch and onto Grandma’s flower bed. I rushed over to help him, but when I looked into the flowerbed he had vanished!
Covered with goose bumps and with my hair standing straight up on my head, I looked over at my brothers. Before I could ask them if they’d seen the old man, I already knew they hadn’t. So I did what I was good at: I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone. Months later, I overheard Grandma telling a friend about the former tenant who had died before she’d moved in. In a matter-of-fact voice she said, “Yes sir, he died of a heart attack right there on the front porch.”
Raised in a strict family where the motto was “Young’ uns are to be seen and not heard,” my brothers and I knew better than to go against the grain, or else a hard backhand was sure to follow. Grandma baby-sat my three brothers and me during the summer while Mama worked two jobs. My brothers and I were afraid of our grandma. Staying with grandma meant living in a world of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. I vowed that as soon as I was old enough to leave, I’d never go back to her hellhole of a house. Ever!
I met Tim in the early 1980’s, when I was twenty years old. Immediately, we were best friends. I confided in Tim about seeing dead people and angels as a little boy. Tim was fascinated, and he also believed that something great happened to us when we died. “It can’t all just stop when we’re six feet under,” he would say.
Later, after years of sharing Grandma horror stories with Tim, he said I should make peace with her before she died. I strongly disagreed, but Tim was persistent. He promised he’d come back to my old stomping ground and be supportive. Two weeks later, Tim and I were sitting in Grandma’s darkened living room. Grandma and I had little to say, but we managed to keep a conversation going despite our discomfort. She sat there in her rocking chair with a stack of Bibles on the floor beside her, a glass of bittersweet tea in one hand, fanning herself with her trusty butter-bean hat with the other hand. When it was time to go, I hugged her good-bye and kissed her on the cheek like I had done a million times as a kid.
A year later, Grandma died. I thought the only reason for being at her funeral was to support my mom. Less than a month later, Tim was hospitalized with chronic pneumonia. Within forty-eight hours of his admittance into Duke University Medical Center, he was diagnosed with AIDS. We were devastated.
For the next three and a half years, Tim was in and out of the hospital more times than I can count. We talked openly about what happens when you die. I did everything possible to empower Tim before he transitioned from the physical realm to the nonphysical realm.
During one of Tim’s numerous hospital stays, I recall bouncing into his room with his favorite family pictures to cheer him up. He was sitting in his bed, as white as a ghost. I asked if he wanted me to call a nurse, and he just held his palm to me, gesturing no. When he regained his composure, he told me what had happened.
“A hospital volunteer came into my room and stood beside the bed. She was an old lady who smiled at me and straightened the bed sheets. She never said a word to me. Then I began to recognize her, but I wasn’t certain how I remembered her. She made me feel like everything was going to be all right.
“The weird thing was that she was fanning herself with a funny-looking straw hat, sort of like a garden hat. When I asked her about it, she just smiled at me. Then a nurse entered the room to check my vitals, and the volunteer beside my bed vanished right in front of me! That’s when it hit me who she was!
“Eddie, it was your grandmother, and she was holding that damn butter-bean hat that you used to always make fun of!”
I was excited for Tim about his communication with the other side. However, Tim was not as enthusiastic about Grandma coming to check on him. But we did agree on one thing: this was a clear sign to us that the spirit world was alive and well and on our side.
I left Tim’s hospital room late that night. Getting into my car, I said a prayer to Grandma, thanking her for assisting me with Tim. Before I could finish my thoughts of appreciation, I felt her essence respond with a sincere “You’re welcome, honey!”
As Tim grew closer to leaving his physical body, we talked extensively about our friendship and love for each other. I made a promise to walk him across to the other side when his time came. “Hand in hand, we’ll walk across,” I gently told my best friend of eleven years. “You’re not going to have to do this alone.”
Two months before Tim transitioned, he began to experience tremendous bouts of dementia. His parents decided it would be best if he lived with them until he died. His mom orchestrated her work schedule and took a leave of absence to be with her youngest son. The day his parents came for him, Tim seemed better, almost coherent. We were both sad he was leaving, but we knew it was for the best. It was an emotional moment for us, and I was grateful that Tim was aware of his surroundings. I was nervous that he wouldn’t know me when his time came to transition. I was scared that his conscious thinking mind wouldn’t remember me, and that as the result of his dementia he might be too afraid or confused to cross over.
We hugged each other tightly and quietly cried in each other’s arms. In that moment I realized this was probably the last hug we would share. We felt helpless and oddly invincible as our love for each other reached a new level.
“If you help me get over there safe and sound, I’ll see that your dreams come true,” he said, laughing and crying at the same time. “And I’ll give you lots of signs so you’ll know it’s really me helping you out from the other side.” We laughed and made jokes back and forth until his parents arrived and took him home.
A few weeks later, surrounded by his family and friends, Tim lay practically lifeless in another hospital bed. His room was filled with many people who loved him. Each person took a turn holding Tim’s hand, saying a final good-bye. I patiently waited for everyone else to say farewell so that I could take my time getting Tim across to the other side without his family realizing what we had agreed to do.
Holding Tim’s hand and rubbing his arm, I monitored his breath closely. His exhalations grew weaker by the moment. I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and began sending telepathic messages and feelings to Tim. I could feel and sense his essence in the room and all around his loved ones. He was inside and outside of us at the same time. I held his physical hand tightly while waiting to feel the spirit hand touch mine.
Suddenly a glorious light emerged from everywhere and nowhere at the same time, as if I were floating in the core of the sun. I felt my best friend’s warm spiritual hand holding mine. His smiling face filled my mind’s eye. His pure positive essence caught me a little off guard. Tim’s soul self looked and felt radiant and healthy. He was whole and complete. Without words, we moved deeper into the light. Hand in hand we became light bodies, as the angelic essence of the nonphysical realm welcomed Tim with an open and unconditional heart.
I felt like a little boy again, the same little boy who saw angels and spiritual bodies in his bedroom, the kid who saw ghosts around him. This feeling, which I was experiencing on a cellular level, was the identical energy I had experienced as a child, yet it was a timeless, ageless stream of consciousness that words cannot describe. Tim and I floated inside it for what seemed like one second of eternity on the faceless clock of the Universe. From inside the veil of light emerged images and beings moving toward Tim.
We realized this was farewell. Energetically we hugged each other and said our good-byes. I thanked him for being my best friend in the whole world and vowed that we would somehow, be together again soon. In my mind’s eye, the image of Tim and me hugging transformed itself to the picture of me hugging Grandma good-bye the year before she died. In that same moment, Grandma was standing beside Tim and me. More people from the other side, people I didn’t recognize, came forward through the invisible veil to assist Tim on his journey home.
With his radiant smile and unconditional heart, Tim lovingly gave me the signal that he was okay. He motioned for me to return to the hospital room to be with his family and our friends. Upon opening my eyes and adjusting my energy back to the hospital room, I realized that Tim’s physical hand was still in mine. Looking at his worn-out shell of a body, I knew he was no longer inside it. His family and friends stood by his bed as Tim released the final breath that held him bound to a physical body in pain and suffering. Seconds later, my best friend was free!