Among the saddest and most poignant of ghost stories is the tale of a loved one who has passed, or who is passing, coming to say good-bye. I think sometimes it's subtle, like a random thought of a favorite uncle coming to mind for no reason. Or maybe spotting the loved one's favorite-and rare-bird at a particular time. Sometimes it's more obvious, like the person actually "dropping in" or making a phone call. Mine came to me in dreams.
My father passed away shortly after my thirtieth birthday. He and I had a peculiar relationship, more coach-athlete than father-daughter, or at least that's how I characterized it when I reached adult status. When I was small, my siblings assured me that I was his favorite. I don't know about that, but that's what I was told. As I got older, he and I started butting heads about various things, and there was one long-lasting difference of opinion that I don't think was ever completely resolved before he died. I think we basically agreed to disagree, although I don't doubt that he believed he was in the right until long after he crossed over to the other side. (My father could be stubborn that way.)
At any event, my dad diagnosed himself with cancer long before any of his attending physicians did. My father was a doctor and he knew what he was looking at. And because he was a doctor, he knew he didn't want any kind of treatment beyond something for pain when he got to the point of needing it. He did attempt one round of treatment, perhaps for the sake of my mother and the family, but after just that one, his original decision stood. Maybe about five or so months after the news of his illness was shared with the family, he became bedridden. Now, his one goal was to pass away at home, and since my mother was a nurse, and since my brothers, brother-in-law, and husband were willing to take turns spending the night to give my mom a hand in his overnight care, he got his wish: taking his last breath in his own bed with family as his personal hospice. Everyone pitched in willingly to make that happen.
At one point, my mom called the whole family to the house because she was sure he was about to leave us. It turned out to be a false alarm, but a short time after that, my dad came to me in a dream. I dreamed I was in his room and he turned down the sheet and blanket to show me a huge lesion on his leg. "What is that?" I asked him. "Cancer," he replied. I woke up right after that and felt sad and helpless and also somewhat mystified. It was such a strong and clear dream. I was sure he had come to me that night.
Within the week, all of his children were called back to the house again, and this time it was for real. He had lapsed into a coma by then, and we knew it was just a matter of time. I arrived shortly after dinner; my father left us a little after one in the morning with all of us at his bedside.
Jim and I were raising our children in the suburbs, and since it was such a long drive home from my parents' house in the city, and since we were all sad and bone-tired, I decided to crash on the living room couch until the following morning. And that night I dreamed of my father once more.
This time I entered his room and was surprised to see him standing at the bedside, looking like his old self, full of health and positively chipper. He looked at me when I entered and he said, "Time to go."
I remember gazing back at him and saying, "You look great!"
"I know," he replied with his characteristic grin and a bit of a wink.
The rest of that week was pretty sad: helping my mom with the day-to-day tasks and yet planning the funeral, getting an obituary written, making the phone calls, and all the things necessary at the time of a loved one's death. But through it all, I was never completely downhearted; I couldn't be. I felt like he had come to say good-bye, but also to let me know he was healed and happy and that I shouldn't worry about him at all.
We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but my dad was always a dignified man, a strong presence, and a class act. I think he came back to make sure my last memory of him would be exactly that.