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Ghost Whispers

I learned today that my sister passed away. I learned over the Internet that she died in November of last year. She was much older than me and never in great health, so I had wrongfully assumed she had “crossed over” years ago. Tonight in the still heat of a stifling Guangzhou I smelled the sour scent of some hard traveled memories and heard her whisper to me….

No, we were not close. Marriage came early for her, when I was 5, and before I was developmentally mature enough to crave or mourn losses. My military family was turning corners in or out of countries every three years or so and making the word “home” an abstraction. My sister was never in our family pictures. I saw her only a few times through the years and her face in my mind’s eye is blurred. I can remember her often speaking of pain and that remains palpable.

Until tonight I had almost forgotten I had a sister. She had been adopted by my unmarried mother at birth. She saw herself later in life as a stubborn vine that connected all of us to my mother’s alcoholic ex-husband and his mistress: She was the offspring of an affair, so her past was kept secret by my simple and well-meaning parents until she was a teenager. My mother and father, emotionally unsophisticated and afraid, asked a Catholic priest to substitute for them and tell her that she was adopted. It did not go well.

I have been watching DVDs this week “expat style.” We often buy two or three seasons of a show at a time, ones we cannot watch on regular TV and then air them from beginning to end in only a few days. It is a way to keep current with our abandoned culture and remain bonded to the lexicon, fashions and familiar emotions of our birth home. This week I have been storming through two seasons of Ghost Whisperer. And I have come to love the show for its generally positive outcomes, its promotion of health through acceptance and forgiveness and its desensitization of our collective fear of the unknown.* The protagonist of the show, who can see troubled spirits, helps earthbound souls unpack the heavy emotional baggage that holds them here. She helps them release after-longing and pain from the past so they can peacefully migrate into their future. It is not a story about religion, or eschatology (life after death), but about how to live well and without regret.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease and never was able to finally confront the trauma of being abandoned by her impoverished mother during the Great Depression. Too, she rarely spoke about the man who had deepened her emotional wounds later in life. She did so to protect herself and to maintain some illusion of normalcy for my sister and me. There was no malice in her deception, though my sister never forgave her or my father and never found emotional nourishment that would sate the pain. Where my mother insulated herself with delusions ( and maybe her disease), my sister did so with anger and distrust. After my mother died, I read in another Internet article that my sister had embarked on a public journey to discover more about her origins. I hope to learn one day that she was successful.

I wonder if other expats learn about their vacated lives past and present as I do? I view time compressed, via boxed sets of information that arrive in emails, letters, DVD’s and Internet entries. It was almost five years ago to the day that I leaned my sister’s husband had died an improbable death: an avid outdoorsman, he had contracted Bubonic plague from an insect bite while hunting. He was the first man in America known to have succumbed to the disease in decades. He was the most gifted craftsman I have ever known, but held back from his dream of being a woodcarver and gunsmith by the needy gravity of my sister’s suffering. So, I grieved my loss and his because his short fame was only in the peculiarity of his demise. We wandering expats may seem not to care about what happens to you, but we do. I do. And I, like others, frequent the few paths we can find along time’s rivers looking for signs of you. But can be a lonely and overwhelming journey when information flows so fast from so far away.

I laugh, mourn, celebrate and educate in absentia. Memory also presents to me as a frightened bird that requires patience to keep it nearby long enough that I can study, appreciate and accept both its beauty and its flaws.

I pray that both my sister and my mother are finally at peace. I long ago forgave them for simply being human. I hope they forgave this homeless child for the manifestations of his confusion .

I am the earthbound spirit now: I am on the banks of the river, coaxing the birds and vigilantly listening for whispers….


* In another coincidence, I was surprised to see that the crystal ball mind reader on the GW website was created by my old friend and British doppelganger Andy Naughton .

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13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Ghost Whispers”

  1. Jeremyon Jul 29th 2007 at 9:00 am

    Hmm… think happy thoughts. I agree with your sentiment – but not to the extent of it, at least not yet.

    Another reason not to stay away from home too long…

  2. The Professoron Jul 29th 2007 at 9:18 am

    Thanks, Much appreciated….

    I guess I went ahead with the post to try and capture some of the feelings that come with being a career expat….I think some people imagine it is all adventure and excitement….
    But, if it seems at all like I bemoan my life as an expat then I was not clear: I love my life and my adopted home, but don’t want pull up roots entirely….As acculturated or integrated I might become I am still an American, still an Army Brat, still a former soldier, and everything else that has brought me to this place where I really am content….

  3. The Humanaughton Jul 29th 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Lonnie, simply one of the most to-the-bone touching posts you’ve written. Well said. Though some what off from your point (but still bang on it), I loved this:

    I have been watching DVDs this week “expat style.” We often buy two or three seasons of a show at a time, ones we cannot watch on regular TV and then air them from beginning to end in only a few days. It is a way to keep current with our abandoned culture and remain bonded to the lexicon, fashions and familiar emotions of our birth home.

    Life in a sleeve of DVD-9s.

  4. The Professoron Jul 29th 2007 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks Ryan…
    Yours would have been a much better title….
    I guess it did not occur to this impoverished professor as I cannot afford the 9’s…I am still at 4.5 for the Russian voice-overs….:-)

  5. Timon Jul 30th 2007 at 9:18 am

    Your comment on the book China balance sheet is interesting, but the book is not that interesting. Well, I just read another new book, China and the new world order: how entrepreneurship, globalization and borderless business reshape China, by a Chinese writer george zhibin gu, which offers huge, insider’s insights and knowledge about the inner dynamics of a changing China and its global impacts. Gu’s book is far more interesting and relevant. I hope to bring your attention to it and would enjoy your comments on this great book.

  6. The Professoron Jul 30th 2007 at 10:12 am

    Send me a copy and I will review it….It is not available in Guangzhou’s bookstores….

  7. Sandy Carberyon Jul 30th 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I’m sorry about your sister Lonnie. I feel somewhat like an expat myself although I only left the country briefly. Having spent 16 years on the other side of the country has done the same to my familial relationships. I’ve recently moved closer to “home,” about an hours drive away but still on the other side of the world. Last night I saw my mother’s sister for the first time since my mother’s funeral almost 6 years ago. I asked her about her kids whom I haven’t seen in nearly two decades. I was surprised to learn of babies being born that I didn’t know about, and people’s passings that I hadn’t heard of. My own sister, who’s home we were at, is almost a complete stranger to me, and almost nothing like me, although we are only four years apart and grew up in the same household. The years have not been good to her and she is so very unhappy. My life on the other hand is so beautiful. It reminds me of why I “ran away” from home in the first place. I had to break all sorts of emotional chains to get to where I am today. Hugs to you and I’m sorry for your loss. Sandy.

  8. The Professoron Jul 30th 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Sandy, I am privileged to have met you during your expat adventure…..I am so glad things are good in your life….
    I am always glad to “see” you here….Thanks for the hug….What has it been? 13 years since a flesh-and-blood one?

    Warm regards to your family…..

  9. Happy Cookieson Jul 31st 2007 at 5:44 am

    Really sorry for your loss lonnie. sorry that I’ve been out of internet for a long time that I couldn’t see this article earlier.
    As a Chinese, I hardly can understand why someone would escape from home without any frequent contacts. But I know it was another type of life style, we own our own lives. I didn’t live with my parents since I was in primary school, but my mum and dad would come to see me as they could. There are so much experiences.
    Hope you feel better and best wishes…. Glad that saw you the other day months ago outside the north gate of Zhongkai Uni.

  10. The Professoron Jul 31st 2007 at 7:59 am

    Hey…It is always good to hear from you…..

    Yes, some American sub-cultures are different that way….But, In my case my father’s job kept us traveling around the world out of contact with everyone…Back then overseas phone calls were $1.00 a minute and we were very poor…My dad made $90.00 a month a a soldier….There were no blogs or email to catch people up on things….

    Hope to see you again soon….

  11. Nitaon Jul 31st 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Hi Lonnie. I have tagged you for the thinking blogger award:

    you can check that out. You have to tag five others… :)

  12. The Professoron Aug 1st 2007 at 1:45 am


    Thanks!! Coming from you, and the best blog in India, I am honored…..
    I will get something out in a day or two….


  13. Happy Cookieson Aug 1st 2007 at 2:08 am

    yeah, I know, just different life experience. Hope to see you again too. But I graduated from Zhongkai already. I saw Virginnia in the English trading school which she work with, it’s always good to see you. Reminds me those good time of english learning in uni.

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