Today the road to work will be jammed with Headless Horsemen, Ghosts shall roam abroad, and probably here to. Tonight is THE night for things to go bump. Mainly door knockers, admittedly, clattered by sticky fingered apparitions of tiny horrors demanding sugar "with menaces". Tomorrow the saints shall have their day, though here in Blighty that one manages to slip by essentially unmarked, but tonight belongs to spooks and spectres.
Around this time of year I too often have a restless night when the ghosts of two decades come to visit. They do nothing to threaten, offer no harm, they just seem to feel the need to stop by and renew an old acquaintance, before shuffling off to whatever the hereafter has to sustain them.
Their numbers swell slowly over the years as old friends from this world move on to the next. Many seem content to pass through, let go, and be let go, but some insist on sticking around for some unfathomable reason. I can detect no common thread save perhaps for my involvement in their care before their passing. They are of all ages and have been claimed by a disparate assortment of causes of death, but somehow the connection they made in life has carried forward to the present, and they insist on being remembered.
Allow me to introduce a few. There’s three very small ones all claimed my Microcephaly, a cruel malformation that leaves an infant with just enough brain tissue to survive perhaps a few years, unable to develop beyond total dependence, and prone to fitting and repeated chest infections. At the funeral of one of them they played a Bangles song that I still can’t listen to without welling up.
There are two old soldiers, one who regaled me with crystal clear memories of the Somme, but couldn’t remember what he had had for lunch, and who was still suffering the effects of the mustard gas that had ended his time in the trenches seventy years on. The other had his leg shattered by a machinegun bullet on the first day of the same battle. He was lucky enough to have fallen directly into the hands of the "enemy". Bavarian surgeons saved his leg where his own countrymen might well have not. Later, recovering from his wounds, his hand was shaken by the King of Bavaria. After the war he had a long and distinguished career at the footplate of a locomotive before enjoying a long and happy retirement.
One wag always asked for his appointment with "Dr Pest" with a twinkle in his eye. Consultations degenerated into a sparring of puns, which he seldom lost. Another dour ex-miner with ruined lungs suddenly brightened up one day, and apropos of nothing volunteered that as a lad he had a brief career as a jockey, and had ridden a couple of winners. His tips for the Grand National generally turned out to be absolute donkeys though.
Two ladies, both terminally ill, followed very different paths to their end. One started her pain relief very early in her illness, progressing slowly form intermittent doses of morphine to constant administration through a syringe driver. Still throughout her illness she supervised her household, saw her children through one more birthday each, a Christmas, a New Year, Valentines day, and almost made it to Easter before succumbing to her illness, and this despite being declared "terminal" the summer before. The other lived in constant fear the morphine would hurry her end, and was determined to resist that last step. She tolerated pain rather than accept the fact that this was going to be her final illness, and with grim determination set her affairs in order and slipped gracefully into a coma with minimal interference, fiercely independent to the end.
There are many others. Why they insist on being remembered I can’t say. But they stay with me, and I suspect will continue to do so down the years to come. Now and again they come to visit, just for a night, and then they quietly return whence they came. They ask nothing. It seems remembrance is enough for them. And so I will remember them.