Monday, October 30, 2006

How our toddler offered thoughts of an after-life

Let me initially give a little background to a strange experience. My wife's parents died aged in their 50s and it was many years before any of our three children were born. So my own parents were the only grandparents our kids knew. My Dad died suddenly when the girls were each aged 6 years, 3 years and 7 months old. The older two knew their grandad. It saddened them when he died and they then avoided talking about him to anyone. Our youngest, Shona, was far too young to have any recollections of him. She grew up just knowing her granny, who lived until Shona was almost 12. Hence the word Grandad and the concept of what it meant were unknown to her when she was a toddler.

Shona learned to talk very early, she could make sense and have reasonably good conversations by about the age of two years old. One Saturday afternoon, a month before Shona's 2nd birthday, we were all in the kitchen about to eat a meal. We were talking about what might be on the telly and Shona was sitting at the kitchen table just generally humming to herself.

Quite out of context to anything we had been discussing, Shona said...

"Grandad loves me."

I was sitting opposite Shona and it seemed odd to me for her to use that name. She was never even taught such a word at her age as there was no such person in her life.

"You mean Granny loves you", I corrected.

"No, no, Grandad loves me".

This was becoming a little intriguing. I thought I better test her further.

"Is Grandad a man or a woman?" Maybe she was getting the terms granny/grandad mixed up and really meant her granny.

"A man".

Mmmh. I had to think a bit on this and my wife was also now showing some interest. The older two girls also thought it strange for her to mention a grandad.

I wondered if she really did mean one of her actual deceased grandads and if so, which one.

"Where did you see Grandad?" I asked.

"In Granny's house".

"You sure you don't mean you just saw Granny?"

"No, Grandad".

"Where in Granny's house did you see him?"

"Not Granny room, other room."

There followed a tricky bit of conversation to extract from a toddler as to what room she meant. It turned out she meant the front downstairs room of my Mum's house. It was a sitting room but never used much. My Dad had tended to use this room to sit in sometimes as it was cooler for him - my mother liked extra heat.

On digesting this later something else clicked in my mind. It was a minor incident a few weeks earlier when we were over in my Mum's house visiting. Shona had been walking around and had wandered into the front room. When she returned to us in the back room she came over to my wife and I and said gently...

"There's a man in the other room".

My wife and I looked at each other and at my Mum. We knew it couldn't be true what Shona said and shrugged her off. However she repeated that there was a man, so I reluctantly got up from my seat and brought her into the front room.

"See Shona, no man here", I said.

Shona didn't say anything further and that was the end of that. However this little incident came back in my mind after Shona explained to us that this was the room where grandad talked to her.

Still in our own kitchen I asked Shona another question...

"Is Grandad a big man or a small man?"

"A big man".

By Dad was big and heavy for sure, but then I thought that to a toddler every man is big I suppose.

My wife then asked Shona...

"Is grandad happy?"

"Yes. He said he's on his holidays".

Following a few seconds reflection on this answer the hair almost stood up on my head. It seemed to me exactly how a person might explain a concept of Heaven to a small toddler. I tried to subdue my brain from racing away from remaining balanced and objective. But we had never taught her any religion or any such concepts whatsoever at her age.

It was difficult to get much more detail from Shona due to her limited communications skills. She did however give a vague impression that grandad played with her...

"He's like a doggy" she smiled and did little doggy panting sounds with her tongue out to imitate him. At first this didn't make much sense. On further reflection though I do recall my Dad getting on his hands and knees on the floor playing with children when he was a younger man, usually pretending to be a horse actually. He used to give me horse rides on his back when I was a small child.

Over the following days I managed to learn a bit more from Shona. I decided to try a careful experiment. There was no photo of my Dad on display in our house or indeed my Mums, so I knew there was no way on Earth she should relate a photo of my Dad to being her grandad. I reiterate that my Dad died when Shona was a baby of 7 months old, she was now almost 2 years old. Nobody but myself and my wife had access to photo albums with my Dad's picture. I sat on the floor with Shona and opened a photo album in which I knew that in about the 5th page there was a photo of my Dad. I opened each page slowly and just let her talk about who she recognised. There were mainly pictures of myself, my wife and the kids. She smiled and knew each person in her family and pointed them out by name. When I opened the page which contained a photo of my Dad I deliberately said nothing. Shona didn't hesitate though...

"There's grandad", she pointed with glee.

My heart missed a beat, I was floored. It seemed impossible. I stake my life that none of us had ever discussed or shown photos of my Dad to Shona. I later quizzed the other girls separately and I'm quite certain they never discussed nor had access to a photo of grandad to show her. They didn't even talk about grandad to us and they only did baby talk to Shona to make her laugh.

After Shona had recognised my Dad in the photo I felt reluctantly like asking her another question. I was reluctant for a few reasons - firstly it was a selfish question, coming from me being an only child perhaps, and also because I didn't expect her to be able to answer it. After a reflective pause I found I couldn't let it pass and I asked Shona if grandad had ever mentioned myself to her. What happened next from a child of this age was strange, both in what she said and how she said it.

Shona turned her head up from the photo album to me and looked me in the eyes with a purpose which surprised me.

"Grandad said he will mind you."

This was rather overwhelming as you can imagine.

As the weeks and months passed Shona's memory of these incidents faded and she reverted to not knowing who grandad was. The phase had lasted maybe 2 weeks.

I've little idea how to explain any of this logically. Was she reading our own minds, was she psychic? If you ask Shona today aged 17, she has no memory of grandad, except what we told her she had said.

My views on potential afterlife tend to be rather openminded, coloured by what I know of matter and energy and the physical universe. I could accept that there is no afterlife if it happens to be true, but I also realise that there are many things that we cannot yet grasp. It's unwise to be closed minded in this area. I can't explain how Shona came to communicate to us as she did for a few short weeks as a toddler. But any time I'm feeling that death is final, I think of what Shona had told us fifteen years ago. How strange that a tiny child still in nappies could offer us such depth of thought and even hope.


Anonymous said...

Spoooky, perfect for today.

I remember something the same-ish with my own daughter when she was about one and a half. We were having an afternoon bath. She was standing up pouring water over me or something when she said 'there's a man, hiya man, mans away'.

I have never leapt up out of a bath so quickly in my whole life, there was no one there but she saw someone and even waved at him.

-Ann said...

Excellent story, John. Spooky, but in a good way.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks guys. Actually the Halloween timing coincidence never occured to me until Red Mum mentioned it!

I'd love to hear other strange events. My daughter's experience is only paranormal event I've ever been close to.

-Ann said...

I'm going to mangle the details of this story and not tell it as well as you would, John, but a friend of ours said that she had a ghost in their house. It was a guy who had lived, and died a natural death of old age in the house before her family bought it. One day, the family was in one part of the house (maybe sleeping upstairs - like I said, I am fuzy on the details) when an electrical fire or something happened in the other part of the house, the kitchen, I think. In a room next to the kitchen, a large bookcase or something was knocked over - no way it could have happened on its own. That woke up the family and essentially saved them as they were able to get out and deal with the fire.

My grandmother died in her own home two years ago and I like to think that she'd watch over the family who bought it (a young couple with three kids) in that same way. We heard from a neighbour that the mother of the new family loves the house and says that she can feel that it is a house filled with love and happiness. I'd like to think that is all down to Nana.

Katherine said...

That's a great story. I've no explanation for that one!

faolain said...

Mum died two years ago. My sister Marie lived across the farmyard with her 3 kids, including Sharon, who was 7 and had a close but very confrontational relationship with her Grandmother - they were 2 stubborn women together, despite the age difference, always pottering about the garden.

Some weeks after the funeral, Marie noticed Sharon continuously glancing out the window, instead of concentrating on homework, so she asked 'What are you looking at?'

"Just Granny and Grandad and Fr Cremin waving at me. But Fr Cremin looks strange - he has red hair"

Dad, who had died 5 years earlier, had been very close friends with Fr Cremin who died a few weeks before Mum. By the time Sharon knew the priest, what few hairs he had left were very white. Had someone told her he was a redhead when younger?

Since then Sharon has occasionally mentioned that Granny has shown her which flowers to pick or water or some other casual interaction. Marie has tried to be casual about it but recently Sharon asked "If I see Granny, does that mean I'm haunted?".

Naturally, Marie reassured her "No, it just means Granny is still looking after you".

Sinéad said...

Great story John. I know so many stories like this that I'm inclined to believe (because of my own experiences) that they're true.
A similar thing happened to my young cousin after my granny had recently died, he kept claiming (at only two years of age) that granny was standing in the corner of his bedroom. I've read that very young children are meant to possess some sort of psychic ability at a young age, but I don't know why.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks Ann, Katherine, Faolain, Sinead for your comments and stories.

I hadn't realised that children experienced strange things like this so much. There are definitely many strange things which are difficult to easily explain. It's very interesting. We should start a debate on the paranormal. I think I'll start a new blog on this.