Ghosts In Alabama

I thought I saw you today. I was walking through a crowded place. A Trader Joe’s, if you can imagine. You bumped into my shoulder. Then you walked past me.

It was you. I was momentarily stunned. I thought to myself, “Hey, that looked like my…”

But no. It couldn’t be. There’s no way.

So I followed you through the store. I pushed my buggy around, skulking behind aisles, pretending to read labels on ridiculous products that no sane person would ever buy. Such as, a package of gluten free barbecue-flavored seaweed.

I stole glimpses of you. I peeked around corners. I stalked. And well, you turned out to be—big surprise—someone else.

As it happened, you were just some random shopper filling their cart with cheap wine and obscene quantities of cheese.

When you walked past me again, I felt like a Grade-A fool when I said, “Hi.”

The person who looked like you sort of glared at me like I was Kathy Bates from the 1990 movie “Misery.”

Writing this now, I know I was foolish to follow some poor sap around a supermarket like an Amway representative. But sometimes you can’t help yourself. Sometimes the memory of the dead is so precious that you’ll do anything to keep it alive.

You’ve been dead for a long time. You’re Up There. I’m down here. And I still grieve you, although you’ve probably forgotten all about me.

I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting me. Life on earth isn’t nearly as memorable as what you’re doing. You’re probably happily taking in the sights, playing bingo at Heaven’s Community Center, drinking fruity drinks festooned with ginormous chunks of pineapple, umbrellas and live parrots.

You’re attending huge potlucks beside the River of Life, making new friends, eating potato salad alongside Henry Ford, Don Knotts, Abraham Lincoln, Bud Abbot, Lou Costello, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

But I still think of you. And whenever I replay our memories, I’m still a child who speaks with a high-pitched voice, who is afraid of the dark and who occasionally, but not very often, pees the bed. My memories are like home movies. In my movies, you’re still beautiful.

One time, I thought I heard you call my name.

Isn’t that silly? I actually thought I heard your voice in a public park when I was walking my dogs. I just knew it was you because your voice had that familiar lilt.

I remember your voice. It used to have this “I never met a stranger” tonality to it. Which is probably why everyone at your funeral sincerely believed they were your best friend. You made them feel that way with your voice.

So anyway, I looked around the entire Avondale park for you. High and low. But I never found the familiar voice. I finally gave up and sat on a bench beside the sculpture of an elephant and I felt pretty stupid.

I watched a dad play baseball with his son. I watched a mother and her daughter feed mallards, tossing smooshed pieces of Colonial bread into a pond.

I watched two young parents teach their son to ride a bike without training wheels. After the boy fell onto the sidewalk and split his eyebrow open, his mother helpfully rushed to her son and, in a moment of pure maternal love, videoed the whole thing on her iPhone.

And I thought about our lives together. I thought about how our paths intersected briefly, here in the medium of time and space. And I realize how little I knew about you.

In the great scheme of existence, within the scope of history, nobody really knows each other. Not fully. We don’t have enough time to know one another entirely. We’re like fireflies who spend one amazing summer together, and then, poof, it’s all over.

Moreover, the older I get, the more I realize that I am forgetting even what I did know.

I forget the way your hair smelled. I forget the way you’d politely laugh during conversation with people who told non-funny jokes.

The way you loved black licorice. The way you sang louder than anyone during the national anthem. The way you always answered, “Sir?” after each question because you were 90-percent deaf in your left ear.

The striped shirt you wore on the last night I hugged you. Your reading glasses. The way your chin stubble felt on my face when you kissed me, your son, goodnight.

The dead are always alive in your thoughts. You dream of them. You hear them speaking. You feel as though you could touch them. Sometimes you smell them.

On a clear night, sometimes you feel them standing behind you. Sometimes you see them in your mind. Or in your heart. Or in your feebly written sentences.

Other times you’d swear on your mother’s eyes you saw your father in the grocery store.

55 comments

  1. Sandi. - April 12, 2022 7:44 am

    The memory of loved ones we’ve lost is so comforting.

    Reply
  2. Julie Patterson - April 12, 2022 9:27 am

    I remember seeing my mother in a department store at Christmas nine months after her funeral. I saw her across several jewelry counters and across a crowded aisle. Mom was moving around a circular rack, pulling out a blouse, examining it, putting it back.

    It couldn’t be her, but it was! It was her hair style and color, the way she looked at the clothing, her softness. I called, “Mom? Mom!” through the holiday shoppers, who suddenly increased in number. She turned and looked in my direction; it was her!

    Frantic, I tried to reach her, but the crowd of shoppers swelled. When I finally got to the clothing rack where I’d seen her, she was gone. The crowd had thinned, and I walked through the women’s department, searching for her. She was gone.

    Sean, I have often wondered if we are sometimes given a brief glimpse of the people we miss. Perhaps the glimpse reminds us that great love never dies.

    Reply
  3. Trudy - April 12, 2022 10:38 am

    Sean, I believe we sometimes get signs from God about our passed loved ones. I don’t believe the man bumping into you in Trader Joe’s was an accident. I think it was God letting you know that your Dad is okay. Yesterday I saw the reddest cardinal at my mother’s bird feeder in my back yard as I looked out the window. It seemed to turn and look in my direction. I had a conversation in my head about whether it was a sign from my Mom ( another mother Mary) who passed away in July of last year. I said to myself or to God, if this is a sign, let me see a hummingbird. My mother loved cardinals and hummingbirds. I moved a few steps to my sliding glass doors and there sat a hummingbird on the feeder. Mind you, I put the feeder out four days ago and had not seen one yet. I knew then that this was God letting me know my mother was in His hands. I looked for the hummingbird all day but it never returned. It was just there when I asked for it and needed it.
    Don’t feel silly about thinking this man was your Dad or whenever you think you hear his voice. Take these as signs from God. He’s letting you know that your Dad is doing just fine and sending his love.

    Reply
  4. Nell Thomas - April 12, 2022 10:51 am

    I see mom quite often. Walking slowing holding on to that buggy that looks like a box car compared to her small, frail frame. I want to run up to her and ask if she would like to go home with me. I would tell her: “I will take good care of you, fix your meals, pay your bills and tuck you in a warm bed at night. I will have more patience and do a better job than I did before. I moved on, checked out and low and behold- if I didn’t see her dark green Explorer park at Dirt Cheap- bargain hunting-“somebody could always use some extra socks.”
    My sock supply has sure dwentled since November 26, 2018. Love you mom.

    Reply
  5. Tuppence - April 12, 2022 10:54 am

    I followed my Nan around a supermarket with one of my young daughters in tow. To this day I sometimes hear her call my name. Nan died when I was 12, some 45+ years ago. Those we love never really leave us, they’re always with us.

    Reply
  6. old4eyes - April 12, 2022 10:55 am

    I knew who you were writing about after the first 4 paragraphs. My dad died when I was 15, and I wish I missed him half as much as you miss yours. He was always around, but we never seemed to be that close. Maybe because I don’t remember him ever hugging me. Keep cherishing those long-ago times with your dad, Sean.

    Reply
  7. Toni - April 12, 2022 11:18 am

    Sean, I just recently discovered you. I loved your way of thinking from the very first post I read. I lamented that I had not discovered your writing sooner, but realized that maybe I was not ready before and that I will appreciate your thoughts and experiences and humor more now than I would have when I was younger.

    I lost my daddy when I was 14 in 1980. I have seen him over the years and dreamed of him more times than I can count. I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, so I can’t express how I really feel in words. I thank God for giving you the gift of writing so you can.

    And thank you for knowing it is a buggy and not a shopping cart. 😊

    Reply
  8. Sarah - April 12, 2022 11:25 am

    Thank you for writing this today, Sean.

    Reply
  9. Charlene Fugler - April 12, 2022 11:35 am

    I am not sure how many years I have received your emails but your messages are always just so great. This one hit home as I have lost young loved ones and though my Dad is still with us, he has dementia and the past for him is mostly gone. He still remembers me when I tell him I’m his daughter but I am sad for the Dad he was and cannot remember. God remembers him though. I know this!!!!

    Reply
  10. Marilyn - April 12, 2022 11:41 am

    Thank you for reminding me that I had a loving father (and mother) too. Excuse me while I get a tissue…

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  11. Shelton A. - April 12, 2022 11:48 am

    Maybe you did see him. For a brief instant he was there, just checking on you, then he was gone. You never know. God’s blessings and peace.

    Reply
  12. Sulley - April 12, 2022 11:54 am

    Thank you for this story Sean. Daddy’s been gone 28 years but I still remember the days/weeks/years after his funeral when I would light up because I “saw” him in a crowd or somewhere else where I was far enough away to make a mistaken identity. It soes not happen so much anymore. It was a painful but sweet memory!

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  13. Dorothy Robinson - April 12, 2022 12:10 pm

    This one made me cry. You’re a gifted writer for sure.

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  14. Jan - April 12, 2022 12:17 pm

    Memories, both joyful and painful, are what keeps us connected with those we miss so much. Hold on to them because they become even more rare as the years pass. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  15. Kate - April 12, 2022 12:24 pm

    Sean, I know personally of several incidents where people saw individuals who had passed over, sometime months afterwards, sometimes years afterwards. It might have been just a glimpse and never more than several seconds but they did see their loved ones, others see them in dreams, and sometimes we see people who are so much like them it is hard to believe they are not really them. I doubt the ache in our hearts for those we have lost and have moved on ever fades. My husband lost his oldest son at age 12, 25 years ago, and sometimes I hear him sobbing, and I know why.

    Reply
    • Arnold Kring - April 12, 2022 1:55 pm

      Have you heard about the face in the window in the courthouse in Carrollton, Pickens County, Alabama?

      Reply
  16. Marti Schrader - April 12, 2022 12:35 pm

    Such a great description of grief! Will encourage people in grief who think they are going crazy. Grief knows no norms!! I am a grief counselor and thank you for this Sean!

    Reply
  17. Penn Wells - April 12, 2022 12:35 pm

    No one could or will ever forget you, Sean. You’ve become too much of a part of too many families, who read you first thing in the morning to regain some semblance of balance. I do wish you had one of his coffee mugs though. I just turned 74 and have lost 5 good friends over the past couple of years. The first one had given me a mug from our favorite coffee company right before he passed away… when it happened to the next 4, I asked their families if I might have a mug from the cupboard… nothing fancy, not even his “favorite.” But when I use one of those mugs when the sun comes up, it’s pretty special. Selah.

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  18. PurpleIris - April 12, 2022 12:39 pm

    Sean, I have experienced the same type of situations many times. I am always startled. I think, ‘It isn’t real, how can it be’? But, I am always left with a sense of overwhelming love and peace. There are many things I don’t understand and never will, at least not in this life. I had to stop trying to understand and just learn to accept and continue on. God knows exactly what we need.

    Reply
  19. Dianne - April 12, 2022 12:53 pm

    Thank you, Sean. We all experience those moments of thinking we see someone we loved deeply, but then reality sets in. We realize they’re gone, but our hope is that we WILL see them again one day. It’s okay to keep them alive in your heart and memories.

    Reply
  20. Ruth Mitchell - April 12, 2022 12:53 pm

    Heart-stopping and tear-jerking! I love what you have said here. Your dad would be so proud of you for so many reasons!

    Reply
  21. Arelene Mack - April 12, 2022 12:57 pm

    My son, Russell Brian Mack age 15, also wore a striped shirt the night he died. I keep it with a few of his other things in my cedar hope chest because I didn’t want to destroy it or give it away and also because, in my soul, I have the eternal hope and belief that I will see him again. I believe with all my heart I have seen Russell 4 times since he died on March 14, 1997, and I was fully awake each time. Every time I saw Russell, I was not even consciously thinking of him at that moment. I cherish those times. “Precious Memories, unseen angels, sent from somewhere to my soul. How they linger, ever near me, precious sacred scenes unfold.”

    Reply
  22. Sarah - April 12, 2022 1:00 pm

    Your writing is so honest. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    And I have to admit, I’m still recovering from yesterday’s writing. I cannot believe that people go out of their way to send you hate mail. It makes me sad. It reminds me of the mean 5th graders in my daughter’s class. Perhaps some 5th grade bullies never do grow up.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Sean of the South: Ghosts In Alabama | The Trussville Tribune

  24. Mamacita - April 12, 2022 1:09 pm

    I’m a very new fan, Sean. Your articles have already almost taken precedence over my daily devotions. Don’t worry…it’s not a bad thing. Today’s article struck a chord in many of us, as I see in all these comments. I was so touched – and related so directly to your experience – that I googled the idea. It’s a fairly good explanation, but one sentence struck me as sounding like you: “Today is a new day. But the brain still bets on yesterday.”

    Reply
  25. Naomi Smith - April 12, 2022 1:19 pm

    I’m thankful for every instance that reminds me of my dad. And my mom. It helps keep those times alive in my mind. We were poor but richly blessed.

    Reply
  26. Bryan - April 12, 2022 1:52 pm

    So hard to read this as my eyes began leaking halfway through. But….I love the story! I lost my Dad in December, but due to circumstances we could not have his memorial service until last week…at which I gave the eulogy.Three weeks ago, my 37-year-old daughter died suddenly. And another family member had a miscarriage last week. Thank you for your stories, Sean, as hard as some of them are, it helps to know there are others out there dealing with their brand of loss and grief.

    Reply
    • PurpleIris - April 12, 2022 2:29 pm

      Bryan, your comment touched me so deeply.😢 God bless you and your family. Keep yourself close to Him. He is always with you. Prayers for you and your family.🙏

      Reply
  27. Pat - April 12, 2022 2:02 pm

    Sean,
    That’s a tough one. Trying to hold my tears back but it’s not working.
    Thanks, I needed that one. I really thought that only happened to me.

    Reply
  28. Susie - April 12, 2022 2:24 pm

    I totally can understand. My daughter passed 11 years ago and many times I catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye or feel her touch lightly. I believe these small events help me pass the days until I see her again.

    Reply
  29. deronsmith - April 12, 2022 2:27 pm

    This one is rough. Well said.

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  30. Judy - April 12, 2022 3:53 pm

    I do that myself so I undersatnd and alsounderstand not knowing those we love. How sad!

    Reply
  31. Lori - April 12, 2022 3:56 pm

    Exquisitely written.
    God bless.

    Reply
  32. Rhonda - April 12, 2022 3:59 pm

    And whose to say it isn’t so?

    Reply
  33. Suellen - April 12, 2022 4:09 pm

    I should know not to eat lunch and read your column. I got to the part of the way his chin stubble felt on your face and all of sudden couldn’t swallow. I had not thought of that in years. Dad loved to rub his stubble on my face until I squealed. Fortunately I get a peak now and then of my Dad whenever I see one of my brothers. He’s the spitting image.

    Reply
  34. AlaRedClayGirl - April 12, 2022 4:27 pm

    Beautfiul

    Reply
  35. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 12, 2022 4:35 pm

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  36. Sara Allen - April 12, 2022 5:03 pm

    Oh man you hit a nerve with this one

    Reply
  37. kris - April 12, 2022 5:57 pm

    I still stop in my tracks when I think I see my dad. It’s haunting. 18 years later.

    Reply
  38. Becki Downing - April 12, 2022 7:16 pm

    Yes, often. ❤

    Reply
  39. Bobby - April 12, 2022 7:25 pm

    With every column you write, you are making your parents proud. Sean, your daily writings are the lifelines that connect us loyal readers with our own past and present realities. Thank you my friend.

    Reply
    • Kim Morris Ladoczky - April 13, 2022 2:24 pm

      There are tears in my coffee now. This year is 30 years I lost my daddy. I have officially lived longer without him than I lived with him. Thing is, I still need him…

      Reply
  40. Jenny Young - April 12, 2022 11:32 pm

    My husband & I were eating at Ihop recently when a lady walked in & my husband did a double take. ‘That lady looks so much like your mom.’
    I couldn’t help myself. When we left I went up to her & told her how happy I was to see that face again even though it wasn’t exactly her face. She was so kind & sweet about it. My mother passed away in 2006.

    Reply
  41. Tom Marler - April 13, 2022 2:02 am

    Oh Sean, you must understand how many of us are right there with you. My wife and I recently lost a dear, dear friend to suicide. We’re struggling with the loss. Trying to help her husband to cope with his loss. My wife has seen her friend in dreams. Damn it’s hard to lose someone that way!

    Reply
  42. Katherine - April 13, 2022 2:38 am

    He could never, would never forget you, Sean. Please don’t ever think that.

    Reply
  43. Dru Brown - April 13, 2022 3:09 am

    My grandfather liked to scrub my face with his beard stubble. He thought it was funny. I had forgotten. Now I feel it, because of you.

    Reply
  44. Slimpicker - April 13, 2022 3:25 am

    Your story reminds me of a beautiful song by Luther Vandross, “Dance with my Father”. My, father passed away two years ago and it still is hard for me at times.

    Reply
  45. Ellen - April 13, 2022 3:47 am

    Your writing always pulls me right into your experiences and this one was tough. I lost my daddy four years ago and for whatever reason, well I know the reason but it’s too long for a comment, most of the time when the loss hits me is in the produce section at Kroger. I’ll be choosing which tomatoes to get and there he is whispering, “Don’t buy grocery store tomatoes, wait for the roadside stands.”
    Yesterday though, I was at church and the man behind me started ad libbing harmony to Were You There and I would have sworn it was my daddy singing. I couldn’t turn around to look at him until the end of the service because I was afraid the voice would change. When I finally did and told this kind man how much and why I enjoyed his singing, he commented that he was a professional singer. I almost snort laughed bc as much as I loved my dad to sing he was NOT professional quality at all. Made me wonder whether it was the man’s voice I’d really heard or a singing Angel instead.

    Reply
  46. Susan - April 13, 2022 3:49 am

    This touched my heart. He loves you and is SO proud you are his son. Keep watching for him but know he is inside YOUR heart…always. (((HUGS}}}

    Reply
  47. Weezie - April 13, 2022 11:00 am

    Your daddy is always with you. He’s telling everyone in his heavenly home about his brilliant home. Thank you once again

    Reply
  48. Susie Flick - April 13, 2022 3:41 pm

    Sweet memories help us cherish the ones we love that “transitioned” (new word some are using when someone leavs their early home) . My Dad would wear a ballcap in later years and he had a distinct walk too. I’d see an older guy walking around sometimes and at first glance think – there’s Dad! Oh how I wish I could visit with him one more time and give him a big hug…..same goes for my Mom. Hugs to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  49. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 14, 2022 9:12 pm

    I know what you mean…. I see my Dad sometimes. Last October where my son lives they have a real live day of street racing. Classic cars, souped up muscle cars, those crazy foreign jobs from Fast and the Furious. It’s a really big event but before the “adults” start their fun they let the kids have a Power Wheels race. My grandson competed went four heats and won the whole thing. There was a man there who reminded me so much of my dad in his features. He even had a Dad shirt on. I tried to sneak a picture of him to make sure I didn’t imagine him there with us. I remember asking my daughter in law you saw him too right? Because my husband didn’t. But yeah I work in the public and lots of times i think I see him in our store. I just call them visits. I miss him just like you miss yours. Only I know it’s been much longer for you. I hope they do watch over and care about what still goes on down here but yeah I know they’re busy with lots of visiting to do. They have loved ones they hadn’t seen in years as well. My dad has only been gone 3 years 7 months and one week now but I bet he is still saying hello and shaking hands and hugging necks right now.

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  50. Melissa Mikkelsen - April 16, 2022 12:08 pm

    Last week I went to go in the gas station, one of those big modern ones with the lunch counter. I pulled up and there standing outside talking on his phone was the spitting image of my Uncle who just passed away a month ago. I went in and got my Gatoraid and watched him the whole time. I don’t know where he came from or why but it was like the minute before lightning strikes. All the hair stood up on my arm. He was sill there when I left and not on his phone. I said you look like my Uncle. He said “Good looking Uncle, Right?” And I laughed. It was exactly like what Uncle Buster would have said. I won’t lie, it still gives me chills. But he is okay, and now I am sure of it.

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  51. Amy Elliott - April 18, 2022 4:08 am

    Hi, Sean. As usual, you’ve dredged up some deeply buried emotions in me and I’m crying. Not sad tears but happy tears of remembrance and longing that I normally try so hard to bury beneath the everyday things that seem to need more of my attention. The last several years have been hard. My best friend passed away at the young age of 47 from cancer in 2017. My father died unexpectedly in 2018, my mother ten months later in 2019. 2020 brought all the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic and the passing of my beloved dog (best boy ever) Finn. In early 2021 my husband (my childhood sweetheart with whom I reunited after 25 years apart) had two heart attacks and subsequently lost his job. To say life has been kicking me in the shins is an understatement. But one thing is constant throughout all of this. You. Your columns lift me up and remind me to breathe and be thankful for what is most important. The little things that are really the big things. The precious memories of my loved ones, my husband’s (he’s a die-hard Andy Griffith fan, too) continued healing, my puppy girl who thinks I hung the moon, the new boss at my job who actually values family and loyalty, the family that loves me no matter how isolated I try to make myself, a writer who doesn’t know me yet speaks directly to my heart EVERY TIME. From the bottom of my heart…thank you. I can’t explain why people go through the things they do except to say that maybe it’s to help others navigate those same situations themselves. True or not, I appreciate you so much for sharing your experiences with your readers. You’ve helped me in ways that you’ll never know. Thank you!❤️

    Amy Elliott

    Reply
  52. suzi - April 18, 2022 11:52 pm

    Angels really are all around us

    Reply

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