Peggy, a long-time television producer, recounts a magical encounter with the ghosts of her deceased grandmother, grandfather and teenage nephew. This interview is part of a series of real-life accounts of psychic and paranormal phenomena. My premise is that by identifying common or recurring characteristics, we might shed light on an underlying, otherwise-invisible fabric of reality. The following interview was conducted in June 2015 by Michael Straus, and is published with Peggy’s consent.
This happened in 1988 when I had gone to my sister’s house in Washington DC to spend time with my entire family just after Christmas. We all knew that my grandmother was near her end. But, early on the morning of Dec. 27th, my mom woke me up, saying that Nana, who was 95 years old, had just died. Over breakfast a little later that morning, I told my mom, “I’ve got a reservation to go back to California but I can change it.” I was assuming, of course, there would be a memorial service. Mom looked at me and said, “We can’t change our vacation plans… we’re leaving today. We’ll just have a memorial when it’s more convenient for everyone, probably next summer.” I couldn’t believe it. It filled me with feelings – I can’t even begin to name them – but most of them weren’t good.
So, I said good-bye to my parents, and then a group of us went on an excursion for the day, out to West Virginia. On the way home late in the afternoon, a huge wind storm kicked up causing a massive power outage all over Washington, DC, – by 5:00 it was pitch black, not a streetlight to be seen, not a working traffic light, nothing. It took forever to get home and we were all exhausted and stiff from being in the car for so long. Oddly, when we got back to my sister Barbara’s house, it was one of only a few in many blocks that had power.
Now, I need to add that my grandfather had already died about ten years earlier – he was just about my favorite human being on the planet. He and Nana were happily married for over 65 years. And this is important: I had a nephew, Benjy, who had been killed in an accident just two years before when he was only 13. This was the worst tragedy that had ever happened in my family and my sister Barbara, Benjy’s mother, was shattered.
Anyway, I needed to stretch my legs so I took Barbara’s two little Scottie dogs out for a walk in the neighborhood. Even though it was pitch black, I felt safe and it was an easy neighborhood to walk in. I could see the stars; it wasn’t too cloudy and it wasn’t raining, even though everything felt very stormy.
We were walking up her street to this great big lawn that had one of the most gigantic trees I had ever seen, like maybe the size of a Chinese dawn redwood and, all of a sudden, there was this gigantic burst of wind and the dogs – both of them – stood stock still, very tense, looking toward the tree and began to growl. Whatever scared them, they were both looking directly at it.
And all of a sudden I saw it too – there was Nana! And she was walking towards my grandfather and Benjy. It was so clear, I could draw it for you. Nana was walking in from the left and I saw her in semi-profile. Up ahead, Benjy was just standing there smiling and my grandfather was on the right. As Nana walked towards them, she looked over her right shoulder and glanced briefly at me. We made eye contact and somehow I understood that it was fine that I was there, but it wasn’t about me.
I could even see what she was wearing – a long lavender dressing gown, very old school and her hair was up (her hair always looked perfect).
I could see exactly what Benjy was wearing, too, and the first thing I thought was, “Barbara would hate that outfit!” We used to call my sister the fashion police. Her children didn’t have sneakers until I-don’t-know what age; they wore brown Topsiders, khakis and polo shirts – they were always dressed in the preppiest little clothes. It was such a different lifestyle. I was looking at Benjy and he was wearing these olive green shorts with lots of cargo pockets, tube socks almost knee high, high top sneakers, and a bright red, white and Kelly green wide-striped rugby shirt with a white collar. I was looking at this scene and thinking, “Barbara would never let him wear that outfit – and, besides, the greens clash.”
I was even thinking that paying so much attention to Benjy’s outfit was one of the stupidest things I had ever focused on. But I couldn’t help it, because my sister always had strong opinions about clothing, and always dressed her kids just so.
Then, all of a sudden, they were gone and the dogs just relaxed. They were moving again, pulling on the leash, and they wanted to walk more. I was standing there thinking, “Okay. It’s not just me. These two dogs saw it, too.”
When I got back to the house, Barbara was busy cooking dinner but I told her she had to come listen to what just happened. I told her exactly what I’d seen, every detail including what Benjy was wearing. It all made her very happy. She said, “Benjy died on June 13th. Two months earlier, for his birthday in April, all he wanted was a pair of high top sneakers. I couldn’t believe that was what he wanted, but that’s what I got him.” She said that Benjy would wear those high top sneakers with his camp shorts and tube socks and Barbara just hated the look. She was a little embarrassed that she’d made such a big deal out of it, but now that I told her what I’d seen, it made Barbara happy to know that, even in death, Benjy was so comfortable and was wearing clothes that he loved.
Now, the thing is, I had never seen him in those clothes. The last time I saw him was the Christmas before he died, but it was wintertime so of course he wasn’t wearing shorts; it was snowing outside. I didn’t know he’d gotten high top sneakers for his birthday. And, of course, all of this took place long before social media and photo sharing.
Michael: When the dogs started barking, you were near this big tree at this house?
Michael: When the dogs started barking, were both of them looking at a specific spot?
Peggy: We were all facing the tree.
Michael: How far away was Nana?
Peggy: Probably about 15-20 feet.
Michael: She was walking on the ground, or floating or …?
Peggy: Everyone was on definitely on the ground, just standing there.
Michael: Benjy and your grandfather were facing you from the distance?
Peggy: Yes, but they were really looking at Nana. They were smiling; they were there to greet her.
Michael: Did your grandfather and Benjy appear to be the same age as when they had died?
Peggy: Yes definitely. Everybody was the same age as when they died.
Michael: The dogs are barking, and then suddenly these ghosts appeared, is that right?
Peggy: I would say that when the dogs stopped and growled, that’s when I became aware of them. That’s not exactly the same as they “suddenly appeared.” I honestly don’t know.
Michael: When they disappeared, were they suddenly not there anymore?
Peggy: The experience was over. They didn’t go up in a puff of smoke. They just weren’t there anymore. Maybe my eyes closed when they disappeared. I tried closing my eyes, and opening them again, hoping they’d come back. But they were gone.
Michael: The power was out in this neighborhood?
Peggy: The power was out in the whole city. Down at the bottom of Barbara’s street where she lived, maybe 2 or 3 houses had power.
Michael: Near this house with the big tree – were the street lights still working?
Peggy: No. It was pitch dark, but because of the shape of the street it was easy to walk up there.
Michael: If it was so dark, how did you see them? Were Nana, your grandfather and Benjy glowing? If you had seen another person on the street, would they be hard to see because of the dark?
Peggy: I couldn’t see anything, but it was easy to see them. If a real person had walked up next to me, I wouldn’t have seen them, maybe only a shape if they were right next to me. The Scottie dogs were black, too, and I could barely see them.
Michael: And yet 15-20 feet away you saw your grandmother, grandfather, and nephew so clearly that you could see exactly what they were wearing in color?
Peggy: Clear as a bell and in color. I work in television and I understand lighting; I would say that the quality of the lighting that I saw them in was sort of like twilight; it was a very nice soft warm light. Like, if you were in a room, and it was dark outside, and there were a couple of soft, low lamps.
I’m just trying to think of the quality of it. There was darkness all around them, there was grayness all around them. There was a little more light on Benjy, maybe because of what he was wearing. I could sort of see him the best.
I don’t know how, but I could see everybody clear as a bell. I could see the fabric of Nana’s lavender dressing gown, and I could see that her hair was all pinned up and looked very good.
It’s not like she died at 4 o’clock in the afternoon when she would have been up and dressed; she died early in the morning when she hadn’t gotten up or gotten dressed yet. For all I know this is what Nana was wearing when she died. But I don’t actually know that.
Michael: So, you saw her ghost how long after she died?
Peggy: This was around 12 hours, more or less, after she died.
Michael: Who did you tell about this and how did you feel about it afterwards?
Peggy: I told Barbara and probably told a few other people. I certainly didn’t go around telling the world.
Michael: It’s quite interesting that Nana, your grandfather and Benjy showed up in front of you while you were on your walk, and then you were able to witness and convey it back to your sister for whom it was comforting.
Peggy: I was just horrified that this big, established family that had many relatives and roots all over Philadelphia were not even going to give her a funeral. I spent hours in that car thinking about it, with this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was just really wrong. It was out of my hands and I couldn’t do anything about it. So, I did feel it was possible that I got to be privy to this because I was thinking about her, and Nana let me know that she knew that I had been thinking of her.
Michael: Did seeing your dead relatives change your life moving forward?
Peggy: Well this is certainly a moment in time I will never forget. It did give me a good feeling, it validated a feeling that my sense of things is right. I remember talking with my sister about not having a memorial service then. I was laughing but I meant it when I said, “When I go, I want something simple…but TIMELY.” We still laugh about that but if I go first, I bet she will make sure that it happens.
Michael: Thank you, Peggy!
- Nana, Grandfather and Benjy were walking, not floating.
- Nana appeared to be meeting her deceased relatives.
- They all appeared with enough light so as to make their clothing clearly visible.
- They appeared to be the same age as when they had died.
- Benjy was wearing a style of clothing a) which he had only received for the first time less than two months before his death; b) that made him happy, c) which was completely out of character with their family aesthetic, and d) of which Peggy could have had no prior knowledge.
- The dogs also noticed something (both when the ghosts appeared and disappeared)
- The ghosts appeared to Peggy, but not to the other family members.