Hallowe’en night is often the one night of the year let ourselves dwell on the dead and the departed. In contrast, I have spent most of the last year chasing ghosts. Actual ghosts. Long-forgotten family members who needed to remembering, or half-remembered people I met in a pre-internet time and cannot simply google. Emotions I know I felt but have since eluded me. And times, times I didn’t realise had passed on, never to be fully relived.
The hauntings have taken me far and wide. To Sri Lanka, and a grave the family didn’t tend; to the South Coast, and a grave we couldn’t afford; to records kept in the colonies- who first misspelled my name? – and a document so dismissive of tragedy I could barely bring myself to see it. The ghosts have been more contemporary at times. Hunting Instagram for a boy I left behind, mining my dreams for subtext, diving deep into my past, hunting out all my darkest moments and herding them into order.
Ghost hunting comes with certain markers of the territory, I have learned. Documents, spread along the floor. Sometimes old certificates of entry; sometimes handwritten notes from my grandmother and auntie; sometimes writing of my own, diaries from 2000-2004 in a line next to the sofa. There are often discrepancies, blank areas. No, we didn’t keep records from that far back. Neither your Auntie or I can recall what we did with the ashes. I thought you were supposed to text me when you got back to England.
Another hallmark of ghost-hunting is rarely do you find what you want. Sometimes for all of your careful planning and execution, your labours bear no fruit. A grandfather, still unnamed and faceless, hypothetical in all ways except the incontrovertible proof: you. A lonely parent, you’ve lost touch and that email rebounded so you’re not sure of the protocol now- does anyone check LinkedIn messages? Or a profile, still private, though you know the request was seen. You’re not sure which is worse; being denied or being forgotten.
Sometimes though, you find other things. You find dots to connect, truths you didn’t know could be revealed. You find emotion where you believed there was expanse. You find the hidden solutions to problems that have been resolved with time (isn’t everything?) and you realise you know far more than you thought.
And so, Hallowe’en. Still my favourite time of the year, despite my complicated relationship with the season in recent years. This year, Hallowe’en feels like a full stop, a final end to the hauntings and a time I can bid some of these ghosts farewell. It is always a time of letting go, of remembering the things that have been, and the people you lost, and the person you once were. This year I invite them to my house, more deliberately this year; please, ancestors, feast at my table, for I will not be back with you for a while and I have things to do before we meet again. And I think of terrified souls who are frightened of my ghosts, and I am so thankful for finding mine, for living with them, and for bidding them a fond goodnight when I clear away the extra place at the table.