My step-father died in December of 2010 after a long and difficult battle with cirrhosis of the liver, among other ailments contracted during wartime. My son was only a year and 3 months old when this happened and it was a very difficult time for my mother and her side of the family. You see, only 3 months earlier my grandmother passed away of a sudden heart attack.
I will not go into exceptional detail, but the relationship between me and Ray was strained for many years; it wasn’t until the last couple years of his life that we started getting along. One of the things that I feel brought us closer together and made him a better man was the birth of my son and my brother’s daughter and son.
Ray became the father figure in his older adult life that he never was as a younger man. He loved my son with all his heart, though, and it made his day whenever Grandma and Papa Ray got to babysit.
A year and a half after his death, my mother still struggling with her not-so-secret grief, she came home from the grocery store with a rubber wristband that said ‘Support Our Troops’. Ray had been a Vietnam veteran, and my mother had bought the wristband in his honor.
As I came out of my bedroom soon after she returned, I found her crying while my son had the wristband. My first thought was that he had destroyed the wristband. He hadn’t. He looked straight at me and held up the wristband and said “Papa Ray?” Then, with more confidence, he said “Papa Ray.” My mother was crying because my son knew right away who the wristband was for.
What makes this surprising is the fact that we never called him Papa Ray when he was small. We always called him Grandpa or just Ray. How would a year old baby who was barely speaking at the time of the death recall from memory “Papa Ray” a year and a half later?
Just he speaking those two little words gave me goose bumps, which I have right now as I write this. Since that time, whenever I show him a photo of Ray, he instantly says “Papa Ray” and runs for the wristband which he will then wear for a little bit of time before it gets lost in the shuffle of a three year olds imagination and reckless abandon. But the wristband is never far and he always knows where to find it, even if I cannot.
This incident had forced me to consider in greater depth the concepts of life after death. It has also forced me to consider how much children know and recall as they age. Did he say “Papa Ray” because he remembered from a year and a half earlier? Or was “Papa Ray” here with us that day, talking to my son? If he was here, is he here more often or always?
I feel it is worth noting that my son’s bedroom at Grandma’s house is Papa Ray’s old ‘man cave’. He spends a lot of time in that room playing with his toys and watching TV. While this bears absolutely nothing in the context of the tale I am telling, I do find myself wondering if “Papa Ray” is still back there keeping an eye on my son when he is alone.
While I have no answer for how my son just pulled “Papa Ray” out of his memory at the sight of a rubber wristband, it is somewhat comforting to think of him as still here. There has never been any other sort of paranormal activity at this house, though. No cold spots, no bumps in the night. Only that one instance of a two and a half year old child saying “Papa Ray” when confronted with a rubber ‘Support Our Troops’ bracelet.