Friday, March 8, 2013

Dead Friends Who Still Talk To You

Delle Chatman
Four of us sat in the front of St. Gertrude’s Church one November morning. It was a year after our friend Delle Chatman’s death.

Kim, Rina, Jeannie and I originally met Delle because our children attended Sacred Heart Schools on Sheridan Road in Chicago. Now the four of us decided to remember her with Mass followed by red velvet cupcakes at Metropolis, the coffee house where we all hung out.

In November, St. Gert’s puts up an ofrenda: a small, temporary altar displaying photos of parishioners who died during the previous year. Prominent on the table, just to the side of the main altar, was a joyous photo of Delle and her daughter, dressed in traditional African robes, dancing. It was definitely a symbol of how we wanted to remember her: happy and healthy.

Also on the table was a candle burning unobtrusively. But just as Father Dom came out on the altar to begin the mass, the flame shot up and caught the linens on fire.

“Oh, shit,” were the first words out of my mouth, not the preferred response from the front row in a church. Rina was on her feet first, and the flame was quickly extinguished. No harm was done to the memorabilia, and Father Dom missed the drama because it was out of his line of vision. But it was a challenge to not laugh out loud. There was no doubt in our minds who was behind it.

A month before she died, Delle announced that she was discontinuing her cancer treatment. Her body just couldn’t take any more. That email unleashed a flood of emotional responses, friends from all over the country pouring out their love for her.

“I’m not dead yet. Save it for the funeral – I’ll be there,” was her embarrassed response. She was indeed.

Her memorial service was, as my husband called it “the shortest two hours I’ve ever spent in church.” No one wanted to leave. We needed to lean on each other.

Delle’s daughter, “the remarkable Ramona”, was eleven. She had told her mother she wanted to sing at the service “so everyone will know I’m all right”.

We were sitting directly behind the family, close to the front. I remember when Ramona stood and walked over to the microphone. When she got there, a shaft of light broke through one of the stained glass windows and shined on Ramona. There was a gasp from people around us. Not everyone could see it; it depended on where you were sitting. But after my initial shock, I just shook my head. “That was pretty melodramatic, even for you,” I thought to myself.

Those were two of the times I’ve felt Delle’s presence. There have been others, and I hear her voice now and then.

Maybe you hear voices, too. Maybe you just walk into a room and feel the presence of your friend. Wishful thinking? I guess that’s possible. But I like to think our friends are always with us, stalking us long after they’re gone.




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