I’ve heard it said that small children are able to channel the dead easily. They see and interact with their spirit guides, as well as their departed friends, family and ancestors. I believe this is why many children have imaginary friends who they play with, have tea parties with and invite to the dinner table with the rest of the family. A couple of my children had these invisible friends. I remember they had unusual names. One of my daughters called her friend Ree Ree Coslin. They would hold hands, talk to one another and play outside together. These friends were like a part of our family.
Why do we lose this when we grow up? Who knows? I suspect it’s because we are eventually shamed out of it. Many parents feel the scrutiny of others when their child is talking to some invisible character while walking down the aisles of the grocery store. They don’t want others to think their child has gone off the deep end at such a young age. So we tell our children that these friends are make-believe, that they don’t truly exist. If they still have a relationship with an imaginary friend when they enter preschool or kindergarten, their peers usually ridicule them out of it.
My granddaughter, Arley, was always fond of Erik and he was particularly fond of her. I remember the tears of joy Erik shed just after Michelle delivered her. You’d have thought the child was his! In fact, the last moments of his life included playing peek-a-boo with her. At the visitation before his memorial service, Arley saw Erik lying in an open casket. In a very somber voice, she called his name. Tears welled up in her eyes. She was only 16 months old, yet it was clear that she had had some deep and meaningful relationship with him in other lives.
I remember taking her mother, Michelle, and Arley to the food court for lunch one day. The weather was lovely, so we sat outside by the fountain for a bit. As she faced away from us, Arley called out Erik’s name. So I asked her, ‘Where do you see Erik?’ She pointed to the space in front of her and proceeded to offer him a sip from her drink. She continued to call his name and offer her drink, almost insisting he share with her.
Other times, Arley calls out Erik’s name when she awakens from sleep or when she and I are driving around between errands. Today, I took her to McDonald’s for breakfast so that she could climb and romp around on the intricate play structure there. Together, we crawled through the maze of tubes, slid down the slides and played in the elevated helicopter. At first, she seemed a little frightened of the dark tubes leading to the slides and the most elevated portions of the structure. She had a white-knuckled death grip on the cellulite of my upper arms. But then, she announced Erik’s name as if he had just appeared before her. She began to relax her grip and crawled eagerly without fear. As she left me in her dust, she giggled, calling his name repeatedly. Clearly, she had found a better playmate than her ol’ grandma.
I hope Erik and Arley remain good friends as she grows up, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure they do. Here’s a picture of Erik and Arley moments after her birth as well as a video of them playing together.