Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student, was describing stories and rituals, related to both her family and her passion for theatre, that she believes help define different facets of her identity. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which she describes a highly personal family ghost story relating to the sudden death of her uncle in the San Francisco marathon when she was young.
Informant: Okay, so… my uncle passed away in the San Francisco marathon. It was very sudden because he died while he was running, and he was extremely physically fit and no one could have ever predicted that this would happen. But, on that day, we were up in Tilden Park, as a family. And I was hiding in the bushes with a stick and poking the stick around. And I’m like young. I’m like six or seven. So, I’m poking around with a stick and my mom is like, “Where’s L—?” And then she looks around, and she sees what I’m doing, and she’s like, “What’s going on? What are you up to in the bush?” And I tell her that I hear a voice… and I have no recollection of doing this! My mom actually told me about this when I was doing an interview with her for a project, so it was really an emotional thing to find out. But basically I was with the stick, hearing a voice that was saying, “Long live my sisters.” And so it was really really shocking to hear when she told me this. It was almost like my whole body froze. I didn’t know that my uncle had passed away, but I told her I heard a voice that sounded like my uncle, saying, “Long live my sisters.” And so that was really wild and it had a huge effect on my mom because she knew that he had passed away. It was super weird that I was having this voice in my head, but she said that I told her that is was my uncle’s voice, coming from San Francisco — it sounded far away. I said it was in San Francisco, but that I could hear that it was leaving. So, it was like a goodbye from him. My mom talked a lot about it with the adults in my family. Especially since I was so young, it’s just a really strange thing to have a feeling about. She didn’t tell me until I was much older, but she talked about it with her sister a lot. And I think it was crazy and I think it was something that really helped throughout his passing because my mom is a very spiritual person. We don’t really believe in God or anything, but we believe in spirits. And we found a lot of comfort in the fact that one of us received a message that our uncle was okay, and that he was leaving with a message about bringing power to his sisters. That’s kind of how my mom took it.
Informant’s relationship to this item: The informant was visibly touched and emotional as she recalled the events of her uncle’s passing, as well as the interaction her mother claims that she had with him from beyond the grave. The story clearly holds significant weight for the informant, who only learned of it in very recent years. The story was also very impactful for the informant’s mother and aunt, as they firmly believe that their brother’s ghost was sending them a comforting message with the goal of easing their grieving processes and helping them progress after his death.
Interpretation: I completely understand how this occurrence would be both surreal and comforting to the informant and her family after the sudden loss of her uncle. The informant’s young age, the specific details she used when describing her uncle’s voice, in addition to the fact that she was unaware of her uncle’s passing at the time all make the interaction particularly inexplicable. The story definitely falls under the category of friendly ghost stories, which typically feature deceased family members communicating with their relatives with the supposed goal reassuring and comforting them after tragic losses. Additionally, the nature of the informant’s uncle’s voice, which she described as sounding “far away” and slowly drifting further, emphasizes the widespread belief that ghosts exist in liminal spaces, in which they are not fully alive or dead.