Residence: Los Angeles, California, United States
Date of Performance/Collection: November 2th, 2011
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin
“I heard this story last week and it was my friends story. And she said that her grandparents, um, her grandma in particular, told her that if she ever passed away, she would let them know that… she would communicate with them through the lights in the house. and her grandma passed away like recently, like a couple months ago. And her parents told her, like, ‘remember, grandma told us that when she passes away and if she’s in somewhere safe, she’ll communicate with us by flickering the lights, on and off’. And the first time that happened, she was taking a bath, and the bathroom lights started flickering for no reason. The light bulbs were fine, everything’s fine, and the bathroom lights started flickering on and off. And first she was like… she was really really scared. But her mom told her that that’s the way that grandma’s trying to talk to you, trying to communicate with you. And it got so frequent, that the grandma would flicker the lights.. or ‘the spirit’, would flicker the lights on and off, while the parents were eating dinner or something, and they would be like ‘oh, you stop it!’ and, but it happens all the time. It’s happened multiple times, and its not the light issue. So they think that spirits are real and it’s the grandma. And that like, you can interact with human things even after you’ve passed away. It’s scary but I bet its comforting – to know that there is an afterlife and that their grandma still exists, and still loves them, and watches over them.”
Wendy Chuong described this story as “the most realistic ghost story” she has ever heard. She says her friend truly believes that her grandmother is trying to communicate with her and also that she is there to spend time with the family. When I asked Wendy why she thought her friend’s grandmother would choose an inconvenient time such as bath time to communicate with her granddaughter, she immediately said “because that was the only time she was alone, and she wanted to reach out to her.” In classic ghost stories, it is very uncommon for ghosts to a multitude of people, and this story follows that tradition in that the ghost in the situation wanted to reach out to a human on an individual basis.
Her friend’s entire family takes a lot of comfort in knowing that their grandmother is in a safe place and is able to come down and spend time with her family. In this case, the encounter with the ghost is very welcomed and is also a psychological way to cushion the death of a loved one. The idea that their grandmother is both still around and safe, even if it is through the flickering of lights, is infinitely better than the thought of their grandmother being in an ambiguous place, or simply stopping to exist after death. In some ways, stories of family members returning may be due to the expectance of their presence after so many years and to push them along the grieving process. The comfort of being watched over from the afterlife brings up the idea that when one becomes a ghost, they are seen to adopt a new supernatural library of knowledge that able to ultimately help or guide the family. Additionally, a new set of moral rules would be set in place – the family members would hesitate to act in ways their grandmother would particularly dislike. Moral actions would increase due to the perception of being watched.
Furthermore, I wonder if there is a reason behind why her grandmother would chose such a trivial act of flickering lights. Do ghosts have differing ways of showing affection, or other emotions? Ghost stories similar to this one incorporate the concept of the transcendence of emotions and memories in the afterlife. This idea, however, contrasts to that of the traditional concept of the ghost that comes to Earth because something in their life was not fulfilled. In this sense, the grandmother’s ghost returns to spend time with her family and show her love. I would describe this ghost story as very sweet, and that every encounter with flickering lights within that household immediately becomes a memorate for the story of the grandmother’s encounters within that family.