Dead Husbands and the Hereafter

willow-thumbnailMy friend’s husband died recently and she feels his presence still around her. One of her husband’s friends told her that she too experienced his presence swinging through to say goodbye when a hanging object moved without apparent cause around the time of his passing. Are these kind of happenings proof of an afterlife?

Delusion in the Eye of the Beholder

This event could be dismissed out-of-hand as delusional. Or it can be embraced as a source of comfort – especially if you believe in life after death. I have no problem accepting the event as my friend’s true personal experience and I am happy if she can find comfort in hearing validation that her husband does live on. I also, simultaneously, marvel that the mind could be capable of creating such occurrences as it searches for meaning in a complex and vast universe.

I myself have had many such occurrences after experiencing the deaths of close family members. On certain days these events – a chiming unwound clock, a vivid dream, a significant song being heard coinciding with a specific thought of my loved one, and pennies materializing on a floor where they had not been 5 minutes before – bring comfort and peace to a grieving heart.

On other days, they bring a search for what could have caused them because everything has a cause. Except of course, the first cause which is the subject for another time. Just as events have a cause and effect, they can also be causally unrelated but occur in such a way that they are meaningfully related. This idea, termed synchronicity by psychologist Carl Jung, adds an expanded dimension to the world that we live in.

The Intangible Meets the Tangible

Hearing an obscure favorite song that was played at my husband’s funeral on the anniversary date of his death while walking through a grocery store and passing his favorite food section while thinking of him creates a connection beyond any of those individual events. The person next to me, in the same store, on the same day, in the same section, hearing the same song, has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the profound experience I am having.  My experience creates a penetrating sense of connection to something beyond physical reality. It is surreal and the meaning I assign at that moment is not only valid but it is my reality, although not necessarily the Truth. It is my husband reaching across the veil of death telling me that he is okay and that life goes on. It is God bringing comfort to a broken grieving heart.  It is the universe conspiring and coalescing events to say that all is as it should be and everything happens for a reason. It is synchronicity with profound implications. It is a meaningless coincidence.  It is my own volition creating an event bringing me to that location at that moment to experience a salve to save myself from despair. It is all of those things and none of them. It is whatever I choose it to be. I choose how to interpret the world around me just as everyone chooses to interpret his or her experiences. That is how we create our world.

Finding Balance

The balance we must find is in how we integrate our inner reality, full of wonder and profound growth as individuals, with a shared world that is just as full of others trying to impose their own inner reality and certainty on the outer world. The quest of a seeker who is uncertain of any absolutes but longs for humanity to live in peace must include balancing their own inner beliefs (or lack of) with a world that is full of a wide array of contrary and contradictory beliefs.

Life After Death? Maybe…

May my friend find comfort in the presence of her deceased husband – whether he was there or not.

Not Knowing is Okay

When life has taught you something different than your religious upbringing has taught you, where do you turn? Do you trust your life experiences and believe that they happen for a reason (even an undefined reason)?  Do you hold tenaciously to a belief taught to you by those you love (parents, churches, friends) in spite of your reasoning mind?  Do you reject all spirituality because you feel religion has “sold a bill of goods” that is untrustworthy? Do you come to a place of respect for the process of human evolution (especially the evolution of consciousness) and accept that everyone: the Christian, the Jew, the Buddhist, the Atheist, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Druid, the Superstitious, the New Agers, the Scientists, and all the many vast belief systems man has created to explain existence each have a piece of the puzzle?

Early Learning

Having been raised Catholic and taking the catechism teachings to heart as a child, I lived in dreadful fear and self-deprecation for much of my youth. Years of repetition ingrained the belief that human beings are fundamentally unworthy and that the devil has a voracious appetite for all souls and is lurking in every question of faith. To break through that conditioning and fear is no small task and not fully appreciated by those who did not receive (or take to heart) such intense indoctrination of belief systems that do not allow room for questioning. I fully appreciate the extent of ingrained beliefs and the struggle to hold on to them – no matter how irrational or destructive.

Doubting Along the Road to the Truth

When it comes to spirituality, I would prefer not to classify and limit my understandings. I do have an extremely strong and rich spiritual life. However, that spirituality fluctuates as I grow and learn from life experiences – both physical and mystical. Because of this, I embrace Agnosticism as a viable pathway to the Truth.  How can anyone claim to know something that cannot be proven one way or the other?

We can individually know something through a mystical experience but that experience cannot be put into language and transferred to another in such a way as to know the truth of it like that of the original experiencer. The 1997 film Contact brilliantly portrays this phenomenon.

Agnosticism allows us the freedom to entertain beliefs that may sustain us as we travel through this world while accepting that those beliefs may or may not be absolute Truth. This allows us the ability to adjust those beliefs as our understanding and experience grows. Much like a scientific theory, when new information is found, findings are adjusted accordingly. Agnosticism is about allowing space for growth.

Another plus for Agnosticism is that it lacks the hubris of certainty – both theist and atheist.  It recognizes the limitations of human understanding within the dimensions of space and time. Humility dictates that we cannot know what God (if there is such a thing/being) knows. We can search and discover new insights and secrets once hidden but now revealed through expanded consciousness and ever deepening quantum physics. We can know that what we once thought was fact, is not. And we need not be threatened by our former ignorance or afraid of shining light on our current lack of awareness.

This is the perspective of wholeheartedly embracing the uncertainty and mystery of life. Agnosticism can lead us to our own personal revelations and to the Truth that exists beyond words. Perhaps one day we will evolve into perfect understanding with a perfect way to convey that understanding, perhaps not.

There is Something

There does exist an indefinable underlying current that connects all life. It could be Love, it could be God, it could be pure Energy, it could merely be tiny particles popping in and out of existence from some unknown other dimension, it could be an as-yet-to-be defined force, or it could be purely imagination. From this questioning and open perspective, we can live lives doing the best we can with the information available no longer threatened by challenges to what we may have believed. We honor all life not for the sake of the threat of annihilation or any other-worldly reward but for life itself. The religion of my youth taught me fear; the agnosticism of my adulthood teaches me to wonder and grow.

Healing a Mother’s Broken Heart on Mother’s Day

HeartLying alone in my king sized bed, I rolled over to reach up and pull back the edge of the curtain. I wanted to know what the outside day looked like. The sky was the color of unpolished pewter and it matched my mood. I wanted nothing more than to roll back over and sink deep into the soft sheets, pull the covers over my head, and drift to a place where I could pretend that life made sense.

The Miracle of Birth
It was my tenth Mother’s Day. The day of my daughter’s birth played in my mind like a surreal movie scene. I closed my eyes and I felt her tiny fingers curl around my pinky, and my heart expanded. With that tiny squeeze love poured out of my chest, down my arm, through my fingers and straight into this tiny being.  My little girl arrived in the world forever tethering me with something that had no beginning or end. In that moment of connection, memories of my own life flashed through my mind as I imagined what was to come:  her first step, first word, first day at school, first kiss, first love, first heartbreak, her own first child.

The Promise and Reality of Motherhood
I imagined what a great mom I was going to be. I would take care of my little girl, treasure, protect, love, and teach her. We named her Nicole Louise. My husband and I glanced at each other, our eyes meeting briefly on their way to Nikki’s beautiful face full of love, promise, and wonder. If we looked at each other too long, we would have to acknowledge the fear, feelings of inadequacy, thoughts that we might fail, the truth that we were now vulnerable in a way that didn’t exist before.  My daughter’s birth wasn’t easy. When the doctor said C-section, I felt like I had already failed. The perfect birth I imagined gave way to the reality that much of life is beyond our control.

Taking Action
Before memories completely swallowed me, my boys, ages seven and five, came bursting into my room bringing breakfast in bed. Burnt toast and coffee momentarily took away the pain from the jagged pieces of my broken heart. Nikki died the year before after struggling with cancer for most of her nine years. My husband was also gone – he too died from cancer four months before Nikki. “Happy Mother’s Day” they shouted through mile-wide grins. The phone rang and in that brief moment of courage looking at my smiling boys, I accepted a dinner invitation to my brother and sister-in-law’s house. It was time to get moving.

Driving down Trent Ave, with the sun shining and fresh air gushing through the open windows, all tears were swept away.  Suddenly, Michael, my oldest son screamed “Oh no! Nikki’s red heart flew out the window!” “Why did you have it with you?” I snapped, not able to hide my irritation that he could have lost something that belonged to Nikki even though I had no idea what heart he was talking about.
“I don’t know,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. I pulled the car over to the side of the highway.
“Let’s go back and look for it,” I said much more gently. “It’s probably smashed by now,” my eternal pessimist said. I smiled as I made a u-turn and headed back up the highway. “Don’t give up before we even start looking,” I said.
Luckily, I had been driving in the curb lane. Traffic was light and I was able to drive slowly. “I’ll help to look too,” Matt, my young optimist said from the backseat. We searched the ground for any hint of red. Nothing. Seeing the disappointment in Michael’s eyes, I flipped another U-turn and retraced the road again. Still nothing.
“See, it’s gone,” Michael’s face was so sad. I knew he missed Nikki as much as I did. They had been very close in spite of all the time she spent in the hospital isolated from her brothers.

Teachable Moments
“Maybe,” I said, “it isn’t gone. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere along the side of the road and some little boy will come along and find it. Maybe he didn’t have a Mother’s Day gift for his mom and when he finds it, he’ll take it home and give it to her. Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.”
He gave me his familiar “oh mom” look that he saved for the all too often times when I tried to stretch something bad into something good. But the corner of his mouth lifted slightly and he eased back into his seat. From the back seat, Matt said, “yeah, maybe it could happen.”
We continued on to my brother’s house. Dinner was slow and the afternoon dragged. But as I watched the boys play with their cousins, the heart long forgotten, I was glad I had come. Finally, as the sun was setting, it was time to go home.

Unbroken Bonds
The boys collected their things and we loaded back into the truck. Michael claimed the front seat once again and Matt climbed into the back, tripping as he stumbled over something on the floor. As I was backing out of the driveway, he shouted, “It’s not lost! It isn’t lost! Nikki’s heart. Here it is! It didn’t fly out of the window – it flew in the back seat!” He was so excited. Michael and I exchanged looks as Matt handed the heart to me and said – “Happy Mother’s Day mommy.”
I looked at the red wooden heart. I remembered the day she painted it. I thought I had put it away with all of the other treasures she created during countless hospital stays. My words came back to me, “Maybe Nikki’s heart will make this day special for a special mother.” At that moment, I once again felt her tiny finger wrap around my pinky. This painted wooden heart profoundly reminded me that death had not ended our connection. We were tethered for eternity and I would always be Nikki’s mother.