My friend was no longer not dying. No one was driving her to the cancer center for treatments. There were no more scans, no more tracking the location of new growths. A Do Not Resuscitate notice was posted beside the door. A caretaker lived in. Hospice staff came regularly to the house. Her friends took turns bringing meals.
Today was my turn. Lying on the couch, the wheelchair nearby, she invited me to eat with her. We chatted about the weather and our families. She stirred her bean soup more than she ate it. I worried, had I made it too spicy? My mind darted back in time to how long my mother had lived after she stopped eating. Three weeks.
“How’s the book going, Annie?” We talked about my interviews. I related a couple of the after-death communication experiences I’d heard. “Why don’t I visit you?” she inquired. “After I go, I mean?”
I took a deep breath and swallowed hard before I answered. “I’d like that very much. How will I know it’s you?”
I thought she’d changed the subject when she replied with no preamble, “One day I heard a sound coming from my wood stove. When I opened the door, I found a weak bird half-buried in ash. I cleaned off its face and beak and wings. The wings were the most exquisite violet color.” Her voice had grown melodious. “I carried it outside, raised my hands high, opened them wide. When it flew off it was a release into freedom—a glorious release. That’s how I will visit you, as a violet-green swallow.” Sick as she was, her face glowed.
I trudged home, heavy-hearted. Under the looming shadow of her impending death, I gave no more thought to our arrangement. I saw her only one more time.
After she died I went out to the solace of my yard to work off my sadness. Almost at once a bird circled me and our plan popped up in my mind. Could this be her? What kind of swallow had she said anyway? A violet-something, right?
This bird landed on our empty bluebird nest box directly opposite me. In profile I was sure it was no violet-something swallow. I saw no long swallow’s tail. Its wings looked gray, not violet. The white on its head didn’t seem right either. In case I was wrong, I tossed aside my clippers and ran in for my Birds of New Mexico. In it I found a photo of a violet-green swallow perched in the identical profile. It had white on its head and no long tail. The text said when it perched its tail was hidden under its wings and I could see no violet on those wings. Instantly I knew this swallow was her!
Back outside, I lifted my tear-streaked face to the sky in gratitude and joy, my arms flung high as hers had been when she released that swallow. I was sure she too had been released out of her suffering and into freedom. Why had I not understood that making a plan for after-death communication could be so simple and so satisfying and so joyous?
In her book Dying to Fit In, near-death experiencer and nurse Erica McKenzie writes of a hospice client saying she would return to visit her as a rare white dove. After the woman’s death a white dove landed outside Erica’s window in a rainstorm so intense she feared for the dove’s life. It remained in the same spot for seven consecutive days.
Imagine if we all made such an arrangement. Imagine how much more often we could receive the comfort and reassurance of an after-death contact. Imagine how this could help us with our grief after someone we love has died.
The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released October 6, 2017. Watch for pre-ordering in July.