Love’s Magnetic Pull

Love is as essential to us as food and air and water and shelter. Without love well-fed babies fail to thrive and often die. Without love the lonely elderly wither away. We are born on this earth to learn how to give and to receive love, yet each love bears within it a dark seed—that of potential for the future loss of our beloved.

The phone rings. It is my husband’s brother. His wife is in hospice. They have lived with her cancer off and on for sixteen of their fifty-five married years. We pack hurriedly and drive 400 miles in hopes of seeing her while she can still speak. We are too late. We tell her we love her anyway, believing she can hear us. Her husband sleeps (badly) overnight in a lumpy cot in her hospice room, as does her son, sometimes her sister, perhaps her other son will too when he returns. Her jaundice fades. Her face softens until she appears nearly child-like. We joke that she would have loved how smooth her skin has become. I’m tickled that her finger and toe nails are perfectly polished red. We are told she’s been seeing her deceased mom, a sign of how close death is and of the support she is receiving through the veil.

My sister-in-law possessed the strongest drive to live of anyone I’ve ever known. She kept her sense of humor through mastectomies and radiation and chemo, through falls and broken bones and reconstructive surgery, every ignominy illness and modern medical science could bring. Her hair fell out? “Freedom,” she proclaimed. “No more blow-drying! No fussing! Now I just pop on my wig.” Whether with cane or wheelchair, she traveled, took cruises, never missed a single summer of arranging an adventure she dubbed “Kids’ Camp” for herself and her husband and their grandchildren. When the cancer started in one breast and she was told it would most likely migrate to its next-door neighbor, she said, “Take ‘em both off. Give me new ones.” Checking in to her last hospitalization on a Tuesday, she told the doctors, “I must be out by Thursday. I’m going to Las Vegas.” Her failing organs canceled that trip. Beloved of all the medical personnel who treated her, when she went into hospice at home, her oncologist made her first ever house call. Her transfusion nurses visited after she transferred to the hospice facility.

She’d been reading my book and we’d talked of how she might contact me after her death. I regret that we’d never finalized our plan. He tells me he’s read my preface. I hope it helps him to recognize at least the possibility of after-death communication’s gifts. I hope he comes to understand that our essential nature continues. For now he has the love of his friends and his family as sustenance. That is the one helpful thing we have to offer—our love. There is no fixing his pain, no easing it except with temporary distraction.

Now death’s tender enigma has drawn her through its veil. The serenity of her face belies the suffering of those around her. Had she screamed in agony maybe there could have been an element of relief when body and spirit split in two, but all that remains is grief and the loneliness in her husband’s eyes. Does he look at his older brother with envy because I, his wife, still live? The grateful look my husband gives me approaches awe. I am her age. Someday our turn will come. Will it be him or me attempting sleep on a lumpy hospice cot?

We hug. I think back to our first hug, our first kiss, our first whole night together. We were not that young, in our forties, old enough to have loved and lost, yet we gave little thought to this distant future likelihood that one or the other of us would be left to the stark emptiness of our last years.

She dies on Thursday morning. Her husband tells me he will do some work on Monday so he doesn’t have to think about it. I imagine he means, so he doesn’t have to feel it, and I understand. Large grief must be doled out one drop at a time. He would drown if he felt it all at once. Yet it must be felt. If not, it eats us away from the inside out until our hollow shell crumbles and breaks, as my father’s did so swiftly following my mother’s death.

I do not fear this fate for my brother-in-law. He is making plans. His house is too big. He may move closer to us. If so, his son says he will follow. Love’s magnetic pull will be his healer. The memory of his wife’s strong drive to live will remind him to live. I’m told Kids’ Camp at her sister’s house had been discussed, because it would be closer to home, easier on her failing body. I hope the grandkids do gather in four months. Their resilient nature will help with the healing. I imagine them, two by two, huddling tearfully in corners. In between they will share fun stories of their grandmother, and laugh, remember, and play.

You may buy The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil in bookstores, through www.AnnieMattingley.com and through the following sites:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zSaTLB
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2ljjV0I
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/2gEcr3f
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser: http://bit.ly/2gM255a

A New Way

“Don’t tell” is the embedded language of sexual harassment and abuse. And women often did not tell. We needed and wanted the part, the job, the account, and we kept quiet. Now we’re being asked why we didn’t say anything at the time. So—why didn’t we? Whether we were children or adults we were afraid of men’s power over our lives, afraid of what would happen to our careers and our dreams and our reputations, of what someone would say. We were trained not to make a ruckus, to behave ourselves, to be perfect victims. No one taught us we could say: “No! Stop! I don’t like this! You can’t! I won’t! Don’t touch me!”

I’ve been floating the idea of writing about this ever since #MeToo first appeared. I worried that it was too far off my focus of after-death communication, but when I heard Oprah’s eloquent and empowered Golden Globe acceptance speech (It is worth checking out.), I knew it was time. She used her voice and her platform, now I’m using mine. If every woman were to add her name to the roster of those who are saying “No More”, we would participate in a tidal wave of change. We need a new way.

When I was raped as a child, my parents called the doctor, called the psychiatrist, dealt with the man, but they did not call the police. I doubt it even crossed their minds. They too were trained not to make a ruckus and to keep sexual things out of the public eye. Later, when my mother told the woman psychiatrist, “She seems to have forgotten,” her reply was, “Good. It’s better that way.” Silence all around.

In the 1950’s, as a teenaged soda fountain clerk, I quickly learned to avoid the narrow supply corridor when the older pharmacist was on duty. We girls monitored our behavior—but we neither questioned nor reported how he squeezed himself against us if he passed us by.

Twenty years later, working for an all-male law firm with all-female employees, I attended the office Christmas party. No spouses were invited. There was a lavish spread of alcohol at five, the end of the workday. The catered food was scheduled for 6:30, by which time everyone was ravenous, and nearly everyone was a little or a lot drunk. I watched a usually straight-laced, married secretary exchange sexual innuendo with her married boss. Luckily her close friend pulled her into the kitchen to ply her with coffee.

Another woman, much more drunk, suddenly disappeared. Turned out she was with her boss in his locked office. All the men’s office doors had locks. I knew her well enough to suspect she would have deep regrets. Later I learned that this party’s ploy was an annual tradition, well-known in the local, legal community. In another job, when I turned down sexual advances from a man, he took the business my firm needed elsewhere.

“If you are ever attacked, don’t fight back,” we were taught, back in the day. “That way you won’t be killed too.” These messages and practices and experiences tell women we are weak and without rights. For men, they reinforce their power over us. This used to be a way of life, as was women’s silence, but remember, once women could not vote. Now we can. Once we could not own property. Now we can and we do. Once we thought we could not tell. Now we can. Now we do.

I’m not saying every man who touched a woman without her permission in the distant past should be pilloried and shunted out of his job (though some should). This is not about scapegoating a few men for old actions our culture condoned with turned-away eyes. The casting couch used to be a “joke.” If thought about, it was never funny. Now we are talking about it and it is really not funny. I recently watched “Cactus Flower” a 1969 comedy. Funny? Yes, but between laughs, I kept wincing as Walter Mattheau, the dentist, patted a female patient’s butt, as Ingrid Bergman, his nurse, deftly sidestepped a male patient’s repeated ardent advances. When will the time come when women loudly object to all such behavior on the spot?

We need to establish a new order between men and women. Many men (the ones Oprah calls phenomenal) have always known that non-consensual or coercive touching is wrong. The others must be taught or cajoled or—if necessary—forced into change by those of us who want all sexual touch to be mutual and consenting.

Men, it is time to question any authority over women you think that history, culture, habit, or religion has granted you. Women, it is time to reclaim our authority over our own bodies. Our daughters must be taught they can say no to adults, and later, as adults. Our sons must be taught how to hear that “no.” This shift requires taking a firm and possibly uncomfortable stance. If it requires telling tales, now is the time to tell them.

You may buy The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil in bookstores, through www.AnnieMattingley.com and through the following sites:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zSaTLB
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2ljjV0I
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/2gEcr3f
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser: http://bit.ly/2gM255a

 

 

 

Surviving in the Dark: Teddy Bears, “Blankies,” and PJs

It’s that time of year when I’m counting the days until the return of the light on the Winter Solstice. It’s that time of year when one bumpy little mound called Guadalupe Mountain that sits on the horizon southwest of our home, gets ravenous for light and devours the sun, gulping it down at 4:30, turning the afternoon into night. It eats the light like there is no tomorrow, which is what worries me about this long darkness—that it will never end.

I need my silly sky-blue flannel pajamas printed with fluffy cumulous clouds and tiny stars, anything to comfort me in the fourteen-hour dark. I can handle snow and cold, that’s what down jackets and boots rated for minus zero are designed for, but the darkness is another matter. When my friend in Alaska posts a picture on Facebook of the last rays of direct sunlight to hit her home until spring, I cannot fathom how she stands it.

Yet this week the days will get longer (at least in theory) by seconds every day. In actuality, Guadalupe Mountain’s hunger for light will have not yet been fully assuaged. The moment of each day’s sunset will be determined by the mountain’s peaks and valleys until finally, when January is mostly gone, it will hunker down, light-satiated at last, and wait, quietly, for its next November meal.

At its best, this darkness is an interior, introspective time, but in combination with December’s festivities it tends to magnify new grief and bring up older ones. This is the season of my parents’ deaths, sixteen days apart, thirty-three years ago. Within recent weeks I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from friends about two mothers, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a friend, and a dog who have died. They slip away, the darkness facilitating their transition.

How do we comfort ourselves in the holidays, when this time of being with those we love brings our missing of them to the surface? Just as how we grieve is unique, so is what we do to comfort ourselves. We can wear our cloudy PJs until they’re threadbare like a woman who wore her deceased father’s sweater until it raveled apart. My widowed friend makes “bed muffins” from her husband’s shirts, rice-filled pillows to heat in the microwave and snuggle against in bed. After her husband’s death, she brought the outside kittens he was allergic to inside to snuggle in the empty bed with her too. If taking a teddy bear to bed brings comfort, I say do it, no matter what our age. Nobody will know unless we tell them.

A grieving daughter decorates a tree in her mother’s home to cheer her as she sells the furniture and pots and pans, sorts through boxes of crumbling photos. After my daughter Randi’s death one of my “blankies” was my mantra practice. I was sure that if I let that go, the dam would break, I’d be flooded not just with tears, but with some muck so unmanageable I would lose my hold on life. The gift? How this strengthened and cemented my spiritual practice. I figure if it got me through her death it is to be relied on for anything that will ever come my way.

I am a glutton for books, but I’m particular about their quality. After Randi’s death the level of my reading material plummeted. Later I realized this was because I could not read anything that successfully stirred up my emotions. Some glom onto books about the grieving process. I read to escape my grief. Others struggle to read at all. Joan Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking that at first, after her husband’s death, she could only read headlines.

I recall accepting an invitation for some holiday meal not long after Randi’s death. Was it Thanksgiving? My memory of that time is so jumbled. When we got up that morning, the thought of sitting at a table full of cheerful people was suddenly terrifying; we canceled. Yet when we’re ready, on those special days, at the holiday dinner tables, we can look for some way to include our dead beloveds. This may be unspoken—a favorite dish cooked, a wreath on the door that was a gift handmade by our beloved. If the death is really fresh we may want to set a place at the table for this person.  We did that the first Christmas after Randi’s death, placing her photo on the plate. It was both bittersweet and satisfying to include her in this manner.

My family celebrated the first Christmas after my parents’ deaths in their home. Before we ate I raised my glass to propose a toast: “To those who are present and those who are… At the word “absent” I broke into wracking sobs. Everybody let me cry. I didn’t jump up and go hide in the bathroom. I didn’t apologize. It was a perfect reflection of the reality that our attempt to celebrate was taking place in the very room where my mother had died one month earlier and that, though life would go on, it would never be quite the same. That toast and my tears were a deep, deep comfort.

May you each find your own particular way to bring light and comfort to these dark days and to your holidays.

You may buy The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil in bookstores, through www.AnnieMattingley.com and through the following sites:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zSaTLB
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2ljjV0I
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/2gEcr3f
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser: http://bit.ly/2gM255a

Life & Death as a Two-Way Street

After-death communication and reincarnation are apparently separate subjects that are, in my view, quite closely related. We may have contact from our deceased beloveds and think reincarnation is malarkey, but my own experiences with both of these have helped me to find meaning in both life and death. For me, that we are embodied more than once makes sense of the vast differences in individual people’s circumstances. If we only live once, life seems cruelly unfair—with some born deformed, or spending lives in extreme pain and poverty, and others having perfect health and every advantage money and education can provide—with some infants dying and other folks living lustily to one hundred.

That our deceased beloveds can and do contact us indicates that consciousness survives the death of the body, that our essential nature does not require the physical to exist. I perceive that we enter into the physical realm and leave it and return again and again until we are perfect reflections of Spirit’s highest ideal, until love and compassion are all that we express.

Reincarnation enters my book in Chapter 8 when I write about how awareness of sharing other lives with my daughter Randi brought meaning to some of our mother/daughter struggles and offered me another way in which to relate to her death. Because of this, I joined the Facebook group Signs of Reincarnation. A German member, Iris Giesler, read and reviewed The After Death Chronicles for the group.

Iris has generously allowed me to share her review, which follows. Though it is not her first language, she writes in near-perfect English. Iris told me to make corrections as needed, but I only made a few tiny changes for clarity’s sake.

Iris Giesler is a lawyer, an Assessor Juris, employed by the Ministry of Interior of the German state of Niedersachsen.

Review of The After Death Chronicles by Iris Giesler
There are quite a lot of books on the market that include experiences of those who are convinced they have had contact with a deceased dear one. Usually, these books try to prove that the mind survives the death of the body and some of them do a rather good job in doing so. The author of The After Death Chronicles explicitly says she doesn’t aim at presenting “evidence”. Instead she invites her readers to “crack a window open to the breeze of possibility that the totality of existence cannot be perceived by the mind, that there are mysteries beyond its ken, and that these mysteries are worthy of exploration”. Annie Mattingley’s language is poetic at times and throughout the book, the reader feels engaged in an intimate conversation with the author.

Annie Mattingley herself experiences the worst that could possibly happen to a parent: The loss of her child. In the midst of her grief, the idea that the dead can speak to those left behind became her “daily reality.” Brief contacts, sometimes even prolonged conversations, usually happened in the early morning hours over the span of many months. In the course of those conversations that led her to a path of self-discovery, memories of several past lives she had shared with her daughter surfaced in Annie’s mind. While those memories were only fragmentary and it would be impossible to verify them, Annie discovered patterns that helped her to make sense of her daughter’s death.

Inspired by the impact after-death communications had on her and their immense healing power, Annie started to seek and collect the stories of people who had experienced the same. We will learn in the course of the book that the ways the dead contact the living are manifold and are as personal as a fingerprint. Annie Mattingley did not strictly structure her book according to the type of experience (visual, auditory, dreams, occurrences in nature and so on), just because many of the subjects she interviewed experienced several different kinds of contacts.

The author interviewed many, if not most, of the subjects personally, so their testimony is just as intimate as the author’s own story and we will realize the huge psychological consequences after-death-contacts can have on the grieving process and on a person’s worldview. The reader will get to know Lisa, whose deceased grandmother urged her to deliver a message to her father and Celeste, whose father appeared to her in a vision at the foot of the bed, right when her husband answered the phone with the call to notify the couple of Celeste’s father’s death. Some of the contacts described in the book are more subtle, like Karen’s, who, when a ladybug landed on her friend’s shirt and then flew to and remained inside the arm of Karen’s glasses, knew it was her deceased mother.

The reader will learn that the subjective impression of having been contacted by someone who passed on happens to all kinds of people, regardless of their age, gender and profession. Usually such an experience is comforting, but the author also dedicated one chapter to the question of whether there is also a “shadow side.” She says the visit of a deceased is rarely experienced as upsetting.

Annie Mattingley anticipates her conclusion in the introduction: “I could have distilled this book’s essence into a single sentence: The dead return to let us know they are okay.”

You may order The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil through www.AnnieMattingley.com and through the following sites:
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zSaTLB
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2ljjV0I
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/2gEcr3f
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser: http://bit.ly/2gM255a

When the Veil Thins

I am writing this on Halloween while the ghosts and goblins and ghouls are roaming about. Little is more fun than dressing up in costumes, but the haunted houses and fright masks and scary guys emerging from coffins distort the sacred meaning and history of this season.

To some, October 31st is All Hallows’ Eve or all Saints’ Eve, which begins three days dedicated to remembering the dead. In Italy, the 31st is All Saints’ Day and their dead ancestors come on that night. The souls of the dead come to visit on the night of the Celtic Samhain, October 31st. November 1st is when the Zuni and Hopi have their ancestor day. Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, November 2nd and 3rd, is well-known to those of us who live in the southwestern United States. In this tradition, our beloved dead are enticed to visit with favorite food and drink on elaborate altars.

There does seem to be a connection between these various holidays, wouldn’t you say? The reality that ties them together is that the veil between the living and the dead is a little bit thinner at this time of year. There is a brief opening in which contact with the dead is made easier.

I discovered this opening quite by accident on an autumn vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico. Inspired by their Muertos festivities, I created a makeshift altar with a few candles, and some marigolds (the traditional flower of the dead) from the flower stalls at the Veinte de Noviembre Market, and one of Oaxaca’s famous sugar skulls. I used my travel sewing kit to represent my mother, a tourist brochure for my magazine publisher father. Once I lit the candles, the quality of sacredness was palpable. Though the signs were subtle, I was pretty sure I felt the presence of my parents, a first. Then came the real surprise—though I had done nothing consciously to invite it—the definitive presence of the baby I had aborted years earlier. When she (I had never known her gender!) reassured me she was all right, I was not only astounded by the visitation, but also by how much it comforted me, since I thought I had long ago made peace with my choice.

To illustrate just how seriously Mexicans take their altars, I’ll tell you about another year I was in Oaxaca for Muertos. My Mexican son-in-law Emiliano had left for his home village before my arrival, because his father was ill. My daughter Rowena and I had already put up the altar when we got the call that his father had died. She and my grandson left at once to join Emiliano. On their arrival, his tias, his aunts, looked worried. “Who’s minding the altar?” they asked. When my daughter replied, “Mi madre,” the tias smiled and sighed with relief. To have simply stopped lighting those candles when a significant death was so fresh was unthinkable. Perhaps at any time mid-Muertos, it would always be unthinkable.

I have come to consider this time of year to be a special gift. My parents, grandparents, aunts uncles, several cousins and friends, and now my daughter Randi are all deceased. Though some of them are in my mind daily, many are not, and I have learned that now is the perfect time to invite or deepen contact.

To do this we can use ritual or ceremony or prayer or an altar. We simply want to make it clear to our own psyches, as well as to our deceased beloveds, that we are inviting and welcoming them. This may be merely a candle, a photo, a moment of silent invitation, or an evening of prayerful vigil or contemplation. It can be as elaborate as a food/flower/candle-laden table lit up like a Friday night football field, accompanied by music and a feast and sharing stories about our dear dead. What matters is our clear intention to invite and acknowledge them, and then to release them back into the land of the dead.

It’s a perfect time to write a letter to the dead too. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by OCHO in Questa, New Mexico on November 2nd. OCHO’s Dia de los Muertos celebration doesn’t begin until 4 pm but from 3 to 5:30 I’ll be facilitating a Writing Letters to the Dead workshop. Participants might write a letter to address unfinished business or a love letter.

After the workshop, you can drop into the Dead Letter Office to use the desk and write on your own. If you mail a letter in the Dead Letter Box, I will ritually burn it later. No one will read it but the dead. Or take your letter home to burn, or sit by your own altar and write your letter there. Then burn or bury it and know your words will be received.

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil was released by Hampton Roads on October 6, 2017. Order online through AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, or the publisher at http://bit.ly/2gM255a or find it in your local bookstore.  Find out more on my Book Page.