Grief’s Bewildering Reality

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On Sunday it was ninety-eight degrees here in Santa Fe, NM. Monday night I drove home through literal waves as three inches of rain hit the streets, seemingly all at once. A sidewalk by an arroyo two blocks from my house collapsed. There’s debris everywhere. The slushy hail made my yard look like December. Can you believe this photo was taken on July 24th? Definitely bewildering.Santa Fe in July?

But it is grief that is the most bewildering experience I’ve ever had, that most of us will ever have. It jolts at every turn. I reach for the phone to share news, then remember. One heartbeat brings a surge of love, the next lurches us into pain. Everything screams, “Where the hell are you? Why aren’t you here?”

One of the joys of my recent move to Santa Fe (though I sure do miss my hundred mile views) is easy access to powerful films like Carla Simón’s film, Summer 1993, which depicts this bewilderment to perfection. The star is Frida, a child whose widowed mother has died of AIDS-related pneumonia. Frida has gone to live with family in the Catalonian countryside outside Barcelona. The film’s Catalán dialogue (the first language of this Spanish province) is sparse, but when Frida goes outside in the dark and softly calls out for her mother, searching for her among the trees with a flashlight, when she dials her mother’s phone number and waits for an answer she does not receive, when she finds a statue of Mary in a hidden grove and leaves a gift “for my mother, when she comes,” we don’t need many words. At times, I found myself holding my breath, because her sense of confusion was so visceral. When her eyes flinched at a tiny sound, I was inside her, as bewildered as she was, as bewildered as I was after my daughter’s death.BLOG 28 PILLOS PXLS

Eventually the girl asks who was with her mother when she died. And then, quite quietly, she asks why she wasn’t with her since she is her daughter. She is reminded she was with her grandparents, a choice I’m sure was made to protect her. As I left the theatre I was awash with love and sorrow in equal measure.BLOG 28 FACE PXLS

Support from a Zen priest helped playwright Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros and her three sons to be really present with their dying husband and father as he sickened, and at the moment of his death, and after his death, when they washed his body, kissed and hugged him, thanked him, and wailed. Gersten-Vassilaros said these moments showed her that her boys would be okay, because “…we made death part of life.” (“How Will You Die?” by Lindsay Kyte, Lion’s Roar, page 56, November 2017)

To protect from the moment of death has no value, because afterward the bewildering loss is still there. Racing a cancer-ridden man off to the hospital, when it’s been known all along he is to die, robs everyone and protects no one. It robs us of the chance to say goodbye. It steals the opportunity to allow our deep feelings to erupt. It separates us from the one we love at the last opportunity for physical connection we will have.BLOG 28 STATUE PXLS

The trick—no easy task—is to allow death to sear us to the bone, to let it shred our hearts to ribbons, to let it show us its awful reality. Two key events of my life, though exquisitely painful, were the opportunities to be with each of my parents at the moments of their deaths. They gave me a wobbly rudder through the awful swamp of bewilderment to come when every part of me wanted to disbelieve that their deaths were real and their deaths were permanent.

To access my podcast conversation on after-death communication with Connie Whitman, Architect of Change, click on: https://bit.ly/2LmboCL

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

What’s This About Besides Suffering?

blog 27 treasure chestAjaan Lee, Thai Buddhist meditation master, said that “Aging, illness, and death are treasures for those who understand them.” Perhaps all loss offers buried treasure when we open ourselves to it. When I’m really hurting I try not to ask, “Why me?” but “What is this about besides suffering?” This acknowledges my trust that the creative force is benign and loving, that loss is not about punishment.

I recall sobbing in a restaurant, unable to eat, as my first marriage collapsed to the ground. I remember thinking, This is what doctors prescribe tranquilizers (now anti-depressants) for, but I need to feel this pain. Giving myself that permission was the beginning of my post-divorce healing, releasing not just sadness, but anger and bitterness and disappointment.

Illness and death and its threat offer different opportunities. A woman, washed away in Katrina’s tidal wave, barely survives. Her damaged lungs keep her bedridden for months. While she heals she mourns the loss of her home and all her belongings. Over time she comes to realize the wonder of the simple fact that she still has her breath; the belongings are insignificant.blog 27 big wave

My friend Scott died three years ago, my friend Anne before that, and Jesse before that. The mirror reveals that the vertical creases running down each of my cheeks are multiplying. When a van deliberately crashes into a crowd on Barcelona’s tourist street, Las Ramblas, soon after I walked there with my family, I cannot shake the vision of my beloveds’ bodies flying and fleeing. As Carlos Casteneda said, death stands at my left shoulder. I regularly hear it clearing its throat to remind me of impermanence.

It was just under a year between my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and her death. During her final downward slide miracles occurred—a conversation that broke the chokehold of her alcoholism, a spontaneous ritual in which my parents’ love for one another was made manifest, and a day on which my father and I told each other, “I love you,” for the first time in my adult life.

Some people hope to die in their sleep or by heart attack. I understand this desire not to suffer, but sudden death robs us of the heightened urgency that occurs between a terminal diagnosis and death itself. This stage often brings healing to life’s deepest wounds. That final, difficult year of my mother’s life was her great gift—a sacrifice too great to expect or to ask for. It’s not that I hope for a long illness to precede my eventual death but, because I know its blessings firsthand, I don’t dread it either.

In 2001, I was so impacted by chemical sensitivities, I was pretty much under “house arrest.” I could not think clearly on a computer or near photocopies, so I could not even work at home. After I lost my job, I retired early. I played Scrabble with myself to re-build lost brain cells. I carefully sewed something elaborate and made it five feet square instead of the intended five by seven, a perfect demonstration of those damaged brain cells.

Seventeen years later, though I still must avoid certain chemical exposures, I have regained my life. I have gained an enormous appreciation for my body, for each breath, for each thing I can do. If I drag for a day, this does not compare with those former days and I know that even if something else were to restrict me, I would survive that too. After all, there’s always Scrabble.

Staying present with my daughter’s death by suicide has been my life’s biggest challenge. I had two anchors—my mantra practice and those I loved who loved me and loved her, yet despair and grief were my bedpartners. They blackened my sky and I was convinced joy would never visit again. To my surprise one Sunday morning a few months after her death, I awoke feeling happy. My husband and I lay in bed talking. I had forgotten how sweet laughter felt. We decided to go for brunch at Graham’s Grill, which had (before it bellied up) the best huevos rancheros this side of Oaxaca, Mexico. I felt blissful as I showered and dressed.

Backing out of the carport, the brakes made a funny squeal. “We should get those checked,” my husband commented idly. My fragile happiness plummeted. The despair returned full bore. The brakes would fail. The expense would be astronomical. The car would be a total loss. My daughter would always be dead.

The day plodded drearily on. Those wonderful huevos rancheros tasted quite ordinary. Nevertheless, now I held a gem in my pocket. I knew I had not lost the art of happiness, even if when it would return was shrouded in mystery.

Seven years later, though still moody (nothing new there), I am content with my life, my health, my age, sometimes happy, sometimes joy-filled, often grateful. And I own the knowledge that if joy could return after my daughter’s death, joy will always return.

I also own the treasure of being much more present with those I love. When I hug my husband as he heads out the door, I’m more often consciously appreciative of our love and partnership. I’m more aware of the need to Be Here Now (as Ram Dass said), because this moment could be all we have. This awareness of the “dreadful” possibilities inherent in the future is not depressing; instead it deepens my capacity to be alive in love right now.

blog 27 jewelsThese are the treasures I have gleaned. They cannot be given to another as comfort or reassurance. They aren’t greeting card homilies. We have to earn them ourselves as we invite whatever gifts loss offers us. Everyone I know who has moved beyond tragedy into a richer life has sought this gold and found it.

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

I Have Arrived and I Am Home

“I’m okay, scariest earthquake ever.” (on Facebook from Oaxaca)

“B & M are in Wyoming. They’re safe.” (email about Florida)

“Pretty shaken up. We’re fine.” (on Facebook from Mexico City)

“T and his sisters have evacuated to GA.” (phone call about Florida)

“O’s dad and family are all right.” (phone call about Oaxaca)

“Mom (who has cancer) can handle the smoke if she stays inside.” (email about Portland)

“It’s 110 degrees. B got dehydrated and is in the hospital.” (phone call from Oakland)

“Everybody’s sold out of sandbags.” (phone call from Georgia)

I’m dizzied by keeping track of my loved ones, checking on hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and extreme heat across the continent. I read rising death tolls in Texas, the Caribbean, the Isthmus of Mexico, Florida. The number of acres burning in the northwest is reflected by the smoky haze where I live in the southwest more than a thousand miles away. I am face to face with the risks of being alive, the reality of our mortality. Death looks over my left shoulder. It keeps clearing its throat to remind me of our impermanence.

I try to remember how to keep my balance. I note the beauty of my maxmilian sunflowers which just burst into bloom today, the red on the wings of a flicker flying past the window. I have my mantra practice, my own breath. I ask for extra hugs from my sweetie. A friend shares a mantra from Thich Nhat Hanh—I have arrived and I am home. Home is a place of safety and like it or not, home encompasses it all, including both life and death.

Years ago, during one of life’s particularly rough patches, a spontaneous meditation arose in my mind. In it, one by one by one, everyone I loved and everything I owned or depended on, was stripped away and completely removed. First, I was alone without family or friends, then I was homeless, yet I was okay. My car died. Walking, I fell to the ground with a minor injury to my leg. Still, internally, I was all right. When my body failed further, strangers took me to the hospital. When I could no longer continue living, I died. What remained was astonishing. Though I was aware that I had died, what I felt was a delicious sense of well-being, that everything was totally fine.

I had arrived and I was home, just as I had been before the meditation, and just as I am now, decades later. Storms, fires, floods, and earthquakes come and go. Life comes and goes. I am home.

Some of you who are reading this, perhaps many of you, may have experienced large losses recently in these natural phenomena or in other ways. May you each find your way through grief and loss to the peaceful center that is our true home.

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released by Hampton Roads on October 6, 2017. Pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Find out more on my Book Page.

Lighting the Stage Beyond Death’s Scrim

Scrim: In the theater a scrim is a curtain that appears to the audience as an opaque backdrop at the rear of the stage. When a scene is lit behind this backdrop, the scrim becomes transparent.

After-death communication lights up the scene beyond the scrim that separates life from death. In a flash, it can dispel any illusions we have that nothing exists beyond death (or that what exists is somehow unfortunate), dispelling both our fears about death and our concerns for the welfare of our deceased beloveds.

Today’s blog begins a series on the enormous diversity of ways in which our dear dead ones can light up the scene beyond that scrim. Each experience (and I include a few that happen prior to a death) has actually occurred and has revealed meaning to those involved. In his book, The Map of Heaven, Eben Alexander calls “…meaning, the language of the spiritual world…” These
contacts speak the language of meaning and sometimes require translation to be fully understood.

Here goes…

We may receive contact as sensations in our bodies, or as goose bumps, which I like to call “truth bumps.”

If we meditate, do mantras, or pray—Our beloveds may arrive in any manner while we are engaged in our spiritual practice.

If we’re doubters—We may experience contacts so profound our worldview is transformed.

If we’ve been unable to attend a funeral, we may receive any kind of contact—a dream or an experience in nature—that reassures us the person holds no grudge.

A car may be flooded with someone’s scent when they’ve not been in it for months.

Our cell phone may flash the number of our dead beloved as though they had called.

If we’re in danger without our awareness—A verbal warning like “Slow down” or “Watch out” may come just in the nick of time.

A message may come from lyrics or the timing of a meaningful song on the radio. Music may bring on awareness of someone’s presence.

After a death, a clock may stop repeatedly at a time which, when examined, has personal meaning. Once that meaning is understand, the clock may never stop again.

I would love to hear how your dead beloveds have lit up the scene beyond the scrim. I invite you to share your experiences with me at http://www.AnnieMattingley.com. Just click “Share A Story” in the menu to write about your after-death communication. If you’d prefer to tell me your story verbally, let me know that and we can arrange a phone call.

To be continued next week…

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released by Hampton Roads on October 6, 2017. Pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Find out more on my Book Page.

Three Reasons Why After-Death Communication Matters

We humans crave meaning in our lives. Contact with our dead beloveds can fulfill that desire in several manners. The most obvious way is that it relieves grief, but this is not its sole purpose. What I’ve found through my personal experience and research and interviews is that besides offering the bereaved comfort and hope, after-death contact can reduce fear of our own deaths and demonstrate that consciousness continues beyond the grave.

Hearing my daughter’s voice a few weeks after her suicide instantly released the hundred pound sack of worry for her that hung from my heart. She didn’t have to tell me she was okay. The very sound of her voice let me know she was all right.

Me and My Family at Park Guell in Barcelona

During the three fabulous weeks I just spent in Spain with my family I saw how often my great-granddaughter cried like she’d lost her forever when her mom left the room. She’s the one in the stroller in the photo taken at Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona.

This is exactly how we react when beloveds die, convinced we will never see them again. Our bodies ache, our hearts break, our minds dull. If we hear or see or feel their presence again, this process is not halted. But if we have some contact through the veil, the edges of our grief can be muted and softened once we grasp that on a non-material basis this person is still available to us.

This realization helps us to deal with a profound mystery: what will happen to us when we die? Most of us range along a continuum from nervous to terrified about that question. Do we simply fall into an abyss of nothingness? Is there a heaven or a hell? Are we worried that our flaws and mistakes will be judged? Will we be “sent” to that heaven or that hell?

Despite all the words of praise spoken in eulogies, our dead beloveds are most likely as imperfect as we are. When they return to tell us they’re okay, sometimes surrounded by a light so transcendent earthly words are inadequate to describe it, it helps us to understand that death is neither an empty abyss nor some horrific place to be feared.

Once we open ourselves to the possibility of death as a continuation, as another kind of existence, we are brought face to face with another large question: Who am I? Because we are so bound to our bodies, we are challenged to understand that we are more than physical beings.

I like to use the word consciousness to describe our essential nature, that part of us that does not die, that cannot die, that existed before birth and will exist after death, that part of us that does not require a physical body in order to be. You may be more comfortable using other words like soul or spirit to describe that essence.

Because I have seen these results manifest so profoundly in those who have had contact with dead beloveds, I view these moments as packed with possibilities. Whether we experience a single instance or, as I have, innumerable contacts, if we are willing to examine and explore the deeper meaning that underlies these experiences, we open ourselves to the mystical realms.

This can add a dimension of satisfaction and joy and relief from anxiety that frees us up to live life more fully. In these three ways—grief relief, less fear of death, and awareness of our essential nature—after-death communication can evolve into one of life’s great gifts.

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released October 6, 2017. Pre-order on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Find out more on my Book Page.