Nothing, No One, Is Ever Totally Lost

Fall is in the air, in the way the mornings smell and feel, in the crackling cry of the Clark’s nutcrackers. These noisy birds are annoyed if I come too close and interrupt their pinon harvesting. It’s too early for them, isn’t it? I’m not ready for fall yet. Does this all portend an early frost? Will the flowers be felled before what I perceive to be their time?

My drying peppermint. Note the afternoon rain on the window.

I harvested the peppermint this morning and hung it in the sunporch to dry. This is a late summer task, not a fall one, but still that word “harvest” bothers me.

What I’m really not wanting is what follows fall—winter, snow, ice, cold. Yet these cycles teach me about how nothing ever stays the same. The grape hyacinth and crocus are the first to bloom in spring and the first to fade. All through spring and summer beauty shines, then disappears—lilacs, daylilies, the tall yellow yarrow I love so. Our irises are still impacted by last year’s army of voles who also killed most of the rhubarb. We have not yet finished clearing away the branches that were broken off by our heavy, late spring, snow.

Hail clattered everywhere last Sunday. I held my breath, remembering the baseball-sized hail that crashed through roofs and totaled cars in Colorado Springs last August. Sunday’s hail passed through without doing more than knocking off a few flower buds and petals.

Miscarriage, birth, life, death, illness, injury—they are all reflected in nature. If I can’t be present with change, I will suffer constantly. My garden and yard, the seasons, the moods of the sky and the mountains remind me of this at every turn. I don’t mourn the sun when it sets each night. I did not mourn it when it eclipsed on my birthday either. Why? Because I know the light always returns.

Last week I noticed a new volunteer hollyhock, not two feet tall, blooming a brilliant red. Another gift to be grateful for until the frost takes it away.

I look back at a journal entry about the despair I felt six years ago as I approached the first anniversary of my daughter Randi’s death—before her time. There have been so many steps and stages since then. Tears still arise unexpectedly as though from a bottomless well, yet even then I feel astonishingly blessed by life, and amazed and pleased that I can feel so blessed despite her death. I still often and regularly sense her presence to remind me that nothing, no one, is ever totally lost, totally gone.

This October 6th, the seventh anniversary, will include a new quality, since that’s when Hampton Roads is publishing my book. I think of this as bringing light to the darkness of that hellish day. Interviewing for and writing this book supported me through the winter of my grief and into its spring. I composted my sorrow and used it to nourish and feed my project. Now it is about to come into full bloom.

My prayer is that The After Death Chronicles will nourish all who read it, just as so much and so many have nourished me and it. Isn’t it ironic that I shrink away from fall for fear of the winter that will follow, when fall is my favorite season?

If you have after-death communication stories, I invite you to share them with me at http://www.AnnieMattingley.com. Just click “Share A Story” in the menu and follow the instructions. If you’d prefer to tell me your story verbally, let me know and we can arrange for that.

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.

 

Grief Poem #5

(inspired by Canto de Obsidiana by Gerardo Suter, MACO exhibit, 2013)

Obsidian Shard

In the length of a phone call
it entered my flesh
pierced my chest through and through
my world torn off its axis
skin, muscle, ventricle, auricle, tissue, vein
penetrated by needle-thin volcanic glass.
I do not make peace with it.
I do not accept it.
There is no resolution, no closure.
I allow. No thing more.
By now its presence is not felt
until the sound of violin, tenor, or harp
splinters its strange reality
and fills me with old shadows.

Afterward, as if melted by memory’s furnace
it re-forms into the most slender of slivers.
In the night, I caress it for comfort.
Like a genie in a bottle
rubbed the right way
it brings the precious history
restores the unbroken umbilical cord.

I begin and begin again
and in her ending my beginning
grows fiercely forward
like the saguaro grows taller, stronger from lack.
I shed my black mourning, receive the sun. 

© creativecommonsstockphotos / Dreamstime Stock Photos

The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released October 6, 2017. Pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. Find out more on my Book page at www.anniemattingley.com/books

Can We Say the Right Thing?

Someone has died. Perhaps the hardest words to get right are the ones that must be said or written to their beloveds. In fact, we can never get these words right, because they won’t make the pain go away.

After my daughter’s death, going to the grocery store was no easier than standing naked on a pedestal on the plaza would have been. The eyes of strangers drew blood. I was hyper-aware of everyone and it seemed that most everyone—if they already knew—was hyper-aware of me. Mothers, especially, zipped around corners out of sight too often to be coincidental, as if my daughter’s death were contagious.

© creativecommonsstockphotos / Dreamstime Stock Photos

No one knew what to say, least of all me. The first few times I was asked, “Annie, how are you?” and blurted out that my daughter had taken her own life, it was as if I had punched the person in the belly. I learned to soften my words—“She was depressed. She became suicidal.” I watched people guess what I was about to say and prepare themselves.

I felt like a pariah when someone said absolutely nothing when told or, literally, backed away. If someone responded with a flat, “Sorry for your loss,” I felt closed out.

Yet when a woman I knew slightly leaned back against a shelf with a sense that she had all afternoon to listen and asked me, “How are you doing?” I closed her out with a curt, “Pretty well, thanks, and you?” I was impossible to please in those early months, because the wound always remained.

One day I ran into the friend of a friend. We small-talked until that challenging moment when she asked what was happening in my life. I told her gradually. Her eyes widened and welled. Looking shocked, she whispered, “I don’t know what to say.” And—this was key—she did not look away. She was so authentic my heart sprang open. I watched her processing before she continued. Her words, “I am so sorry. How are you doing with it?” were not special, but they were embedded with a level of presence that bathed me like warm oil. We spoke for a long time. I neither pretended to be all right nor broke down.

Our words can be simple if we allow them to arise without censorship. This woman was not afraid to express her natural response or to give herself time to deal with her own emotions. Because she was present with herself, she could be present with me and we could connect. Of course, there was timing too; I was in the right place to be authentic with her.

The timing of nearly all deaths disturbs, with the young, even more so. But our current cultural practices teach us that death is the enemy. We struggle to extend life at nearly any cost. We whisk bodies away to funeral homes as if they were too ugly to look upon until coiffed and made up. We are tongue-tied in the presence of grief and the bereaved. I respect words beyond measure, but I understand their limitations.

Perhaps the most significant action in the face of a person in grief is to feel our own pain and fears and to let this shine through our eyes and to allow our words to be the feeble and limited expressions they are. It is our body language, the looks on our faces and in our eyes that matter.

Saying the wrong thing may be less important than trying too hard to say the right thing.

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.
www.anniemattingley.com

Grief Poem #1, 2011

13 Moons, Since

Somehow I have managed
to weave her a nest
from bits of bone
my fallen hair
her ash, the shredded pages
of her old IRS forms.
I’ve knit these together
on the beams of the 13 moons,
since.

I can—most of the time—
keep her tucked in this corner of my heart
where the spirits care for her.
I don’t trip over the anguish
nearly so often now,
now mostly only when I choose.
Mostly.

I can’t recall the last time
I broke down after dialing
yet one more 800 number
to have her name removed
from yet one more mailing list.
We’ll need her signature,
one hapless call-center guy replied.
That will be difficult
I re-explained
since she is dead.
Oh, he said.
I’ll take care of it, he said.
Would that you could, I thought.
I open her mail: “Order now,
we’ll give you free shipping for life.”
And, after her mail is forwarded to my house,
“Welcome to the neighborhood.”

I am forced to say she is dead
over and over again
to write deceased across forms
to declare myself
the personal representative
of her Estate, to ask
do you need the Letters Testamentary?
a Death Certificate?
will a photocopy do?
Each action, each word spoken
another letting of blood.

Yet without these burdens
I might have wandered
the labyrinthine hallways
of disbelief for an eternity.
Only as her mail shrank
my official duties withered
could I begin to glean
that what remains of my daughter
is this one bittersweet bundle
nestled here within me.

© creativecommonsstockphotos / Dreamstime Stock Photo

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.
www.anniemattingley.com

So Many Ways to Grieve

Mirabai Starr is a local writer acquaintance whose daughter died nine years before mine. I read her most recent book, a memoir, Caravan of No Despair (www.mirabaistarr.com), just before the fifth anniversary of my daughter Randi’s suicide, then set the book aside.

Recently I went to retrieve the manuscript for my own book The After Death Chronicles after Mirabai had read it. I felt chagrined when she referred to my knowing about her daughter’s after-death contact from her book, because I could not remember this. Eighteen months after my first reading, I read Caravan of No Despair again.

Now I could see how unprepared I had been for reading about her grief process and her daughter’s death. How could I have “forgotten” the strange sense of peace that permeated Mirabai on the night of that death—before she knew? How could I have “forgotten” the radiant encounter with her father on the night of his death—before she knew? Despite after-death communication’s profound significance to me, her stories had been too emotional for me to hold onto then.

Mirabai wrote that she could only read literary fiction in the immediate wake of Jenny’s death. I could not bear to read anything that touched my heart. Mirabai described the piercing choice to push the button to ignite the crematorium’s fire. I had asked to see my daughter’s body before it was turned to ash and nearly collapsed when I did. There are so many ways to grieve.

When I read that Mirabai had never met a bereaved mother who did not crave death, I wondered why I didn’t fit this pattern. I believe I had no space for craving death when my granddaughter Chelsey became my surrogate daughter. I had never considered living to be really old a worthwhile goal; suddenly I yearned for long life. Eighty-eight would take me past that vulnerable year in Chelsey’s life when she’d reach the age—47—her mom was at her death. But I did the math wrong. I’d have to live to be 98. Could I make it?

Mirabai wrote of the possible “suicidal despair” of grieving mothers, another pattern I had sidestepped. Knowing firsthand how suicide tortures those left behind, I would not subject my beloveds to that pain. Yet when she wrote of the holy fire of her pain, I burned with the compassionate sisterhood of our shared experience as mothers, no matter the external differences in our grieving process.

I experienced odd hits of synchronicity in the book. At fourteen, Mirabai’s daughter planned to be a doctor. My daughter had been a doctor. On the day that Jenny would have turned 25, Mirabai adopted a dog they named Lola. On the day after my granddaughter Chelsey turned 25, she gave birth to a daughter they named Lola. Why this made me cry when I read it and again as I write this, I don’t know. Maybe it’s simply that same sense of grief’s shared sisterhood.

On May 23rd I was on a train in Spain with my family, including Chelsey and Lola, the trip a college graduation gift for Chelsey, partly funded by her inheritance. This would have been Randi’s 54th birthday. I spoke of what I always share on my daughters’ birthdays as I relive the days of their births, of telling Randi about being awakened early by contractions, leaving in the dark, her toddler sister Rowena drowsy in my lap—no seatbelts in 1963—dropping her at my parents’. By noon I was putting my second-born to my breast, kissing her soft spot.

I will always honor Randi’s birthday. Without it my heart would not have cracked open 47 years later, but I would not trade away this day to avoid the day of her death. A broken open heart is like a seed that can burst into new life in damp soil. It was Randi who told me—after death—that I would be transformed by our connection and by all those I interviewed who had similar experiences. She was right. My will to live and my awareness of Spirit’s constant support have never been stronger. As Mirabai says, though tragedy doesn’t guarantee transformation, it does offer the opportunity for it.

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.
www.anniemattingley.com