How Will I Know It’s You?

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.

Phoning a Dead Beloved?

Image: Akira Tana and Otonowa/Sound Circle

Years ago Isaru Sasaki chose his home site on a hill overlooking the sea above Otsuchi, Japan. In 2010, after the death of a beloved cousin, he installed a charming little phone booth in his garden with many-paned glass walls, an Asian peaked green roof, and an old-fashioned dial telephone inside, not connected to any phone line. Sasaki created this as a quiet place to grieve for and connect with his cousin. He called this the Phone of the Wind, because it is the wind that carries his voice.

One year later the earthquake-sourced tsunami that swept through Otsuchi, destroying most of the small fishing village and killing many of its residents, caused a massive meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. When Sasaki’s hilltop home was saved, he offered the use of his phone to grieving villagers or to anyone who yearned to connect with a dead beloved.

At first only villagers came, but soon there were others. One fifteen-year-old boy made a four-hour journey to the booth to talk to his father who had been swept out to sea in the tsunami. A woman whose husband had been killed and their home destroyed, dialed her house number to reach out to him in the booth. She says she felt he was listening. A grandmother, also widowed by the tsunami, continues five years later to use the phone and to bring her grandchildren to speak to their grandfather. One of them says he hears his grandpa’s voice; children can be less reticent than adults to admit such a thing.

Some people speak and hang up. Others await a response. After the teenage boy’s visit, he convinced his siblings and their mother to make the trip. Though this family had been unable to talk about the death of their father and husband, in the garden outside the booth they gather and finally can talk and cry and laugh together about him.

Many people return again and again. Do they receive contact from the person they long to hear from? Are their words heard by the dead? Why do they return so many times? Why do so many of them cry? A forty-nine minute NHK documentary on YouTube (The Phone of the Wind: Whispers to Lost Families [1080p HD]) doesn’t answer these questions. But the faces and body language of people using the Phone of the Wind reveal much and no one in the film walks away looking disappointed.

In the age of cell phones it’s rare to even see a phone booth—but Sasaki’s idea incorporates a basic approach to encouraging contact with our dead beloveds by its focus on a particular place.

For me there are two such places. I linger in bed in the morning (some might say malinger), because I love the hypnopompic space between the world of sleep and dreams and the world of waking. It is here I feel most connected to Spirit and receive answers to questions and solutions to problems. It is also here that I commonly receive contact with my deceased daughter and mother and, occasionally, with others. The second place I am likely to receive contact is my altar which is a place I go every morning and evening to pray and to meditate and to listen inward.

If we long to make connection with someone dear who has died, we can create some version of our own “phone booth.” This spot could be a favorite tree or a sun-warmed rock large enough to lie down on. It could be a candle-lit desk with an open notebook and a pen, or a drafting table with paper and sumi ink or watercolor, someplace quiet we return to regularly, someplace where we don’t expect to be interrupted.

Placing an old phone in our spot could be just the action that gives us permission to speak freely to the dead and to listen for a response. We might be surprised by what happens.

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.