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.


My Father

The trains are full. The train station teams with men in uniform. It is impossible for civilians to buy tickets, not just for the day but for the week, he’s told, maybe more. Their suitcases are ready. He had tried to get his first job after college closer to home and family in Chicago. Reader’s Digest had not wanted him. He attributes this rejection to his paralyzed legs and his canes. There was no Americans with Disabilities Act in 1941. He telephones Fort Monmouth. “Of course, we’ll hold the job,” they say. “We need you,” they say, “now more than ever.” Who would be more understanding than the Army Signal Corps?

We wait in the country’s turmoil. Every young, able-bodied man is enlisting; the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. We are at war. He is not enlisting. He is not able-bodied. Or not enough, at least, for the military. “You will be doing your part. It is important to write the technical manuals the Army needs,” my mother reassures. He has lived with this wound since he was two. The women in his life have always comforted him. I wonder now if I ever did, though I doubt it. I was too busy with my own wounds to give my father’s much attention.

On the crowded train, ten days later, we are the only civilians. The boy-soldiers are excited and nervous and they won’t let themselves know they are scared. They admire my delicate and pretty mother. The basket—designed to hold lettuce—that is my carrier is passed from soldier to soldier, so they can admire me too. They eye my father and his canes warily, full of pity for this crippled man, and maybe a tiny bit jealous that he gets to stay behind.

He senses all this. He has breathed the dark smoke of pity all his life. My mother touches the back of his hand with one finger. She knows for a proud man pity cuts deeper than a sword.  I awaken, crying. There on the green mohair train seat, they do all that must be done for a four-month-old baby. Some of the watching boy-soldiers will remember me and my pretty mother and my crippled father at certain key moments on the battlefield.

After the war a new toxin will infect the pity my father receives. Veterans will make assumptions. “What battle were you wounded in?” they will ask, puffed with manly pride. Or sometimes just, “Which battle?” with a chin angled toward his legs and canes. By then I am old enough to feel the armor of fierce independence that rises in my father as they rush to open doors he can open himself. I don’t remember how he replied to their questions though.

Recently I opened a door for a wheelchair-bound woman half my age. She was clearly grateful. But when I hurried ahead to open the second door, which was lighter, I flinched under the proud annoyance that flavored her curt thank you. I, of all people, should know that too much help is not welcome.

I am able-bodied. I walk with a vigorous gait, but there are wrinkles and gray hair and that thing I call my turkey wattle and to a 20-year-old I guess I look ancient. When one sees me crossing the parking lot and holds the Credit Union door open way too long as he waits and waits for me, I feel the shadow of my father’s wounded pride rise up within me.

The young man looks so pleased with himself. “Thank you,” I say with a smile and I am grateful, not for the holding of the door, but for this opportunity to be present in the face of my inexorably advancing years; for this opportunity to connect with a young man the age of my grandson; for a chance, perhaps, to balance and heal the wound that pity left in my polio-stricken father, dead, now, for thirty-three years this December.

Perhaps my father and this story come to mind because of the nearness of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and how the veil thins between the living and the dead at this time of year.

If you’d like to share how your deceased beloveds have visited you, there’s a way to do that on my website at https://anniemattingley.com/participate/ If you’d rather tell me your story verbally, let me know, and we can arrange for that.

While you’re at my website check out my Events page to see what I may have scheduled in your locale. The next two New Mexico events are:

Book Signings and After-Death Communication Talking Circles at:

The Ark Bookstore, 33 Romero St. (by the Railyard), Santa Fe
Saturday, October 14, 3 pm
The Blue Eagle Metaphysical Bookstore, 2422 Juan Tabo Blvd., NE, Albuquerque
Sunday, October 15, 2 pm.

I’d love to see you there!

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 & Noble, and IndieBound, or find it in your local bookstore.  Find out more on my Book Page.

When Lights Start Flashing

Among the myriad manners in which our deceased beloveds may visit us are a few we might be frightened by—especially if we’ve seen one too many poltergeist flicks. Or we could be just left saying, “No way, Jose,” totally confounded. These visitations involve electrical and physical manifestations.

Blenders go on in the middle of the night. Alarm systems may suddenly malfunction. Televisions change channels while they’re off or turn on when no one is around. Lights flash. Unexamined, these may simply seem strange, as well as unrelated to the dead. If experts are called in and no problems are discovered, we may be told, “It’s just a fluke, ma’am.”

However, if we turn our attention to these phenomena, hidden meaning may surface. For instance, a Canadian woman I interviewed felt, at once, when her home’s alarm system went off for no obvious reason, that this might be her recently-deceased mother’s doing. She had the system checked out—nothing was wrong, she was told, but the system continued to malfunction. Next time she was told that, “A big truck must have gone by.” By digging a little deeper she found significance in the timing of each incident, like that once it happened just as they closed on the sale of her mom’s house.

There was also something more fundamental to be noted. The role of an alarm system is to keep us safe, which, when we’re young, is our mother’s role as well. That protective role was one of the hardest things for me to let go of as my two daughters matured. Perhaps this mother was pointing out her desire to continue keeping her daughter safe. Before we allow a surprising event to frighten us it behooves us to try to determine what our dear dead might be trying to say.

Synchronous experiences are easier to ignore than the beeps of an alarm system and we love to brush them off as coincidental. Again, I suggest we look for meaning. Heidi awakens at 2:22 AM convinced that her mother has died. Within minutes a call from the nursing home confirms this. Long after her mother’s death she finds that whenever she notices 2:22 on a clock, she strongly senses her mom’s presence. The time—2:22—becomes a kind of secret code language between them. Although I didn’t hear that this was true for Heidi, at times, the specific numbers may hold important keys to either the living or the dead. Sure, any of this could be “coincidence.” However, such experiences are often accompanied by an uncanny and difficult to describe (or to defend to a skeptic) awareness, a knowing. If we reject this knowing, we could be allowing logic to rob us of a sweet and profound gift.

I would love to hear how your dead beloveds have visited you from beyond the veil that separates life from death. Please share your experiences with me at https://anniemattingley.com/participate/ If you’d prefer to tell me your story verbally, let me know and we can arrange for that.

While you’re there, check out my Events page to see what I may have scheduled in your locale. The first two events are Book Release Parties in Taos, NM at SOMOS, 2 pm on October 7th  and in Questa, NM at OCHO, 2 pm on October 8th. I hope to meet you at one of these, or at another event.

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.

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.

My Mickey Mouse Car

This photo of me and Mickey Mouse was taken thirty-two years ago as he pretended to hand me the giant key to the Chevy Cavalier I’d just won. It was Disneyland’s 30th anniversary, though I hadn’t paid any attention to the signs that said every 3,000th visitor would win a Chevy during the celebration. The snapshot doesn’t do justice to the tug of war that had just gone on between us. Mickey may look benign, but he was strong, and he wasn’t about to let me have that key until the PR photographers had gotten this picture.

All that day I walked around the park in shock. That I, me, Annie, who had always driven second- or third- or fourth-hand cars, was actually the winner of a brand new one took a while to sink in.

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that I didn’t shout out in delight when I received the first printed copy of my book. I leafed through it, standing up, nearly burning my spinach omelet. I was unsure I fit this “I-am-the-author-of-a-published-book” role. I’ve since recovered from my shock and become totally thrilled. I’m even easing into comfort in my new role, which I’ll need, to move with grace through all that’s upcoming. The first of my many events are listed below.

Here’s a tiny preview of next week’s blog that will focus on after-death communication through physical and electrical phenomena. These are true incidents when people’s dead beloveds made contact in ways that had particular meaning to the living person:

A woman invites her deceased daughter to join a family photo and later notes a circle of light in the picture, precisely where she’d asked her to stand, that by all logic should not be there.

A daughter smells trumpet oil. Her deceased father had been a trumpet player, so she instantly knows that odor can only come from him.

A cell phone flashes a woman’s deceased husband’s number as though he had called. She checks with her “tech guru,” who tells her this is impossible by normal means.

Saturday, October 7th, 2 pm, TAOS, NM, Book Release Party & Talking Circle on After-Death Communication, SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive

 Sunday, October 8th, 2 pm, QUESTA, NM, Book Release Party & Talking Circle on After-Death Communication, OCHO, #8, NM State Hwy 38 (just east of the Questa  traffic light)

 Saturday, October 14th, 2 pm,  SANTA FE, NM, Reading/Book Signing & Talking Circle on After-Death Communication, The Ark Bookstore, 33 Romero Street (by the Railyard)

 Saturday, October 28th, 2 pm, SANTA FE, NM, Reading/Book Signing, Talking Circle on After-Death Communication & Day of the Dead Altar (bring items for the altar), op.cit Bookstore, DeVargas Mall, 157 Paseo de Peralta

 Thursday, November 2nd, QUESTA, NM, 3-5 pm workshop (and ongoing until 7), Writing Letters to the Dead Workshop as part of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, OCHO, #8, NM State Hwy 38 (just east of the Questa light) 

Wednesday, November 8th, 11 am, TAOS, NM, Reading/Book Signing & Talking Circle on After-Death Communication at Noetic Sciences Meeting, Unity Church, 69 Blueberry Hill Road

I would love to hear how your dead beloveds have visited you from beyond the veil that separates life from death. Please share your experiences with me at https://anniemattingley.com/participate/ 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.