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 and through the following sites:
Barnes & Noble:
Indie Bound:
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser:

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 and through the following sites:
Barnes & Noble:
Indie Bound:
Hampton Roads/Red Wheel/Weiser:

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 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 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 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.