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.