crazy love: gifts from a dead husband

At lunch with friends in Scottsdale last week, I shared something I’d not revealed to anyone else: I took off my wedding rings in early January. Mike died almost 6 1/2 years ago. I don’t have any interest in trying to re-create the magic we had with anyone else and I’ve worn my rings since the day after his funeral thanks to a leering man I encountered in one of my grief-induced book store runs.

But I’ve been aware of those rings for months now in a way I had not been in the previous years, and so I took them off. Then I felt bad and put them on. One of them spins around on my finger and I’m always hitting things with the lump on the palm of my hand. I took them off again. I heard his voice: “We are forever, baby, rings or not.” So I took them off yet again.

It crossed my mind this might be time for a tattoo. Maybe one in white, so subtle: the initials JMC, and on the other side of my ring finger, always. Because he and I are for always and whatever way our shiny little aspects of the Whole show up together in human life — whether husband and wife, mother and daughter, sister and brother, friend and friend — our souls are connected always by big Love. We are one soul (hint: we all are).

I ultimately discarded the idea of a tattoo though I am certain Mike would have loved it. He’d tattooed a colorful parrot in a sunset on the left side of his chest after we bought our Mexico house. It was a celebration and also a cover-up for a post-divorce crying rose inked by a one-legged biker named Lefty.

And then late one night I saw something that caught my eye. It was actually called a “lovebirds” ring. What? Mike and I laughingly called ourselves lovebirds. We had a history of comparing ourselves to mourning doves. For years a pair of doves nested on the window ledge of our back room. Their solicitousness with one another was so sweet to watch. They fed each other, built their nest as a team, shared care of the hatchlings. They mate for life. If we’d ever envisioned spirit birds for our relationship, it would have been those doves.

So there it was at midnight, a silver ring with etched birds. It was perfect, with a back large enough for an inscription. I felt led to that ring and it jumped out at me, so as I was sharing this ring-related off-on-off-should-I-shouldn’t-I dilemma with my friends, talking about the complexity of the decision to take off my rings, there was Mike with a musical message.

I had just finished telling the story — literally last word, just closed my mouth — when the music at Pita Jungle switched to “Crazy Love.” It was one of our very special songs. Van Morrison’s version was a favorite. Lisa said, “do you hear that?” And I could suddenly hear it with a clarity which had been missing in the previous hour’s background noise. That’s how they work in spirit, drawing our attention to the messages they send.

I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles

And the heavens open every time she smiles

And when I come to her that’s where I belong

Of course. It was perfect. Just the confirmation I needed that rings/no rings, we are inseparable.

As I sat in my car before leaving the restaurant, I wanted to hear that song again, so I found it on Spotify, listened closely to the words, and remembered my sweet husband. It was a strong connection with him, heart to heart.

And so what next? On the heels of Crazy Love, just to be sure I was paying attention, and because Mike always made me laugh, a hilarious John Prine song called “In Spite of Ourselves.“ Though we were John Prine maniacs, Mike and I, I’d not heard this song in two decades. There’s no John Prine on my Spotify list.

As is the case with spirit, the words could not have been more perfect.

In spite of ourselves we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow

Against all odds, honey, we’re the big door-prize

There won’t be nothin’ but big ol’ hearts dancin’ in our eyes…

Our loved ones are constantly trying to get through to us, to let us know that we are not alone in a life which often seems long and sometimes lonely. There are messages all around us, messages out of the Crazy Love that makes separation impossible.

They are, truly, still right here. We can’t always feel their presence while we’re wearing these human suits, but we can be on the alert for and welcome the messages that they send. In Spite of Ourselves — and the obtuseness that’s inherent in wearing a human suit — they’ll continue to send gifts to us like breadcrumbs dropped in a forest; little markers leading us back to them, back to our true Home.

I know my baby was delighted for me that afternoon. I imagine he made that lovebirds ring jump out at me. I know he maneuvered things so I’d hear those two songs which had such meaning. And just to be sure I didn’t miss it, a few minutes after leaving the parking lot, Crazy Love played again on a random playlist not my own, by an artist I never listen to. Well done, Michael.

What I’ve received from Mike so often in the last year or two has been a sense of delight, his joy in my getting better. I can’t forget his laughter last April as I scattered his ashes on a beach in Mexico. “This is great honey, but you know that’s not me.” All of our people rejoice when we begin to recover because they know the truth: “In spite of ourselves we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow.”

Mike-O, my sweetest heart. Thank you.

the experience of sharing a death

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I’ve just listened to an excellent podcast, an interview with William Peters, founder of The Shared Crossing Project.  

I’ve long wanted to share a death with someone, so will be taking End of Life Doula Training in San Diego next year. I missed sharing the crossing with my friend, Brenda, in May, and I wasn’t home in time for Grace, who died two weeks after Brenda.

What really struck me were William’s words about seeing our loved ones’ souls leave. I got one of those full body waves of chills, what we call “truth shivers.” William said, “someone might say, ‘I saw my father’s soul leave his body.'” And I have said that, using those very words, in the six years since my father died. Daddy quit breathing and then his face firmed up and reformed in such a way that he looked as if he were 40 again. There was an instant of seeing him as he was, as his ageless soul departed his body, and then it was gone, leaving the softness of a being no longer animated by spirit.

It was the most remarkable experience, a gift, really. If we could all participate in this kind of thing, it would go a long way toward eliminating the fear of death that so many of us carry.

Trust: something real departs when the body ceases to breath, and it continues. Sharing this today because I think it’s really, really (REALLY!!) important to talk about death in order to move past fear. John Lennon said “death is like getting out of one car and into another.” And we’ve done it hundreds, thousands of times before. Fear less in this life. All is well.

spirit comes in feathers

A few nights ago, I got a text message from Brad, my friend Brenda Baker’s son. If you don’t know her or if you’ve not read of her here before, Brenda is my dear friend who died of bile duct cancer on May 9 of this year. She’s been very much present ever since, so when Brad said, “I have an interesting bird story if you have time,” how could I refuse? I called him up.

The interesting story he wanted to share was really pretty crazy, yet his voice sounded light and happy. Brad was sitting in the office in the front of his house ~ which used to be Brenda’s house ~ the night of Thanksgiving. It was nearing midnight and he was doing something online with lights off and the blinds closed. Suddenly, *POW!* something hit the window, hard, just a foot or two away from where Brad was sitting. It was startling, to put it mildly. The house sits at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Having spent months and months in the front bedroom of that house in the last year of Brenda’s illness, I can attest to the fact that after 7 or 8 pm, 50th Drive is a ghost town

Being a young man and smart, Brad thought it best to investigate, but first he picked up a pistol just in case. What, after all, would be banging on the window on a quiet street at midnight? Brad opened the front door a few inches, peeked out, and was instantly overwhelmed by the onslaught of heavy feathered body and wildly flapping wings. A “really big” bird hurtled through the few inches of opening and shot into the house.

A bird in the house is a long-time nightmare of mine and Brad was just as unenthused as I’d have been. He was stunned to see the big thing flying erratically around the great room, finally coming to rest on the far wall, where it clung to the smooth stucco before slipping down behind the television. Brad couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, so he rushed to look and, yes indeed, there were dark little bird eyes shining up at him in the dim light.

Though I don’t want one in the house, I am an avid bird person and I had to know what kind of avian critter would exhibit such odd behavior. There are mourning doves by the hundreds in Brenda’s neighborhood but they rarely fly at night. The two most common nightflying birds, owls and bats, are easy to identify and Brad knew it wasn’t one of those. As I quizzed him about the bird’s appearance, he just repeated, “it was big, really big.”

And so commenced the extraction, with Brad thinking all the while, “Mom, really? Did you do this??” As a show of “I’m here!” it’s funny, extraordinary, and it fits with two other instances in which Brenda has sent somewhat irritating or alarming messages to her son. In each of those cases she later confirmed to our friends who are mediums that she did indeed make the lights dim in the kitchen (no, son, you don’t need an electrical overhaul. I just dropped in to say hi!) and sure enough popped the bathroom lightbulb off its base as cleanly as if it had been cut (ta-dah!).

Why would someone in spirit send a sign like this? It’s not every day a big bird knocks on the window, then rushes the front door the instant it’s opened. In Brad’s case, I wondered if it took that to get his attention. He wants to believe his mom’s with him. He feels her at times. But the random penny or butterfly or rainbow isn’t enough for him. Enter the big personality of Brenda on her cherished son’s first Thanksgiving without her, and the dramatic, wildly flapping evidence of “I am really here, son!” If she was trying to get his attention, it worked.

As soon as I heard this story, I recalled the experiences of two gifted mediums, Suzanne Giesemann and Susanne Wilson, both of whom work with Dr. Gary Schwartz, a prominent afterlife researcher at the University of Arizona. On two separate days, before they knew one another, both of these tested, highly evidential mediums received messages describing how spirit is able to use creatures in the natural world to get our attention.

No, that’s not your mother sprouting feathers and beak, hurling herself at the window and flapping through the front door. But it is your mother (your child, husband, sibling, beloved friend, all of our loved ones in spirit) using the creature to connect with you. The spirits told each of the Sus/zannes, on two separate days, we control the birds with their permission. It’s kind of like remote control. And the birds think it’s fun! (You can read more of that here, in Susanne Wilson’s book, Soul Smart, page 83.)

This blending of consciousness sounds like madness if we’re thinking that, as humans, we’re a cut above the average feathered creature. But the truth is, we are the creature and the creature is us. I am you, you are me, we are all The Divine, in its many incarnations, and knowing that ~ really knowing it, gut-and-heart level ~ is to know with certainty that there is no death, no separation, and thus no permanent loss of love.

How does it work for Brenda to take over a bird and send a message to Brad? The quantum physicists would suggest it’s a matter of intention. Brad’s grieving, Brenda knows it, and the wish to comfort him manifests in feathers and raps sharply at the window. Message delivered and, in this case, received.

There’s one mind, one energy of love in the entirety of what we think of as the universe and beyond. It is infinite, everywhere present in all things, always. Separation is not possible except in our humanness. It’s why our minds can be trained to get out of the way so the consciousness of a living being can connect with the consciousness of one we think of as dead. Mediumship is simply expanding consciousness beyond what we think is real ~ these human suits we wear, our busy little brains ~ and joining with all that is.

So oneness, consciousness, whatever. It sounds nice in theory, but can we trust it? Since Brenda departed in May, her friends and loved ones have been getting signs from her and having those messages regularly confirmed by Brenda with evidence that she was behind them. Though I was sure that this crazy bird was sent by my friend, I wanted certainty, so I texted Suzanne. She’s the most skilled medium I know and she connects with Brenda regularly. “When you get a chance, Brad had a really bizarre encounter with a bird. I think it was Brenda but maybe you could ask? I’ll tell you the details after.”

That wasn’t the time for a confirmation. Nothing came through from Brenda. I told Brad to trust his gut and I was, for once, trusting mine too. That was my message in this, when you know, you know. I knew without doubt it was her. And then today, an email from Suzanne. Brenda turned up to affirm that she did indeed send that bird.

Suzanne said, “She had me laughing out loud as she took credit for the bird and showed me the remote control.  She acted silly and apologized for just getting the hang of it … She showed me it was as if her guidance of the remote control had gone a little crazy and the poor bird ended up behind the television.  All the while Brenda is loving that it’s working, but a bit freaked out that the bird has crash-landed behind the TV.”

This made me laugh out loud, because Brenda and I used to talk about the birds and the concept of directing them by remote. We’d mimic holding remote controls in our hands, driving birds into walls, windows, cars. Oops! It was a source of much hilarity in the year before she became ill. That she was having trouble getting the hang of it also echoes a statement she made a day or two after she quit breathing. Though a student of mediumship in life, she found communicating from the other side a bit of a strain. “It’s as hard to learn communication here as mediumship was over there.” Clearly she’s mastered it now, but this new thing of driving birds? She hasn’t exactly nailed it. Not so far.

And yet the love that flew through that door was felt. I heard a tone in Brad’s voice that I’ve not heard since before Brenda got sick. It makes me weepy to think about it now. There is such a gift in knowing our loved ones continue. It doesn’t entirely remove the pain of loss, but it helps. It’s a promise. “I’m still right here, still with you.” That sound ~ of hope, of coming to believe that she’s not truly gone ~ I’ll hear that tone in his voice forever. It resonates deep in my soul. It’s the sound of love and trust, of a broken heart beginning to mend.

We are so very deeply loved. That will sound like a cliche until we actually get it, way down deep. And usually, when that happens, the very thought makes the heart swell and the eyes get teary. The love that is Everything revels in the wonder and beauty of all of us. We are constructed of that Love and we ~  you, me, all of us, even that fat flapping bird ~ are the direct result of Love expressing itself with so much joy it can’t be contained. It’s a wonderful, mysterious, magical world. Trust that. Let it settle in. I hope your heart expands. I hope your eyes leak.

forgiving the unforgivable

Years ago, about seven months after my husband died, I was driving across town on a glorious spring day, top down on my little car. I was thinking of the circumstances of Mike’s illness and death, of the countless instances of extreme neglect and serious errors which led to cardiac arrest, subsequent kidney failure and, ultimately, a resistant, hospital-acquired pneumonia that took his life a month after his sixtieth birthday. I was filled to overflowing with anger and sorrow and guilt. Could I have prevented his death? Did I fail him?

To say that life seemed unfair and unjust is an understatement and I could not get over it. Mike was dead and I was as stuck as I’d ever been in my life, with rage my constant companion. Hatred of the doctors who neglected my husband reached the level of obsession. I couldn’t find a way out of the agony of living in my own skin. I couldn’t control my thoughts and even sleep was a torture, with constant nightmares replaying the horrific night I watched my husband stop breathing, helpless to save him.

As I drove that afternoon, I could feel the warmth of the sunshine and the wind in my hair, seasonal experiences I adore, but they were meaningless. I wanted revenge and punishment for those who’d harmed Mike, and for one particular doctor, the most terrible long-lasting suffering. That this kind of thinking was foreign to me prior to these events increased my distress. I’d become a stranger to myself.

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Seeking distraction, I turned the radio to the local NPR station. The Moth Radio Hour was broadcasting stories of the experiences of ordinary people. A man was speaking about his daughter, about how he and his wife had adopted her as a result of their work in the civil rights movement. As I listened to the words, the story turned tragic. By the time Hector Black’s voice cracked recounting his tale, I was crying so hard I had to pull over. Safely parked, I devoted my full attention to him. I was riveted by the tragedy of his life and then by the aftermath.

And the aftermath, astonishingly, was forgiveness. As he described learning to love the man he felt had destroyed his life forever, I began to experience tingles and then shivers all over my body. As Hector Black described hugging a murderer in prison and extending forgiveness and love, the top of my head opened wide and a dark mistiness swirled out of me. What was it? Suffering? Rage? Unforgiveness? I have no idea, but something real lifted out of my body in a stream, a cloud, and when it was gone, I felt a lightness I’d not experienced in years.

As Hector Black ended his powerful story of forgiveness and love, I realized that all of the hatred which had consumed me was gone. I felt peace for the first time since the devastating night Mike was abandoned in ICU two years before. It was extraordinary. Some things are simply beyond words and this is one of them. I was living in unrelenting emotional pain so intense it was physical, and seventeen minutes later it was gone.

So nice story, right? Lucky me. But why share it when it was purely a gift? Is it possible to create something like this? I know that my transformation that sunny afternoon truly was a gift of grace. I was so deeply mired in a murderous rage (and I mean that literally) and so nonfunctional as a result of PTSD, I was certain that I was irretrievably damaged. I was daily living a looping replay of what happened to Mike in the hospital and I was powerless to stop it. Decent sleep was impossible and during my waking hours, I developed richly detailed fantasies of how I would kill the doctor who ruined our lives. Detailed. The rest of my life was just a haze of rage and weeping and grief. From that disastrous state, I was rescued by a spiritually transformative experience, an STE. But again, so what? I didn’t do anything to make that miracle happen. It’s not replicable for someone else.

A few years after that remarkable experience, I discovered the magic of silence. No music, internet, or television. Only silence, meditation, writing, and BEing for a minimum of 24 hours. It’s never become easy. I still rebel against it at times, but I do it because it changes me and wonders have come from this practice.

In that first summer of silence, I picked up Colin Tipping’s books Radical Forgiveness and Radical Self Forgiveness and, as a result, decided to spend two quiet days working through the process of self forgiveness. I’d been released from the need to forgive others by my STE, but I was left with myself. Radical self forgiveness became my focus.

I’ve always been 1000x harder on myself than on others but we’re all different in our forgiveness needs. And while I’m no stranger to making amends, having worked the 12 steps for over thirty years, there were still bothersome memories that would rise up like smoke, memories of bad behavior, how I had harmed others. And coming fast on the heels of the memories, the old uglies of self judgment, self criticism, and, at times, that most wretched of the self-punishments, self loathing. The word even sounds grotesque and the sound doesn’t even come close to how it feels.

I was 59 years old when I commenced that work. I was ready to end the rehashing of the past, once and for all. I hadn’t a clue how to make that happen, but I longed to be free. My state of being at that point was increasingly aware, filled with love, and coming to know my own divinity. My newly polished little soul was crying out for these splinters of unforgiveness to be gone. And so the book, Radical Self Forgiveness. I spent two days of silence reading it, working it, following every step and recommendation, and finishing with a fire and a release. COMPLETE release. COMPLETE self forgiveness. It was stunning.

Radical forgiveness of self or others is a step by step process of recognizing the Truth about who we are. (And I’ll give you a hint: despite the way this life looks and feels, the separation inherent in living with this human suit, there is no other.) New thought people will have an easier time with Tipping’s books, but anyone can follow the process with an open heart ~ or enough desperation ~ and relief will be the end result.

Why do any of it, this hard work of letting ourselves and others off the hook? For freedom. For joy. For peace and love and true happiness. Because lack of forgiveness leads to judgment, which leads to separation, and that is not how we’re meant to live. It doesn’t feel good, not at the core. Our souls know better.

Every spiritual path stresses the importance of the natural qualities of the soul, the Bible’s “gifts of the spirit,” being one version. Forgiveness is the red carpet to knowing who we really are. Beloved. Cherished. Connected. Never Alone. That’s the true marvel of life, that one, that we are never alone when that’s so often how it feels.

So there are two stories here, one of forgiveness unasked for, a gift of grace, and then there’s a different kind of forgiveness, the result of a major effort and a lot of work, but readily available to all. Both experiences led me to freedom and with that, the deepest, most delicious gratitude. I shared the first for the hope and for Hector, and the second because it can take you there, to peace, to transformation.

I know there are people who sail through life untroubled by their own behavior or that of others, and if that’s you, goddess bless. Carry on. But even if you don’t struggle with forgiveness, maybe you know someone who does. And maybe you can pass it on, that there’s hope. Hector Black’s story is worth listening to just for the beauty of it, the proof that despair can be transmuted to love. But if your eyes ever pop open at 3 AM, the result of a memory which causes you heartache, remember this: forgiveness saves lives and bestows upon the forgiver the gift of a life worth living. It is life-changing and available to all of us, a treasure we can give ourselves.

Here’s Hector on The Moth talking about how it is possible to forgive even the unforgivable and what happens when we do. Love really is the answer. It is. Always.

(And a little magic with this post. On Sunday, I asked my guides what to write about this week and I heard “forgiveness.” Monday a friend sent me a message which said, in part, “Forgiveness is here for you now. Can you partake of it?” I can. I hope you can too.)

brenda, mike, and an angel

In May, at a gathering in Sedona, my friend Brenda held court as she’d always done when we came together, though it would only be a matter of days before she would take her last breath. After a year of chemotherapy and radiation, the bile duct cancer with which she’d been diagnosed had spread to the lungs, liver, and a space behind the heart.

Though she was dying, she’d been filled with sufficient energy to take that long-planned five day trip to Sedona. None of us knew to a certainty that it was her last journey ~ there was always the possibility of healing ~ but it didn’t matter. We were together and we immersed ourselves in the presence of love, all of us in a beautiful place, celebrating our friend and one another.

I had not been back to Sedona since Brenda died, but as I traveled there yesterday morning, my GPS directed me to take what I will forever think of as “the angel trail.” It’s a winding road south of Sedona which neither of us had driven before May. It’s where, in a terrifying ride back to Phoenix the Monday after our get together, Brenda and I both felt the presence of an angel in the car with us.

For non-woo-woo folks, I know that sounds like madness. To make it just a tad woo-woo-ier, though, I’d set a playlist for the trip which was, at the very instant I felt the angel, playing a gorgeous tune called Angel Dreams. Make of that what you will. It happened.

The ride was terrifying because I was certain I’d be hauling her out of the car on the way down, performing CPR. We had one tank of oxygen which, at the rate she was using it, would last 25-30 minutes at most. Sedona is almost two hours from Phoenix. A pulse oximeter showed a blood oxygen level in the low 80s, even with oxygen. I’d suggested to Brenda that trying to get her home was lunacy and a sane, responsible adult would take her to the ER. She refused to go. In retrospect, she was so oxygen-deprived I could have wrestled her into anything but instead, we took off. One dying woman, one small tank of oxygen, and me.

I held her hand and sang to her as we sped down the road, and then an angel was with us. I don’t feel the presence of spirit in the casual way of many of my friends who are mediums. “Oh, your husband/mother/father/son is standing right beside you” will never come out of my mouth. Unless it’s strong and intense, I mostly miss it.

And there it was. Strong. Intense. Unmissable. An angel. I do know that sounds insane, but yes, really, an angel was in the car with us. I said “Brenda, there’s an angel here.” And my friend, who was becoming quite an accomplished medium when she died, said “Yes, I know. I feel it too.”

In my imagination, there was an angelic hand on the tank of oxygen, ensuring we’d make it. We did. An angel was there. We both felt it, but who knows for certain? Whether or not you believe, though, this is a fact: the impossible happened. Thirty minutes of oxygen lasted for two hours. That’s indisputable.

At the same time, a group of friends in two other cars were texting each other about what to do for lunch. Getting Brenda on the road had been a frightening experience for all of us. One of our dear ones texted another about lunch plans, “ask her if she wants hummus with no seasoning,” but what was received was a promise for Brenda and for all of us: “a spring day, she wants Home, sweet nothings.” A message: Brenda was leaving, but she was ready. Angels again.

Returning to the scene of that near disaster this morning, I passed the point where the angel joined us (yes it did), and just around a curve on the angel trail was the Arizona state trout hatchery. When we’d passed it last May going to Sedona, I’d gotten all excited about stopping. I find hatcheries irresistible, but for all of her brilliance, Brenda had little interest in the natural world. She snorted at the prospect of a fish-oriented outing, laughingly played the cancer card, and suggested we stop on the way back instead. On the way back, of course, little fishes were the last thing on my mind. Keeping my friend alive was paramount.

But I do love a good hatchery. All those little slippery babies swarming around? They’re adorable, and if you can get your hands in the water, they feel like silk. I have fond memories of a childhood spent splashing around ponds and lakes, chasing tadpoles, scooping up handsful of baby catfish only to feel their wee silky bodies slipping between my fingers. No access to the water at the hatchery, though, so I contented myself with throwing feed, watching them swarm, and admiring their silvery sides shining in the sunlight.

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And then, magic. Suddenly, a red dragonfly (red!) buzzed by me. Once, then again. Then over and over, back and forth. It was dancing above the surface of the water. I got the intense full body shiver that’s my indicator of spirit’s strong presence and I knew Brenda was standing there with me.

As I watched, I remembered my sweet little husband having mentioned a red dragonfly in a development session I attended with some practicing mediums just a week before, and I thought “Mike? Where are you, honey?”

And in a flash, there were two. Two brilliant red dragonflies putting on a show in this enchanted part of Arizona where I’ve spent such happy times with Mike, with Brenda, and with so many of our spiritual friends. (And with an angel.)

Leaving, I got an image in my mind of the old school switchboard operators, an endless row of busy folk plugging in one line after another. In this vision, all of our loved ones in spirit stand behind, watching the board and the efforts to make contact. When a connection is made, when a sign is received and affirmed by someone in this world, the switchboard lights up and everyone applauds. All of our misty folk ~ those who love us and the ones we love ~ celebrate. Joy fills the room, and then the task continues.

Every day we are shown in small ways and large how much we are cherished by those we’ve lost. Watch for those signs. They’re everywhere if we’re willing to look with our hearts open to love. We are so intensely, deeply loved by those in spirit. I am overwhelmed with gratitude even writing that. I hope you know it ~ and feel it ~ too.