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.

mediumship: why I believe

Let me tell you a story. Listen with the openness we had as children, when we all willingly believed in what is mysterious and magical, for this really is a tale of magic and the transformation that comes with knowing it is real.

Today is the 49th anniversary of the day my mother vanished forever. I wrote about my mother’s disappearance at an old blog called Big Ass Belle. The details of the story aren’t that important. Essentially, she vanished on a cold Sunday morning, a few days before Christmas of 1969. It was a singular event in my life and in the lives of my family members. There is tragedy and heartbreak in losing one so loved to death. And it is a different kind of tragedy, an endless heartbreak, for someone to go missing for 49 years.

There was before, and there is after. In years after, leading up to the subject of this post, we were never able to really let go, to grieve and move on, and we marked the transitions of life and the passage of our ordinary days always wondering. What happened? Where could she have gone?

Often, I would look at my father when he was still living and think “it’s not possible she could still be alive.” He left us at Christmas six years ago, 95 years old, and even in his state of dementia, he would still touch my arm and look at me intently. “What do you think happened to Audrey. Do you think she’s still alive?”

She would be so old, and surely in ill health, alone and lonely, and troubled by the same demons that drove her out the door that frigid December morning. But if not alive, then where could she be? Where is her body? Wouldn’t her secrets be finally revealed in death? For 20 years, I’ve fought to keep her on my state’s missing persons list, the oldest case in Oklahoma, but nothing has come of it. Nothing.

In 2010, my very smart, rational, science-minded sister, then 66 years old, happened into a small spiritualist encampment in Florida called Cassadaga. There she encountered mediums and psychics, for it’s a small village devoted to the mysterious arts and whether you are believer or simply a sightseer, they are there, a flock of working spiritualists, and they are quite busy.

Wandering through the village, a skeptical Karen encountered a medium standing on the front porch of her cottage. “I think you’re supposed to come in,” she said. And so my adventurous oldest sister entered the medium’s lair, was seated, and before she could even speak, the woman drew back, looking alarmed, and exclaimed, “oh, oh, there is someone rushing at me, she is pushing everyone aside.”

Everyone. Yes. I know the images that will evince for the skeptics among us, the very idea that we are surrounded by the spirits of those long gone, that they can be invoked simply by a willingness to believe they are there. And yet it is possible, I now know this. With certainty. It is possible even when we cannot set aside the flood of disbelief which automatically wells when someone says these things aloud. As with Karen, we have only to show up, skepticism in tow. Our people in spirit will do the rest.

But even if we can’t bring ourselves to a state of belief which is, after all, not much more than a suspicion, it changes nothing. It happened. Someone in spirit was so eager to communicate with my sister that she rushed that medium. Disbelief and skepticism don’t change the fact of it. Actually, I should say that disbelief and skepticism don’t change the facts which were subsequently revealed by that spirit, who turned out to be our long lost mother. She gave us answers to questions we’ve had since that ghastly day in 1969.

What happened to Audrey? Why did she leave us? How could she have stayed away, never to have reached out, not once? And most importantly, we at long last knew she was no longer alive — in human form — which is a comfort when the loss of someone is so unfinished.

Like my sister, I am also reasonably smart, and science-minded, but also artsy and romantic, so my interpretation of events may be suspect. I want to believe, I admit it. I love the idea of the unknown becoming known and I inhabit my own imagination as if it’s another, very real, world. But Karen is not that way. She’s rational, down to earth, one who requires proof.

That one, the utterly rational sister, conversed with our mother, of that I’ve no doubt. There were dozens of proofs, literally dozens. A complete stranger in a part of the country where none of us have lived before knew details of my mother’s pre-internet disappearance she couldn’t possibly have discovered. Karen’s appearance before the medium was not preceded by an appointment, or signing in, or any of the myriad ways a bit of information can be given and research obtained. The trip to Cassadaga was done on a whim.

Karen’s appearance was unheralded and the medium a stranger. At the time, it seemed to me impossible that one can speak to the dead, but it happened and it’s real. The medium revealed everything: where she lived when she left, and why she vanished, what was happening to her at the time, where she went and with whom, and most importantly, that she had died in 1993.

I know the skeptics out there are scoffing. The mere fact of our being human carries with it a disbelief in things unseen because it’s more comfortable that way, to believe only in truth we can verify and experience with our five senses.

But that it was my mother, I know without a doubt. I know it as solidly as I know that my eyes are brown and my once red hair has gone silver, that I am living and breathing in Tulsa on a sunny, cold afternoon in December. I am equally certain that most reading this will still not believe, though maybe the truest part of you may whisper before sleep tonight, “what if?”

What does it mean to really know that our loved ones don’t die? That they continue long after their human suits have disappeared? Prior to this encounter of my sister’s, I was terrified of mediums. My fear of death ~ and hell ~ was so extreme, I couldn’t even consider a reading. What if the medium said I was going to die? But this was astounding news from my mother was convincing and it had come through a medium.

I rushed right out and booked an appointment with the same one. And then I sat on it, giving in to fear again, for over a year. When I finally marshaled my courage to sit for the reading, it was a truly healing experience and the first of what would become many, because Mike died six months after and daddy three months after that. Grief once again felt ruinous, but this time I confirmed very quickly that my sweethearts were not dead.

In the Cassadaga reading, my mother needed to know if we could forgive her for walking out in 1969, if we could let go of our pain and anger and years and years of wondering, of not knowing, of never being able to grieve for her. She asked for our forgiveness and we gave it.

In subsequent readings with the amazing mediums, Nina Cree and Sandy Soulsister, I’ve had life-changing, astonishing conversations with my mother. I recognize now that this initial loss, my mother’s disappearance, was the foundation of the life I have today. That agonizing event was the sand in the oyster of my life (her words) and while I attracted a lot more sand and grit on my own for a period of years, that event was the beginning invitation to change in the most divine ways. The sand, the grit, has been turned into a pearl of the greatest beauty.

On this day 49 years ago, my mother vanished. Nineteen years ago today, my brother-in-law died by suicide. It’s also the winter solstice, which I have celebrated annually since 1993, a ritual which put to rest years of winter sadness. It’s also the birthday of a dear friend, Valerie, another accomplished medium and spirit artist, and the day my sweet niece Kylie was born.

Life just goes on. It evolves. We get sand and we make pearls. Or not. It’s a choice and I can attest to the fact that it helps to have the input of our loved ones in spirit, to recognize that there really is more to this life than what we see. That’s such a lonely state of being, thinking this is all there is. Knowing there’s more is delicious.

I am grateful, but really, something beyond that. There has to be another word. A devastating, heartbreaking event in 1969 led to some really, really ruinous years after, and ultimately to this life of peace, joy, love, and KNOWing. No fear of death anymore. No fear of anything. There is a sense of certainty about the universe, this life, and what I now know comes after and that is very, very precious. My mother is well. I hope you are too.

audrey

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.