rethinking death

Before I faced terminal illness with the love of my life, before my husband went to heaven, before my Dad died, before my daughter faced Stage IV cancer, before she passed away, I was terrified of the thought of death.

I was born and raised Catholic and had a fundamental belief in God. But even though I grew up with the church’s traditions and faiths instilled from a very old religion, I was still scared to die. As a young girl, I did not understand how to apply this faith into something I could not see, feel, hear, taste or touch. I was asked to believe in something intangible; something so big, that world wars were caused over the interpretation of it. As a child, I felt insignificant, small and non-deserving of any of Gods attention. Who was I to ask for help when I was sad, lost or in need? I could never live up to the perfect life as preached by the almighty priests who chastised all of the parishioners every Sunday for giving into some form of manly sin. I saw Mary and Jesus as family members of God, but never felt close to them or substitutes for the big guy himself.

So, when my husband Dean took his last breath, a piece of me felt like I died with him but the shock of the experience is what kept me moving forward. Terrified, I had watched him pass away without fathoming life without him, unknowing the depth of my pain was only just beginning. I left his funeral with the Urn in my hands, comforted that he was still with me, even though his body was reduced to ashes in a container. But he was mine, and I was his, no matter where he had gone, and holding him in any form comforted me.

I didn’t have much time to wonder where he was, because no sooner than I climbed into bed that first night after his death, an owl loudly and urgently hooted outside my bedroom window. Some other worldly knowledge turned on inside me, like a lightbulb, and I just KNEW it was him. He was letting me know he was ok, that he was not dead and that I could finally rest for that moment.

My biggest concern right after he transitioned was that I wanted to know where he had gone, if he was ok. Was he scared, alone, in some kind of weird place? I was still trying to take care of him, even after his body was cold and dead. It was the first time my spirit within my physical body was like a caged animal, trying to break free so I could go to him, be with him, take care of him. How could I explain these thoughts to someone? I didn’t understand them myself, and the shock of the direction life had taken me paralyzed my mind. My thoughts isolated me and I felt so alone.

From then on, he kept sending me signs, like electricity turning off and on, songs that would play when I turned on my computer, the Bose stereo coming on by itself playing songs that had meaning to him and I, along with the volume going up and down in the middle of the night. Ohhh, and the dreams...I had vivid dreams of him being with me, kissing me…loving me. I would come awake from that dream state and swear there was movement on his side of the bed. The visions were so strong, the feeling of overwhelming love so real, that once I awoke to reality, I would sob in grief that he was still gone and my sorrow would start all over as if he had just left.

Before I could catch my breath from his funeral held on my fifty third birthday, exactly two weeks later, my dad collapsed and died from a massive stroke at the age of 81. He went to heaven on April 22, 2016.

No sooner had I even begun to start moving forward with a new life, my precious, beautiful daughter was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma. The battle for survival started again, only this time my oldest child, at the age of thirty-two started her fight against cancer. After only eight months, she passed away on December 17, 2017.

Even with all the experience of illness, death and dying from my husband and father, nothing prepared me for losing my child. She was my first real love, my daughter, my best friend. I watched her slip away in horror, not because of where she was going, but for her absence in mine, her sister’s and her children’s lives. The memory of listening to her husband tell her children of her death, haunts me. The animal sounds of grief, raw from a child’s pain is nothing I ever want to listen to again.

So how does someone who identifies as a daughter, wife and mother survive all that loss in less than twenty-one months?

In my case, I had no idea how lasting the impact would be. Never before had I not had some semblance of control over who I was, how I acted, what I did and where I was going. Fast forward to days, months and years of crying, lethargy, struggling, feeling lost and the lack of will to live.

I started with reaching out to mediums, I went to local grief groups, joined a widows club, saw more mediums, incessantly watched NDE’s (near death experiences) on Utube, saw a therapist, read book after book on connecting to spirits, contemplated suicide, moved twice in two years, joined meetup.com, tried dating, quit my job, started a new one, made new friends, wrote and published a book, became an artist, landscaped my backyard twice, decorated my house twice, traveled to Europe twice, read self help books, travelled more in the US, studied then quit to become an enrolled agent for tax accounting, stopped trying to date, saw another therapist, took more classes on understanding the afterlife, took up yoga, changed who I was, how I acted, what I cared about and spent time with my grandkids and daughters.

Months and months after it all began, I was not healed, I was not happy, and I was still looking for peace. Yet, I was stronger, I was different and I was alive. I had not found joy as I felt in the past, but I had hope. Along with hope, I had faith that there was a bigger plan to give meaning to all I had endured. Hope was what has got me through every bad moment, hour and day. Hope, that I would find peace and joy once again like I had before.

Dean left me with the most precious gift of all, the certainty that life exists beyond this physical one I am living right now. His spiritual connection and ability to reach me in a somewhat intangible way gave me strength to know that this was the path chosen for me and I’m moving in the right direction. Death is going home to the spirits of every physical being and is not really a death at all. It’s an eternal existence of what we can only imagine fragments. The lesson lies in the pain of those left behind to live without the love forged to those who leave. With those lessons, we grow spiritually in our capacity to love others. We are all connected.

My ability to accept life after death has freed me in so many ways. My ability to let go of fear and live the life that I always dreamed of for the first time seemed realistic. My fear of failure didn’t matter, as long as I tried. How could I not, when Dean and Tia never got a chance to fulfill all their dreams. I have since learned that in our spiritual family, they sacrificed their physical life in this time and space to uphold their contract with God and catapult me into my destiny to help others.