Blogging for Transformation
The spiritual experiences and intuitions surrounding the passing of loved ones can be powerful tools to begin the process of healthy grieving. But what if we don’t believe in a God? Or if we do believe and yet nothing is coming through? And what if our pain is so great we simultaneously desperately long for something, some sign, some message from our loved ones who have passed, and yet push away any thought that such a sign or message could be real?
I am a former Pediatric Critical Care Physician and have researched dozens of children's near death experiences. As a result, I have worked with hundreds of grieving parents over the years. Often they are the most skeptical and cynical questioners of my research, for as one father bitterly told me: “What you seem to be selling is just too good to be true.” I welcomed his cynicism, as I understand that the stakes are high: If near death experiences are real, then the entire range of deathbed experiences are real, from premonitions of death to after death communications.
Grieving parents deserve clear honest answers. After I thoroughly addressed his doubts, he shared with me that after his son passed, the family’s Christmas cactus shifted its blooming cycle from late November to the anniversary of his passing in late Spring. “I just thought it was a coincidence” he confided. “Now I know better”.
A Miracle Might be a Parking Spot
One young patient of mine's dying wish to her family was to see the Broadway production of the Lion King that was coming to their city. She watched the movie over and over and over again. “Please, please, can I see the real live Lion King”? Her parents bought tickets, barely able to afford them in a family already devastated by the financial ravages of their daughter’s chronic illness.
Her leukemia relapsed again a week before they were to see the show. She peacefully passed in her sleep only days before the date of their tickets. They were in anguish as what to do about going to the show. It was their daughter’s dying wish, yet by the same token it represented the death of their child, an unbearable horror. Finally, with only minutes to spare before the show started, they jumped into the family car and drove furiously downtown to the theatre. Traffic was a nightmare, the show was sold out, and there were no parking spots to be found. Her father pounded angrily on the steering, shouting his frustration.
And then, a parking spot, directly in front of the theatre opened up. Coincidence? Here is what her father told me: “we don’t believe in all that spiritual mumbo jumbo. At your talk to our parent support group, you told about a boy (who had passed) appearing at the foot of his parent’s bed and saying “I’m OK now, please stop crying”. Well, if that happened to us, we wouldn’t believe it. But when that parking spot opened up, we knew it was our daughter, and she was there with us when we watched the show. Our bereavement is made a little easier as that parking spot meant, for us, our daughter was watching us from the afterlife.
Or a Postcard from the Dentist
At a workshop on bereavement, a woman told me about a “coincidence” in her life that she felt was a message from her husband who had passed. Several days after her husband’s death, she received a postcard from her dentist reminding her of her routine checkup. When she examined the card, she gasped, as the picture on the postcard was of a beach on the Washington State coast that had a special meaning for her and her husband. This is where he proposed to her. They returned to this specific spot again and again throughout their marriage.
She went to her appointment and asked about the postcard. She was told that the dentist simply bought a big batch of postcard depicting hundreds of scenes from around Washington State. It was just a coincidence that she received that particular card. Or proof of patterns of reality that are beneath the surface of our ordinary lives but emerge from time to time to reassure us that we are part of a greater plan. So much of loss involves the devastation of the meaning of our lives, we don’t have a child or a spouse or a parent or a loved one anymore. Finding out that loss is part of a greater pattern can restore meaning to our lives, even if it doesn’t make the loss any less painful.
Or Someone Else's Dream
I was lecturing at a hospice in Vancouver, Canada. The woman who picked me up at the airport wanted to tell me about a dream she had the night before. She said “it had all the features of the lucid dreams you say are so important in recognizing a visionary dream from just a regular dream. But I have no idea what it means.” She told me she had a vividly real dream, as if she was awake, of a young boy playing with a golden retriever. She couldn’t stop watching them, as they wrestled and the boy laughed and rolled around and around with his dog. Suddenly he stopped and looked at her. He said “Hi I’m Matt. Tell my Mom to stop crying. I am ok”.
I gave my lecture and then met with a group of grieving parents that night. We talked about how hard it is to have anything but fury, anger and anguish after the loss of a child. One Mom bitterly told me “how can I have a dream about my son when I can’t even sleep”. I told her about the dream I had heard from the woman who picked me up at the airport. The Mother turned white. “oh my god. That’s my son.”
No healing can occur until we embrace our pain. We cannot do this alone. We need someone else to sit on the edge of the abyss with us. Once I felt my heart was so damaged that I could never heal. I was broken. I was caring for my Mom who was slowly dying of dementia at the time. I clutched her close to me and cried to her “Mom, I am broken. I can never heal”. She cried out to the ceiling: “Lord, my son is broken. Well I am broken too. Heal us Lord”.
I didn’t feel healed that day. I felt heard. Another person knew of my pain. And that was the start of healing. As I felt listened to, I was able in turn to listen, to others, and to the Universe around me.
One day I was riding my bicycle to see my Mom. I was peddling up a steep hill. A young man rushed out of his house and called out to me: “Hey Dude, keep on keeping on. You can make it”. And then he went back inside his house! “What?” I thought. “Did that really happen?”. Then I realized that had I still been consumed with my grief, I would never have heard his words. My Mom’s prayer opened a crack in my heart, to allow the light to come in.
But It's Not Happening for Me: Specific Exercises That May Help
First: see where you are in the process of grieving. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I asked Elizabeth Kubler Ross about these stages and she told me that they do not always progress in a linear fashion one after the other. The stages often circle around again and again. Recognize that if we are in the anger and denial phases, we probably are not going to be open to any sort of spiritual intuitions or understandings. In those situations, often the messages come to us indirectly through our friends and family.
Next: Find a ritual that has meaning for both you and the person for whom you are grieving. For one mother, it was to bake cookies at 3:30 every afternoon, as that is when her son came home from school and they would talk. For a father, a conservative Republican, it was reading Wiccan prayers every Sunday morning as that is when he and his son would angrily discuss his son’s then rebellious phase of wanting to be a Wiccan.
Ask your loved one a question: A third step to try: Sit quietly right before bed. Just get comfortable, don’t sit in a special position. Don’t try to guide your thoughts. Whatever you are thinking, reflect on it. Say to yourself “oh, I am thinking about (whatever) again.” Do this as often as needed. Don’t try to quiet your mind, instead, be an interested observer. Pretend you are doing a play by play of your own thought processes. After 10 minutes of this, state out loud a sincere question for your loved one who has passed. Make it short, simple, and out loud. Then go to sleep. When you wake up next, whether that is in an hour or morning, quickly write down your first thoughts in a journal. Continue this for a few weeks, then review your journal with someone you love and can talk to.
Fourth Exercise: Practice left brain distraction techniques: These are any sort of repititious and rhythmic activities that engage the left brain, suppressing our internal noise and chatter. The reason that quilters often had “quilter’s visions” is from the rhymical repetitious movement of their hands. Similar results can be obtained by sorting collections of baseball cards (or whatever you collect), gardening, playing Tetris or any sort of activity which engages the left brain in a repetitious manner. This frees the right brain to connect with the Universe and connect with spiritual intuitions.
DON’T BE A DOUBTER OR A BELIEVER: JUST BE
For those of us who are concrete thinkers, we need our messages to appear as “real” meaning that they appear to us in this reality. Hearing a voice, or a dream, or seeing a ghostly image or an angel may seem fake, just made up by the mind. For others, it is the opposite. A voice, or an angel seems real, and a post card from the dentist with a picture on it just seems like a coincidence.
When I was in crisis and needed a message from the Universe, it came in the form of a real person who just randomly appeared and told me to "keep on keeping on". That may not be how you receive messages, but don't expect them to necessarily come from an angel in white.
Think of it as tuning a radio to the proper frequency. Suspend disbelief and take a few moments to think what form a message would have to take for you to embrace it.
Then be patient.
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