Tag Archives: life after death

Let Us Cross Over the River

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom's death

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom’s death

With Mom’s death and now Dad’s, I’ve noticed that it takes time to expurgate the image of them near death – diminished and battling. In Mom’s case, I awakened after three days with a brilliantly clear “dream” of her at the kitchen table in her favorite pink quilted bathrobe. Blessedly, that became the image I carried with me as I mourned her death and celebrated her life.

With Dad, what keeps coming to me are images of water, which I shared in earlier blog posts. I thought the dream about safety drills under freezing water, dozens of stories below ground in a mine, and another about paddling a crew boat across a cold, choppy channel, represented how I was trying to rescue Dad.

Then I had the dream about entering my living room to find a group of seven caregivers. The six clad in white told me they were there to “lift Dad up.” When I asked the caregiver clad in a black swim cap what he was doing there, he said he was for “after.” I knew that he was there to swim Dad across the river, as in the River Styx.

Rereading my emails to my brothers, I came across some from summer before last. All that summer, Dad and I “shade hopped” from one side of the street to the other, walking down Mariemont Avenue, ending across from a large oak tree. Most days, before we crossed, Dad would recite Stonewall Jackson’s final deathbed statement, as transcribed by his physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire. McGuire wrote:

Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

If there is life after death – and I believe there is – surely Dad is resting in the shade by a beautiful river.

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Can This Love Last?

Holding on to love

In the wake of Dad’s death, I am deeply reflective.

We hear a lot about how hard caregiving is on caregivers, and I admit to feeling at my wit’s end during the most challenging periods of my Dad’s final illness as I wrote about during this blog post. And yet… I have rarely felt so filled with love as during these last months. Maybe I’m experiencing the same kind of amnesia that once dulled my memory of the pain of childbirth.

I’ve known many kinds of love in my life: romantic love, maternal love, even “sister-wife” love. The kind of love that I experienced when focused on my Dad’s needs approached something on a more spiritual level. I find that I miss the “love bubble” that I lived in with my Dad these past few months.

During the past couple of months, I’ve struggled with matters of faith and was angry about the natural order of things, which can make old age and dying a brutal experience. My beautiful cousin Lynn wrote, “The Love you are feeling is God. Everything even the agony is part of that love. This is your path now… with your father.” And my mentor Jim wrote, “Your Dad does not have to have all the answers to all the questions right now. He needs heart connection because that ultimately answers the unanswerable questions and ensures him peace of heart and peace of mind so he can release. Whether he connects in any way to a traditional notion of God, he sure does to your Mom and he wants to go and be with her.  So for him, there is a there there, and he has his heart set on arriving.  Leaving is generally harder than entering, for each of us.”

There was something, well, holy, about the last 15 or 20 minutes. I previously described how his eyebrows lifted up, the way they would when he saw someone who delighted him, and his lips moved as if he were speaking to them. And a little while before that, his mouth, which until then was slack, suddenly bowed into a giant smile. I said to Dean, “Look – he looks happy.” Dean and I had the distinct feeling he was seeing Mom.

As we plan Dad’s memorial service, my brothers and I are sifting for readings that speak to us. Phrases are popping out to me like these:

“Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13: 8)

“… the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” (Phillipians 4: 7)

“It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15: 44)

“We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. … what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 1-2)

Then I read Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven and found his testimony of his Near Death Experience to be reassuring that consciousness — our soul — lives on after we leave the little bit of this universe that we experience during our mortal lives. 

Talking about the book, my brother, Scott, described to me something that Dad had shared with him when my sister, Midge, was in her last hours, dying of leukemia at age four. Dad told Scott that Midge suddenly sat up and said, “I hear music.” Shortly thereafter, she died.

I know that it feels as if Dad is not gone. And I don’t just mean that his lessons live on in all of us. I still feel his love as a presence. I believe that he – and Mom – somehow exist beyond mortal death.

That love was shared with me in the process of his dying. It changed me during that time that I lived in the small world of his house, where everyone was focused on the mission of easing his way.

What I wonder now is this: as I rejoin the world, how do I keep this feeling of selfless love? Is Jim right when he says: “God is with us, actually inside each of us even when we do not sense it, and remove enough of our own clutter and misgivings and pain to be fully conscious of divine love inside us.”

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