Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, novelist, medical doctor and mystic, wrote extensively about the afterlife. He believed that spirits wish to contact the living and improve life here on earth. Doyle's experiences suggested that the recently deceased are reliably able to contact loved ones, often with the help of psychics and mediums. During the last couple years of my mom's life I had been reading a lot about mysticism, seances, the great beyond. I was trying to prepare for her passing, which if death means a transition to something else, would be a death of my own as well. Call it life after mom. I was also trying to understand what such an existence, as pure spirit, might be like.
I had been waiting since my mother's passing on August 10th for any sign from her. Nothing. The house felt as empty as it was. But in the wee hours of Saturday the 10th, the one month anniversary of my mother's death, I got what I had been waiting for. She came to me. I should start by saying that I had had a rough week. My mother's absence hit me with full force after Labor Day - perhaps because she and I went for Thai food every first week of September for the previous half a dozen years - and I found myself alone for the first time since her death. Loved ones had stopped calling, friends were busy, flings had flown away.
Going through old closets last Wednesday I came across cards she had written me for recent holidays. Seeing her handwriting and reading her sentiments made it all so real. What on earth can compare to a mother's love? Who can possibly love you so wholly and unconditionally but the one from whose womb you sprang! I am but an extension of her. No matter how fiery our arguments became or how strongly we disagreed (as we often did), one thing was certain: we'd always make up. She never abandoned me or lost faith. Even when I'd distance myself or push her away, she was always waiting with open arms for me to return. Mom always wanted my best. A true friend and ally in life, like no other I have ever had (or could possibly hope for?). And now she is gone and I will never see her again! And now I am alone.
I hadn't cried since the day she died, having resolved to remain stoic, having shed all my tears while she was alive. But the floodgates burst and the tears flowed. I doubled over, like I had just been punched in the stomach. From that point forward, the anguish came in waves, each lasting about an hour or two and then subsiding for a few hours until the next bout of grief struck. The pain was unbearable. A soul pain. I really didn't know how long I could stand it. I was like, kill me now. It sucks to be bereaved.
I don't know what happens when we die, I mean to our soul. But from what I've read, one of two things is likely. Either death is like deep sleep, an eternal unconsciousness or a merging with the One. Or else there is some afterlife, some extension of individuality, and if you believe the author of Sherlock Holmes, the experience is blissful and wonderful and once we leave our bodies we never want to come back to earth (though some of us do, as other authors have written).
Now before my mother left her body, I asked her to show me a sign of her continued existence as spirit. Call it a message from the other side. My mom liked dream catchers. They were in practically every room of her house. If you are not familiar with them, dream catchers are handmade objects woven with yarn into a circle. The circle has spokes and there are usually feathers hanging from it. The spokes are supposed to snare bad dreams and only let good ones in. The one hanging from her bedroom fan is white and tan and dangles above her bed. Like the others, the dream catcher had been given to her for her generous contribution to one or another orphanage or society for Native Americans. My mom and her charities. Or maybe it was a gift from a friend. Anyhow, I asked that if/when she paid me a visit she might knock that dream catcher off the ceiling fan. "I dunno," she said, eyeing it warily. "I fastened it pretty darn tightly. It'll take a lot of skill." I reminded her of that scene from the movie Ghost, where a spirit teaches Patrick Swayze's character how to move material objects by a power of the will. My mom's will is strong. All she'd need was the skills. My brother Justin has been dead for almost 20 years. Maybe he could teach her.
I don't know where my mom has been this last month, but I'm sure she has been working on said skills. Because Saturday in the wee hours I awoke to the distinct sound of someone trying to open her bedroom door. I sleep with my door open and my mother's bedroom is next to mine, so I couldn't be mistaken. After my mom died I closed her bedroom door because the dog likes to pee in there. But it sounded as if someone was trying to fit a key in the knob, or else rattling the handle. I wasn't afraid, though you could imagine how I could be at the thought of an intruder trying to get in. But I knew the one trying to get in was my mother. I knew this without even opening my eyes when before long she came into my bedroom. I knew it by her presence. And as she stood (hovered?) beside my bed, I knew that if I opened my eyes she would vanish and the visitation would end, so I kept them shut.
She asked me if she could lie down in bed beside me. "Sure," I said, without opening my mouth. We were communicating telepathically, which I guess is how it's done in the spirit realm. So my mom gets into bed and I turn to her and put my arm around her waist. My fingers touch the bare skin of her abdomen and caress the surgical scar on her right side above her waist. If I hadn't been convinced of my mother's presence, touching her flesh did it. I start to cry and tell her how hard it is for me to be without her, how I miss her. You know what she said? "You're better off without me." She said this so matter-of-fact, with such cool candor. "You're better off without me." I start to cry some more, and before I know it, the dream or visitation is over. I open my eyes and am back to being alone in my bedroom. That is, with my dog Max by my side, exactly where my mother had just lain.
The interaction wasn't enough. I wanted more. I looked at the clock. It was 3 am. I couldn't go back to sleep for what seemed to be an hour. When I did, I dreamt that I walked into the laundry room and saw my mom standing in front of the washer. She was wearing my black bathrobe, one of two I have hanging in my bathroom, and folding clothes next to a man who was dressed much the same (presumably in the other black bathrobe). His back was to me. I could only see his bare calves. I didn't know who he was. Perhaps it was Justin? I approached my mother and put my arms around her. As I held her, she fainted. I thought she had died and shook her awake. She came to life and stood erect, looking at me with such clear eyes. Her face was radiant. I hugged her tight and asked her not to leave me, that I couldn't go on without her. And you know what she said? "We can do this whenever you feel like it." Meaning hug. So I hugged her again and I cried some more and awoke in my bed, my face contorted as one who is weeping, but my eyes were now dry.
So, what to make of this? The second encounter was a dream, as in a product of my imagination. It didn't feel as real, as vivid, as the bedroom scenario. But what about the bedroom visitation? It happened exactly where I had fallen asleep, and I felt my mom's skin. But if she had come in physical form Max would have heard her and barked or at least woke up. But he didn't stir. Proving he did not detect her presence. Coming as spirit she must have interacted with my spirit self. In a sort of alternate reality, different but related to the material realm of my bedroom. As for what she said about my being better off with her gone. It sounded like she was breaking up with me! But she was merely stating a fact, or rather restating what I had once said to her. When it was clear she didn't have long to live, she lamented the fact of her imminent departure. "I want to stick around to see how your life turns out, Adam," is what she told me. The irony was that as long as she remained alive with end stage cancer, whether a day or a decade, my life wouldn't change. I'd be at home with her, worried incessantly about her condition and doing everything I could to see to her health and comfort. Things like commitments, career, kids, all the things you think of, all the things she was thinking of when she said she wanted to see how my life would turn out, would never be in the picture in her lifetime. For my mother was everything to me, and my life belonged to her. I didn't tell her this with any resentment, just as she didn't tell me what she told me to hurt my feelings. It is just the truth. Maybe I am better off without her. Either way my life will go on. And with it, the love for her I carry in my heart. I can share the love she had for me, a mother's love, deep and overflowing, with everyone with whom I come in contact. I can love all with the love of a mother for her firstborn son. And if I do this, I have learned life's highest lesson.
Mom asked me not to miss her. She said that even if there were no such thing as life after death, she'd be with me. "I'm with you wherever you go," she said. She was talking about the love. Just like Swayze's character when he told his beloved, "The love inside, you take it with you." Doyle believed that spirits should be contacted more often than they are. That the disembodied can help enlighten the living and improve conditions on earth, maybe make this place a sort of paradise. Imagine! I told my mother this in her final days. "Your work is not over," I said. "Come back to me frequently with news from the other side."
And so it seems the lines of communication are starting to open. Since seeing my mom I have felt a whole lot better. It comforts me to know that whenever I wish to spend time with her, all I have to do is will it. Sometimes we'll interact in dreams. Sometimes in visitations. But either way one thing is certain. Mom is with me wherever I go. And I know she is working on her skills. It's only a matter of time before that dream catcher comes down, I just know it. And when it does, I hope I'm there to catch it.