Put your ear close to the whispering branch and you may catch what it is saying. ~ Guy Murchie
By all standard conceptual accounts she is a stranger. We met online after I read her article about the stupid, insensitive things people say and do when you’re grieving. I wrote about it myself, then reached out to her to express gratitude and consensus how her piece resonated with me. There was a familiar spark with Aimee in our written exchange, we were like-minded in life matters and like-experienced with premature widowdom. She was further along than I in the healing process and the assemblance of a new life, and I was hope-filled and inspired connecting with her. We are by no means besties, though we have stayed in touch. There is an automatic kinship that occurs among people who have lost someone they love, a relationship that naturally sustains itself when each individual continues in similar ways.
Fast forward to last month, Aimee dropped a private message my way through Facebook. It’s always an unexpected and welcome surprise for me when a real social media connection escalates to engage personally one-on-one: “Hey Shannon, Thought of you today while I was at the eye doctor. After taking out my contacts and waiting for the doctor, a magazine rack was in front of me, one with the biggest letters spelling out BOOMER. How cool is that? Think someone wants to say ‘hi’ to you.” Now if I hadn’t already developed an acquaintanceship with Aimee, I probably would have ignored her, and silently rejected her message as some trolling phish preying on emotions, a premise supported by the number of random male ‘friend requests’ I’ve received from bogus profiles classified as a ‘widower’. Not in this case.
Recalling the numerous postmortem communications I’d encountered with Boomer since he died — through his wedding ring, those middle of the night wake-up whispers, and other various signals and symbols — letting me know he’s around and watching over me, this latest run-in, especially now having moved out of our house, was both new, captivating and yes, pretty damn cool. Contact coming direct from a ‘stranger’, someone Boomer certainly didn’t know, yet embodied special credibility as a fellow widow, a heart-centered person whom I admire and respect. I’ve heard supernatural stories of loved ones who from beyond the grave leveraged another living spirit to communicate a message. Aimee explained this has happened more than once for her, the spirit souls of those who have passed use her to send messages to their loved ones. It was the second time ‘Boomer’ showed up with her; she was compelled to reach out. It sounds so bizarre. Like something right out of the 1990 movie Ghost. It was. As if Aimee were a personal Oda Mae Brown. Still, I was intrigued, curious and simultaneously comforted as I followed up with her offer to continue a deeper exploration sending her a picture of Boomer to meditate on. “Let’s see what comes up,” she said.
The next day, Aimee had more to share. She was clear in her suggestion to take what resonates with me and leave the rest. Much of what she initially messaged me were short, incomplete abstract statements that didn’t make any direct sense, it was like trying to translate jibberish. As she said, “Some starry night was another phrase that came through,” I froze. Reading the words again — some starry night — it seemed Hitchcockian in nature as I slowly took my eyes off my tablet screen to gaze at the framed print hanging on the upper right corner of the wall in front of the desk in my study… Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Boomer hated this print. It hung on my side of our shared office when we lived it Evanston. He often remarked how much he disliked it –without cause or reason, he just did. I laughed as I cried at how much this new experience was hitting me. Each remark Aimee shared following starry night was spot-on; nothing she would have known or had read from me and I was rattled by it. He’s baaaaack.
The timing was serendipitous itself; on the cusp of upcoming calendar dates, Boomer’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day, what would have been the 10th anniversary of our engagement. Again, nothing Aimee herself would have any first-hand awareness of. You explain it. I can’t. I naively thought that when my address changed and the pictures and memorabilia trinkets were safely tucked away in storage Boomer would cease to continue within my life. Not so. A deeper lesson emerged; spirit does not die, nor does end. It is the human form, its temporary occupant, that goes away. Teilhard de Chardin gave explanation to such a phenomena, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Even my all-time favorite music group, The Police, understood, “We are spirits in the material world.” In my humanness I clumsily operate as though Boomer no longer is. Through Aimee, he taught me otherwise. He is and forever will be a spirit within my life, I am tasked to expand how I see him, where I see him, when I see him. My human heart is acclimating to the news, of which Aimee was already aware, referring to him in both present and past tense, “He has a beautiful spirit and it feels like you picked each other before this lifetime,” she concluded, “He was one of your great teachers.” Yes, he was. All evidence points that he still is and always will be. I love knowing this.
The world needs your strength right now.
Go get ’em.
~ Boomer to SMO, through Aimee DuFresne*, February 23, 2017
*Feel free to contact Aimee DuFresne through the link, if you’re interested to connect with your spirited loved one. It’s quite cool.
Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height, there is only one possible place to land: on the ground-the ground of truth. And if you have the understanding that comes from spiritual practice, then falling is in no way a disaster, but the discovery of an inner refuge.
~ Sogyal Rinpoche
‘Twas Christmas night, and the 2nd night of Hanukkah when my phone started blowing up with multiple ping-a-rings of incoming text messages. Resisting temptation, I left the phone alone – until 5 a.m. the next morning. Nooooo!! Musical artist, George Michael died. People I knew well, who knew I was a career-long admirer reached out; sharing the news, expressing their own shock, perhaps seeking solace among a fellow fan. I spent the day mourning the loss through continual play of his music, watching videos and interviews. I fully immersed; reminiscing with many songs: where I was, what happened, who I was with, etc. Keenly aware another life — there have been stunningly many lives this year, 2016 — has transitioned and something has ended — again.
“All humans must cope with the death of their loved ones…”
~ Unknown, From Survival to Recovery
George Michael is a stranger, yet also a loved one. I did not know him personally, I only knew his musical talent – – and I love it — the gift he was given that he gave to me and others like me who enjoyed his music, who grew-up with his music: Hypnotic, seductive, rebellious, soulful, elegant, sophisticated, kitchy. George Michael is one year older than me. Perhaps we grew-up together and how as his career evolved and his life unfolded, I remained loyal. As he was changing, so was I and it still fit.
A day later, barely catching my breath, another loss…Carrie Fisher. Sure, she’s Princess Leia for thousands, that’s how I met her too, in 1977, but that’s not who I loved. I loved the broad who came from a dysfunctional family, struggled with addiction, mental illness and rose from the ashes of her own privileged chaos of a life to become a writer, author, and comically outspoken empress of story telling.
And now the very next day, her mother, the great Debbie Reynolds died too. I can’t keep up, though it’s not about me, it’s about acceptance of the time-limiting fragility of life. Journalist Dan Rather, following the announcement of Ms. Reynolds’ passing poignantly wrote, “Life is fickle and death all of our eventual destination. We must to do our part to take the moments given to us and cherish the love of those we hold close.”
While the news of all these life passings are both a shock and emotionally draining, I’m in a better place of acceptance than I was… 8 months ago, last April, when I learned Prince died.
The surprise announcement of The Artist, Prince Rogers Nelson’s, death, hit me in a way I didn’t understand. I didn’t know Prince either. Yet, when I learned the devastating news, while standing in a Bed, Bath and Beyond store, I began to sob as though I’d just lost a dear friend. I wept for days every time I heard his music, watched the movie Purple Rain, and reminisced. I couldn’t put my head around it, let alone my heart. All I knew (and didn’t) of Prince nothing made sense. Prince was an icon, an innovator, a creative force that penetrated more than his own individual performances. Charismatic, tough, private, mysterious, sexy, flamboyant, generous and most of all –his own person, on his own terms. For this, I always admired him, I wanted to be like him, fearless and devout to his own individuality, his ideals and beliefs.
These talented humans are my generation. I’m confronted with the reality of mortality, also known as impermanence. It’s part of my pain in their passing. I’ve felt sadness of the news of many people who have passed this year, yet, those closest to my age or who’s talents I love and chose to infuse into aspects of my life hit me the hardest. I resist admission of impermanence, believing somehow I am immune, exempt from the experience. Quite greedy of me, isn’t it?
In Buddhism, the term “impermanence” is part of doctrine describing the three marks of existence. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is: transient, evanescent, inconstant.
Death is inevitable. Truth. For many, denial of that reality, acceptance of truth, an end of life, is where pain and suffering exists. For others, myself included, we aren’t afraid of death; what we’re afraid of is when and/or how the death will come. How often we hear someone say, “Gone too soon.” Really? Says who? You? Greedy you. You don’t get a say. Neither do I. Deal with it, because life is indeed fickle and death is all our eventual destination. This is impermanence.
What I welcome is how death forces me into gratitude. I look at the legacy that I was impacted by, affected by, embraced by, loved by and loved. How it will always be with me, even if the human no longer is, there is a permanent impermanent force.
“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky.
I believe that what people call God is something in all of us.
I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right.
It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”
~ John Lennon
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
~ Psalm 46:10
Pushing through the double doors exiting the CICU of Lee Memorial Hospital, I walked past the elevator bank, toward the waiting area. Handbag over my shoulder, cell phone in my right hand, I looked up, threw my arms out saying, “Well, what’s next? What do You want me to do next?” Wait. My worst nightmare, the one thing I’d been most afraid of was now reality — Boomer was dying. He entered the emergency room the night before; during the night he took another hard, rapid, declining turn and was now sedated and intubated. I was called in before dawn as it was happening. I knew the situation was dire, moving too rapidly for me to keep up. There were calls to make, but I didn’t have answers. There were decisions to make, but I didn’t have all the information. Wait. I’m a doer, not a waiter. When crisis hits, I am all-hands-on-deck. Wait. Waiting is another nightmare for me. God was telling me to wait.
“If we can learn ways to touch the peace, joy and happiness that are already there we will become healthy and strong, and a resource for others.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ
Six months earlier, I laid in bed, staring out the window, desperation consuming me: lonesome, hopeless, helpless, terrified, fed-up and done with the whole thing. It was the time – the only time – I contemplated leaving. Leaving Boomer. Leaving the marriage. I didn’t have answers. I didn’t have solutions. Just thoughts. One thought and it scared me. It’s not my nature to leave. A phantom whisper interrupted the thought: Stay. Wait. Don’t leave. I need you. Boomer needs you.
I’d been doing the very best I could, studying, listening and learning of the suggestions being offered in the rooms of 12-step recovery, Al-Anonspecifically, make no major changes to your life for at least 6 months, focus on your recovery, work the 12-steps for you. I had been at it for eight months when the thought of leaving surfaced and the whisper found its way to me.
Growing up, I knew God to be anything other than a friend and only as someone you visited on holidays, like your Aunt Louise. God as I understood was to be feared. God was judge, jury, punisher, rule maker, also like Aunt Louise. God was also a misogynist, sexist, and later, child molester. If I told lies, God would get me. If I didn’t confess my sins in a dark room on my knees, God would get me. If I was married more than once, or had sex out-of-wedlock, God would get me. If I didn’t follow the genuflecting workout exercises during a mass, God would get me. If I ate a juicy burger (or even a dry one) on Fridays or that candy bar during Lent, God would get me. If I didn’t hand over 10% of all my income to the church, God would get me. If I didn’t follow the “rules” — which I could barely comprehend anyway — God would get me. God as I knew “Him”, was a do as I say, but not as I do dictatant. I developed a real pessimism for God, kind of like the one He evidently already had for me. God was good. Really? If He’s so all that then why are my parents divorced? Why was I beaten as a kid? Why did the biological father of my daughter cut and run? Why is everyone’s else’s life so much better than mine? God is good? Bullshit. God sucks. Still I towed the line, followed the rules, did my time of a living penance and shuffled my daughter along through the dogmatic system until she finished 8th grade, because that’s what good parents do. But when internal secrets broke loose of children being molested by priests…Bastard! Fuck you, I’m outta here. I didn’t go back.
God schmod. Good riddance. That’s were I left Him. God couldn’t be trusted. God was a liar. The whole God thing was a sham. I was through with all of it. So I switched gears, by way of lexicon. No more God. I’ll take The Universe, for $1,000 Alex. Oooooh, The Universe. Trendy. Mystical, magical, cosmic, and an ideal approach for wayward agnostics and newborn atheists like me to set up spirit camp, divorced from the doctrine of Roman Catholic Christianity, all Christianity for that matter. Yet, deep down in the caverns of my heart and soul I knew something did exist — beyond me, greater than me, and wildly incomprehensible to me. Because I had some proof — direct personal proof –to back it up.
Pregnant at 17, something inside me knew. I knew, I would be raising my daughter as a solo-parent. It’s not the way I wanted it and in my still-a-baby-myself, immature 17-year-old ways I tried all I could to force a different outcome. But way down, deep down, I knew, all along, it would be The All SMO Parenting Show. I regularly had these quiet private secret moments, I couldn’t call them prayer, but that is what it was. I regularly asked the Air up there, the Air over there, the Air anywhere, for my baby to be a girl, a healthy girl. I’m going to be doing this thing on my own and I need the support of relatability in order to succeed as the good, loving parent I want to be. I’m a girl; I can relate. I want to be the kind of parent my own parents were not. Please give us both a fighting chance here, let this baby be a girl, that will help me out a lot. Anytime, day or night, whenever I was overcome with fear, shame, guilt, or hopelessness about my situation, I asked the Air for my baby to be a girl. When I gave birth, the doctor handed the baby to me, laying the tiny body on my chest at an angle that prohibited my ability to physically identify gender. “What is it?” I exhaustively asked. A girl, a healthy girl.
In my humanness, I keep wanting to make God this 3-dimensional entity of flesh and bone — tangible and opaquely visible in accessibility to me at all times, 24/7/365, and 366 on leap year. Nope. Not so. Religion confuses this for me. Religion keeps trying to tell me that there’s one guy, and only one guy, the carrier of a single message. No. What I continue to experience, study, embrace and be fully dazzled by time-and-again that the proof is the prize for faith, for asking, without knowing certainty. Ask. Believe. Receive. And sometimes I have to wait too. There are many carriers of a message, whatever the message is that I uniquely and specifically need to hear.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
~ Hebrews 11:1
Back to that dire morning at Lee Memorial. Over the course of three hours, God delivered everything I needed to know, needed to say, needed to do and used fellow humans: doctors, nurses, friends — near and far — to communicate to me those instructions. First point of proof was the doctor. He sat me down in front of a computer monitor and walked through Boomer’s stats, what they meant and the seriousness of the situation. He spoke to me in simple, calm, easy-to-understand terms. “Do you have calls to make?” Yes, I do. “OK, here’s what you say…” It was amazing, God, through the doctor, gave me the script word-for-word to make those phone calls; the hardest, saddest, scariest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. While I was on the phone, a nurse walked over and handed me printouts with highlighted areas specifically describing what Boomer had, what was likely to happen, that enabled me to have those conversations, to answer the naturally impending questions. Nurses brought me coffee and sliced apples to help keep my energy level up. I wasn’t alone. Nor was I alone, when I had my daughter. God needed me and so did Boomer. God gave me what I needed to be there for them both. I stayed. I asked. I waited. I listened. I followed the whispered instruction. That’s all God wants.
I’ve come to acknowledge that I am a deeply spiritual being having one helluva a wicked human experience. I’ve struggled readopting use of the term God. I tried on Universe, Higher Power, Source, Spirit, Energy, all the others. I heard writer Anne Lamott say, she sometimes refers to God as Phil, for her favorite scripture quote from Philippians. I like God. God works. It’s simple. It’s one syllable, 3 letters and I like simple. I once heard an acronym for God: Good Orderly Direction. That’s good too, God is my internal GPS. What I didn’t always know or willingly admit was I’ve always had that internal GPS, that guide for good, the nudge I get in the center of my gut. It’s a navigational alarm of what is good, or not, and I often sense it before my brain grabs hold to dismantle and manipulate it into something different, often denial, and always troublesome in one way or another. I just didn’t understand that nudge is always for good; my good, and the good of those I interact with. An invitation to dialog, ask for what I need, what I want, like a healthy baby girl or the right words to communicate terrible news.
I awoke to God in my despair — a Gift of Desperation. God is ecstatic with me that I have finally chosen to be active in our dialog together, welcoming the friendship. The grief counselor I spent 22 months with after Boomer died, said to me once, “God has been pursuing you.” Heavy and true. Though it took difficulties and tragedies and trauma to get it, accept it, God has been a patient friend, waiting for me.
Ironic how God is, has been, so patient with me, yet I do not easily reciprocate that patience. That’s how we are different. God is omnipotent and omnipresent. I am not. God loves when I get it, when I mess up and try again, and even when I get mad. I do not. I pray for guidance, direction, support and protection. Then I wait. The whole patience thing is something I struggle with daily. God is also a prankster with me, making me wait little longer, like when I ask for patience and then all I get are red lights when I’m in a hurry, or the slowest line in the grocery store. In prayer, I ask God for the help. Then I wait. In meditation, I listen for information or answers. They come, though rarely on my timeline, always on God’s. I can never project, I just get to piece it together later. I live life forward, understand it backward, that’s how God rolls with me. It’s how I’ve see God’s answers: Yes, No, or I have something better in mind.
God keeps reminding me I’m not in charge, of my life or someone else’s. Whaaaat? Trust me, the shit that’s gone down in my life, I did not want it — none of it. I never said, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to be married to a drunk who dies? I never said as a little girl, I bet it might be fun to be pulled down a flight of stairs by my long brown hair. No, and yet that crap happened anyway. War and peace. Love and hate. Life and death. Health and sickness. Where is God? Right there, orchestrating it — ALL of it. Since the dawn of time, ask Adam and Eve, or their kids, Cain and Abel; talk to Job, he’s got stories too. It’s divine design this God thing. To open my heart, have faith, sometimes that means waiting, often with uncertainty and confusion.
It was only a few months ago, I came to terms with the possibility that God takes loved ones, when we perceive it to be too soon, because God knows they won’t get better; God uses them to be teachers for the rest of us. God uses us, to help carry that message — whatever it uniquely is for us. Like in Boomer’s case, he was so incredibly sick, with a disease that is destined to kill, God intervened and took him. God said it was enough, enough suffering for all of us. And as a result, turned me into an advocate of recovery, and addiction awareness. Who’da thunk?
Organized religion doesn’t fit me, it never has. God showed me that and said it’s a-ok, because I came to believe in my own way at my own time; or was it God’s? Ah the mystery of life. Today, I study all faiths, I practice the principles of Buddhism – peace, love, and compassion for all living beings, along with the 12-steps, one day at a time.
I woke one morning, a voice whispering in my ear, and tears running down my right cheek. Everything was necessary, the voice said, absolutely necessary to get you where you are today and to get those who are around you today here too. Absolutely necessary. It still baffles my mind, but I roll with it anyway. Faith — find answers in the heart — is where God is for me.
God didn’t give up on me. What a terrific friend. Thanks for Your patience. It’s good to be with You.