It’s not easy to say I have had an “after death” experience of someone I loved or to whom I was close. For one thing, I sound like a nutcase. For another, the deceased individual had many other friends/family who would have liked to experience closeness just one more time. Why was I the one lucky enough to sense their presence? Others would have loved the reassurance of feeling their loved one’s well being, and yet they had no such blessing.
I have come to believe that very deep grief may prevent such experiences. The body and mind can feel numb after a death, and there is often shock. It may take weeks or months to begin to have a sense of normalcy.
In any case, I felt the presence of two individuals after their deaths, and in both cases it was on the day after they died. Both visits were brief, under 30 seconds in earth time.
My first experience occurred after my mother, Adrienne, died at age 78. Let me give some background first. She had had a very difficult last six months of her life, becoming unrecognizable as dementia and medication took her away from her family. She had recently been hospitalized after a fall, and had surgery for a subdural hematoma of the brain. She left the hospital and went back to the nursing home where she lived, and for one day she seemed to be getting better. But then her condition went downhill and she was diagnosed with sepsis infection. My family doctor had told me sepsis and/or pneumonia were natural ways for the body to die and recommended not treating them for someone like my mother.
After conferring with my sisters and my two uncles, I informed the staff we would take no further measures. Without food or IVs, death would come within 3 days, they said. The staff assured me my mother would not feel thirst. I still remember the doctor at the nursing home who ran up to me on the second day, and said the bacteria had been isolated and could be treated with massive doses of intravenous antibiotics. When I declined treatment, and said our decision was to let her go, he then put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You are doing the right thing. She has no quality of life here.” I felt angry he tried to convince me to treat her with antibiotics, leaving me to stand up to the medical profession, and when he saw I was going to stick with non-treatment, he then reversed his stand and agreed with me. It would have been so much more helpful to have his support from the beginning.
Still, it was a massive burden to be responsible for the end of someone’s life. My 19 year old daughter, Abby, and I stayed with her round the clock for three days. We sang hymns to her. I told my mother she was dying and was one of the lucky ones, who got to die in her own bed with no tubes stuck in her. She would not be alone, I told her, as I held her hand. At one time, I told her we had decided what would be on her tombstone. “We are going to put ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” referring to the song she taught my sisters and me, and we loved to sing together. I felt something about her breathing ease, seeming to indicate she was pleased. The funeral would be in Mississippi, as she had wanted, and she was to be buried near beloved relatives.
On the third day, her breathing became horrible and loud and she died. I had not been with a person while they were actively dying, and it wasn’t what I expected. I had thought she would sigh and die quietly and look like the same person, only asleep. Instead, as we held her hands, her body struggled through a noisy breath and I was amazed to see a vortex of air spiraling around her mouth, which to me was when her soul left her body. After that, there was another horrible rattling breath, and her entire face was transformed. As I watched in horror, I saw that, when the spirit left, her body lost the life force of animation, and was transformed as though a hand had waved across her face. What was left bore no resemblance to my beautiful mother, but was more like Edvard Munch’s rendition of “The Scream.” At that moment, I realized how ill the body had been, and only the will and spirit of Adrienne had made it uniquely her. What was left had nothing to do with the mother I had loved.
I sensed her spirit might have paused briefly up in the left hand corner of the ceiling, and looked down upon us. But that was brief and the spirit seemed to be gone as I continued to look on what was left of the woman I had known. Someone called the funeral home…I can’t remember if it was I. I had selected this particular business because it was run by women, and shortly two women arrived to pick up the body. I remember thinking the body bag they had was quite lovely, appearing to be of brown velvet. They kindly asked us if we wished for more time to sit with the body. I was a bit abrupt as I emphatically stated, “No!” feeling that the husk remaining on that bed had no resemblance to my mother.
In grief, Abby and I went home on that bleak November evening, a week before Thanksgiving. That night, she and I huddled together in my bed on the first floor. The upstairs rattled and creaked as high winds moaned around the house. We felt like Adrienne was shaking the rafters and I wondered if she was angry about her death. It was a sleepless night.
The next morning the winds had calmed and the sun was out. I had an appointment at the funeral home to make the final arrangements. My spirit was very down, as the night had been full of terrors and the death I had witnessed was not beautiful, but ugly. Alone, I drove to the funeral home and parked. Although I had chosen this funeral home, I had never been to the business site. As I walked along the sidewalk, an amazing thing happened: I felt a younger version of my mother fall in step beside me. She was in her prime, probably as she had been in her 20’s, and she walked with a vigorous and youthful step. I was in my 50’s and walked a bit hunched over, but she was skipping right along, just behind my shoulder. I had the impression she was wearing an A-line skirt and flat shoes. I kept walking, and did not look to the side to see her face, because I was afraid she would leave. We came up to the building which was a bit unusual for Wisconsin: a white stucco, Spanish architecture style of building. This was very serendipity, because my mother loved southwestern architecture. We walked together up the stairs with the black wrought iron railings, through the arched entry with the heavy oak door and stepped into a spacious receiving area with bright red area rugs and dark wooden beams. Beside me, I felt my mother say, “Oh! This is wonderful!” and then she left.
I hope you can see how this “visit” from my mother obliterated the image of her death from my mind. This experience of her as well, vigorous, happy, and joyful was the greatest gift possible. I will always, always be grateful. It has given me a vision of what I think our lives will be like….we will be recognizable as the unique individuals we are, but the spiritual body will be whole and well and vibrant.
The second experience I had, of a friend after his death, will have to wait until another time….and it will be shorter, I promise.