On Saturday, September 14th, my dear friend Ann was released from the prison of her failing body to explore the last great mystery of this earthly life. Ann became gravely ill nearly a year ago, and since then I’ve been stumbling through the darkness of spiritual doubt and some very non-spiritual anger at the universe. With Ann’s suffering at an end, and I find myself adrift between grief and hope, relief and profound sadness. There is a sense of closure, but also a sense of waiting and wondering. Where are you, Ann?
Last November, Ann suffered a massive hemorrhage of her brain, the result of a mass of malformed blood vessels in her frontal lobe called an AVM. Although she underwent brain surgery, the unremitting swelling of her brain created difficulties in her cognition and motor skills. Subsequent strokes and embolisms in the last few months paralyzed half of her body and made it difficult for Ann to speak. Ann spent most of her remaining days in a semi or unconscious state, rousing only rarely. Her family never left her side these last months, lovingly tending to her needs as they could. Ann took her last breath in the early evening, during a rare moment when her family stepped out of the room. She was 39 years old.
According to hospice nurses, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for the dying to choose a moment when alone to pass on. Was Ann’s timing deliberate? Did she choose to wait until her family stepped away momentarily to transition? I can’t know for sure, but if Ann had any agency to choose in that moment, then I believe her timing was indeed purposeful; a final act of love. It was meant to spare her mother the acute pain of watching her youngest child take her final labored breaths, and yet ensure that she was discovered by her loved ones already in peaceful repose; no nurses calling to deliver the news in the middle of the night.
The day Ann died, I was completely caught by surprise. I thought for sure that I’d know. I thought I’d somehow pick up on the seismic emotional shift of her passing. Maybe a shadow would cross the sun, and a chill would run down my spine. Maybe I’d feel the ripple in the ether of her soul leaving her body, or a loving message of goodbye cast in my direction as she departed. But none of this occurred for me. When I got the call that Ann had passed, I was engaged in the most mundane of activities: I was washing my car.
It was a beautiful late summer day, but after learning that my best friend had left the world, it felt wrong that the sun was still shining, the earth spinning, and the birds chattering as they do in the late afternoon. Ann was gone. From one moment to the next, there was life, a breath, then… the slowing of the heart, the vacancy of that worn out body.. death. Ann left the world and I didn’t sense her departure. I felt guilty that during such a solemn and sacred occasion, I was absentmindedly scrubbing bird poop off my car, completely oblivious to her soul’s flight.
For all of the hours that we spent discussing what the afterlife might be like, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that she’s there. For her, the mystery is revealed, the answers given, the long fear of death finally confronted. Ann has leapt the wide chasm separating this life from the next. While I must continue to stare down the yawning darkness ahead of me, I strain to see if she’s waving from the other side.
I’ve tried in vain to quiet my mind; to feel the sun on my face and listen to the wind and try get sense of her. When I close my eyes, I see the flashes of her image in small details, things that were unique to Ann. The sun on her dark hair, her beautiful long fingers and smiling Irish eyes. I remember the way she used mindlessly chew on her lip when she was thinking, and her beautiful voice when she felt brave enough to sing. I can close my eyes and imagine her so clearly, but these are manufactured memories; simply composited remnants from the decades spent together.
Ann and I always had a strong emotional connection; to the point where I could always get a sense of her even though I never considered myself particularly sensitive. When Ann died, I initially assumed our connection would become stronger. And yet, all I feel now is a profound sense of Ann’s absence.
I should know better; there are many reasons given by researchers and mediums why a loved one in spirit does not return quickly to announce their safe arrival. It’s only been six weeks, after all, and most after-death communications happen after the three-month mark (if they occur at all, of course). But since I can’t seem to help myself from wondering where she is and what she’s doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ann is probably deep in recovery. Her final illness was long and painful emotionally and physically. Based on examples from other sources, Ann may going through a long healing process and is either unaware of her condition, or is focusing on her recuperation from her long trials. If this is the case, then it is a hard-won and most deserved respite from her suffering.
This long period of convalescence is commonly described in spiritual literature after protracted illnesses that ravage the mind and body. There is a necessity for healing, slow recovery, and the gentle but delayed revelation that ‘the great change’ has occurred. When Ann passed and the days did not bring even a fleeting sense of her, it brought to mind the Afterlife experiences of Sister Francis Banks in the book Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves. The author, a close friend of Francis Banks for many years, claims to have written the book by receiving telepathic impressions from Banks after after her passing from cancer.
Francis opens these sessions by describing her surroundings not long after her death and ‘awakening’:
“I am in kind of a rest home now. It is run by the Sisters of the community to which I belonged when in incarnation. They are so kind and gentle with me. I am now lying in a bed, high up on a terrace, that looks out over a vast sunlit plain. It is a beautiful scene, and so restful. I am recuperating from the illness which brought disintegration to my physical body (Greaves, p. 11).”
Francis describes her awakening as gradual; a series of periods of unconsciousness during this time are punctuated by visits from friends.
“After the Change was over, I was free of my earthly “covering” and I “woke up” here in this hospital of the Rest Home. My room had no walls and the sunlight seemed to flow over one all the time. I opened my eyes… or I came back to consciousness…and there was Mother Florence just as she used to be and as I had remembered her for so many years. She took my hand. She said, “so you have arrived safely?” But I must have been very weary, for I can remember little more. I think I slept again.“
This period of convalescence in a rest home or hospital is described in other spiritual literature as well. Most notably, the first in a series of books written through automatic writing by Anthony Borgia of the experiences of Reverend Hugh Benson. In Life in the World Unseen, Benson has newly arrived to the spirit world. With his friend Ruth, another newcomer, and their host, Edwin, they come upon a building that Edwin names a ‘home of rest’.
“Ruth espied a rather stately building set among some well-wooded grounds, which also aroused my curiosity. On appealing to our guide, Edwin told us that it was a home of rest for those who had come into spirit after a long illness, or who had a violent passing, and who were, in consequence, suffering from shock. […] As we drew near I could see that the building was in no sense a “hospital” in outward resemblance, whatever it’s functions might be. It was built in the classic style, two or three stories high, and it was entirely open upon all sides. That is to say, it contained no windows as we know them on earth. It was white in colour as far as the materials of its composition were concerned, but immediately above it there was to be seen a great shaft of blue light descending upon, and enveloping, the whole building with its radiance, the effect of which was to give a striking blue tinge to the whole edifice. This great ray was the downpouring of life – a healing ray – sent to those who had already passed here, but who were not yet awake. When they were fully restored to spiritual health, there would be a splendid awakening, and they would be introduced into their new land. (Borgia, p. 23)”
After touring the building, Benson continues with an explanation of the purpose for this healing.
“I learned that all of the ‘patients’ in this particular hall had gone through lingering illnesses before passing over. Immediately after their dissolution they are sent gently into a deep sleep. In some cases the sleep follows instantly – or practically without break – upon the physical death. Long illness prior to passing into the spirit world has a debilitating effect upon the mind, which in turn has its influence upon the spirit body. The latter is not serious, but the mind requires absolute rest of varying duration. […] During this sleep-state the mind is completely resting. There are no unpleasant dreams, or fevers of delirium. […] Some will wake up partially, and then sink back again into slumber. (Borgia pp. 25-26)”
Ann loved the bluebell woods of England, and always expressed her wish that after her death, she would find herself in such a space. This is where I imagine her now, and it stands as my post image. I don’t have any proof that Ann is currently ensconced in a healing space or ‘rest home’ as Borgia and Greaves describes it. It is simply what I would like to believe is the case for Ann, and it gives me comfort that such a place is described in sources of information about the afterlife.
Hope drives my search for life after death, as it always has. The stakes are higher now that Ann has gone before me into the darkness of the unknown. I must be patient, for if some part of my dear friend still exists, I believe she is immersed in the process of healing, evolving and expanding. I have faith that if she can reach out, she will in time.
On the way back from a short trip to the mountains recently, I had the desire to open a particular book on my Kindle. It’s written by April Crawford, a very talented but not well-known full trance medium. She published two books of ‘letters’ from anonymous spirits on the other side, written to unnamed loved ones left behind on earth. I picked a random place in the book, and the letter that appeared showed a date at the top; presumably the date that the letter was received by the medium. The date was April 8th, which happens to be Ann’s birthday.
Is it message from my dear friend? Despite the coincidence of the date, I’m not quite convinced. Rather, I believe it may be a message from my own guides; a reminder to sooth my stressed-out mind and grieving heart.
Here are the last lines of the letter, dated April 8th:
“Lose the anticipation of annihilation. Lose the expectation of a biblical heaven or hell. It is so much more than that. You cannot really know until you are here. Just relax and allow. All will be better than fine.”
Thank you to everyone who has endured this difficult passage with me and has written to me with words of comfort in my previous posts about Ann. Ann was my spiritual confidant, my soul sister and my closest friend. Her family and friends are all struggling with the loss of her beautiful spirit from this world.
Lauren Ann, you continue to be a light in this world for me. I will seek the truth, and I will remember to be kind, and I will cherish the beauty of nature as you did. When I walk through the woods as we used to, I will know you in the sunlight through the leaves, and in the song of the wood thrush. You are the brilliant crimson of the sugar maple, and the wood smoke smell of winter, and in the lilacs blooming in our favorite garden. As the world turns from one season to the next, I will remember you and your love for all the beauty in this painful world. The world feels darker without you, but I am blessed to have known you and loved you for so many years. Until next time, my dear girl. Love always, Jenn