Over the summer, my son’s pet rabbit died. My five-year-old granddaughter loved to visit Toulouse every time she came over, and as far as I’m aware, it was her first brush with death.
We’ve had many talks about death. She loves seeing pictures of my parents and grandmother and has asked many questions about them. My daughter and I have shared stories about them with her and have told her many times that we wish they could have met her because they would have loved her. My dad was the only one who lived long enough to meet her. Their lives overlapped by about nine months.
I’ve explained to her that my parents and grandmother got old, and their bodies stopped working. But they were/are more than just their bodies. Although we can’t see their bodies anymore, we still can connect with their essence and continue to have a relationship with them, through the “telephone of the heart”.
And then there’s the telephone of the wind, which is an actual, physical phone that a Girl Scout troop installed in a local park over the summer. It’s based on an old-fashioned telephone booth placed in Otsuchi, Japan after the tsunami hit ten years ago, to stay connected with loved ones who passed away. The telephone isn’t connected to anything, but it provides a quiet space for private, heartfelt conversation and an opportunity to say the goodbyes and words that were left unsaid when the person was alive. Or to have ongoing conversations.
Ever since hearing about the telephone of the wind, my granddaughter has wanted to go there to talk to Toulouse. But rain kept getting in the way of our plans. This week, she asked again, and we finally made it happen. It was supposed to be an opportunity for her to talk to the bunny, but it ended up being much more.
The phone is an old-fashioned rotary model like I remember from my childhood. I showed my granddaughter how to find the numbers and turn the dial. Then she picked up the phone and started talking to the bunny.
When she was done talking, I taught her how to be quiet and still and to listen for any words or notice any pictures or feelings that might arise in her heart. It was easy and natural for her to do. Then she gave the phone to me so I could talk to the bunny and share memories.
After ending that call, she asked if I wanted to call my parents. Normally, I use the telephone of my heart for that purpose, and it works really well. But I decided to take her cue and try something different.
The phone looked just like the one in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen, from which I made phone calls when I was growing up. I put my index finger into the circles that called my home phone number when I was a child – the number my parents had for the rest of their lives. I felt an unexpected sense of anticipation and a wave of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. Visceral memory. I explained to my granddaughter they were tears of gratitude because I was thankful for having such loving parents.
After dialing all the numbers, it was as if I was waiting for them to answer.
I started talking. Through thankful tears, I told them I missed them, even though I loved being able to talk with them through my heart.
Earlier that day, I discovered a baby mouse in my car. After removing the mouse, I realized I hadn’t vacuumed my car over the summer as intended. So that was something I needed to do. I remembered how my dad used to vacuum my car. If I visited my parents and went for a walk or ran an errand with my mom in her car, he would seize the opportunity to vacuum my car and fill up my gas tank. It was his language of love.
It’s been more than five years since the last time he did that, and I realized how much I miss and appreciate his car-related acts of caring. Nobody else has ever done that for me.
So that’s what I said into the telephone of the wind. I told him how much I appreciate that he did that.
I also told my parents I had my granddaughter with me, and they would love her so much. I asked her if she wanted to talk with them, and she said yes. So she got on the phone and introduced herself and told them the things she thought they would love about her.
When she handed the phone back to me, I told them I’d say bye for now, but I always love talking with them through my heart and in dreams.
Before making another call, I told my granddaughter about the time I was really missing my mom, and then a flurry of heart-shaped cottonwood leaves rained down from the sky. That, too, was a response, I explained.
Then I picked up the phone to call my grandmother. I told her how much I miss her and how I appreciate her coming to me in a dream one time and giving me a present – all wrapped up and tied with a bow. I didn’t open the present in the dream, but when I woke up, I knew it was a camera. My parents had just given me a little money from the sale of her house, and I used it to buy my first entry-level DSLR camera.
It was arguably the best purchase I ever made.
I went on to describe how much photography means to me and to express my gratitude for the camera, which changed my life.
I also thanked my grandmother for being such a wonderful grandmother and said that by being so kind and loving to me, she taught me how to be a wonderful grandmother for my granddaughter.
I told her about my granddaughter and what she would love about her, and then my granddaughter got on the phone to introduce herself.
She ended with a question, and I actually heard the answer in my heart: my grandmother’s friendly voice, loud and clear. She loved children.
After we ended that call, we moved on to the next thing: the swings in another part of the park.
“Race ya!” my granddaughter exclaimed before taking off like a rocket. Naturally, she won. She always does.
Making those calls with her on the telephone of the wind was really gratifying. It was an opportunity to model out-loud a process you can go through when someone you love has passed away, to stay connected with them. With their essence, which is pure, unconditional love.
It felt like a very important thing to do. Someday when I have outgrown my body, I hope my granddaughter will talk to me like that and know how to listen with her heart and through synchronicity, to receive all the love that seeks her. I hope that will be many years from now so we can make many more beautiful memories together that will become part of her, and a way I will live on through her.
It’s such a beautiful thing to connect with your loved one’s essence, which is love. The love that always was there at the core, beneath the personality patterns that offer us the conflict and contrast we need to awaken and evolve and to expand the universe.
That’s how I’ve come to see it, anyway.
The telephone of the heart allows us to give and receive love. When we focus loving awareness on something or someone, we are attuned to the vibration of love and receptive to it. In this sense, anyone who has loved us or whom we have loved really and truly is part of us. With love, there is no distance or separation whatsoever.
I had no idea about this until after I lost my parents. It is one of the great blessings our deepest losses can reveal to us.
I dictated this whole story into my phone while taking a walk outdoors. When I got back in the car to drive home, I turned on the radio. The song playing was Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”:
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me Time after time If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting Time after time
I kid you not.
It was another response that resulted in another round of grateful tears.
Isn’t it amazing? Each and every one of us is part of a great, mysterious legacy of love. A web of love. I don’t know how it works, only that it exists.
It was another week of staying home (the eighth, to be precise). And yet, I went on an important journey: to the epicenter of my heart to connect with the aliveness that’s there beneath the sadness/grief/anger/blame. What is it, and what does it ask of me? What does it want me to know?
And I discovered a longing to know that I am making a positive difference in this world. That I’m loving well.
When people come to the end of their life and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, “How much is in my bank account?” or “How many books did I write?” or “What did I build?” or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: “Did I love well?” “Did I live fully?” “Did I learn to let go?”
And from “Late Fragment”, Raymond Carver’s last published poem before dying of cancer:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Did I love well? Did my loving matter? Did I feel beloved? Connected?
These are universal yearnings.
One of the greatest realizations I’ve had since my mom passed away six years ago this month is that the seeds of love we plant on this earth are not done growing when our life here has come to an end. Chances are pretty good that you will not live to see them flower fully. Sometimes it’s your very absence that waters them until at last they bloom, and those left behind marvel at what your life has been and all the ways in which your loving has enriched their lives.
My relationship with my mother was complicated when she was alive, for we were so different (and alike) in some ways. I put up walls that wouldn’t let her get too close. She couldn’t have had any way of knowing that those walls were my own vulnerability and had nothing to do with her worth as a mother or human being. I didn’t even realize at the time what they were because I was too enmeshed. In our mother-daughter relationship, I didn’t feel seen, and I’m sure she didn’t, either. We just kept playing our roles. Doing our best but not giving each other what we wanted most. Which I think was the same thing.
Until the end, when those roles and walls dissolved, which was incredibly beautiful.
Although I did my best to help her feel loved and appreciated during the final months of her life, my love and appreciation for my mother didn’t truly blossom until after she took her final breath. She didn’t live to see it. And it probably couldn’t have been any other way.
As a result of my experience, I realize that sometimes you have to be content with planting seeds and have faith in the invisible seeds you sow in the world through the life you live. Through your very presence. Some seeds grow quickly. Others take more time. And we have to be patient. Many seeds won’t send shoots above ground until after we’re gone – from someone’s life or from this earth altogether.
Yes, the seeds of love continue to awaken and grow after we’re gone. When we come to the end of our life, may we understand that it’s not over. The seeds we sowed continue on and will bloom in time. We can’t take our last breath believing it’s the end. There’s so much more yet to come. So many gifts to be found and unwrapped.
When I was doing hospice work in my 20s, one of my patients expressed sadness for not being able to live long enough to see her flowers come up in the spring. I didn’t understand at the time, but her words remained with me, and I think I finally grasp both the literal and metaphorical meaning. Which is why there are tears streaming down my face as I write this.
After we leave this life, our love will continue to grow. Those we leave behind will discover artifacts of our lives and get to know us in new ways. They will find them inside boxes of our belongings and inside themself, as well.
Appreciation and love will deepen. They will feel our presence in so many ways, places, and situations. Our love is our gift to them that endures beyond our lifetime and even into new generations – like the mint plants I transplanted from my mother’s garden a few years ago that now thrive in my own garden (a metaphor in itself). And the lilac bush in my parents’ yard that still blooms even though someone else lives there now.
We interact with those who were friends of our loved ones and through the exchange of smiles and stories see them from different angles, like a flower being illuminated by just the right slant of sunlight.
And we allow ourselves to express the qualities we appreciated most about them, even if we didn’t fully appreciate them when they were alive, when we were trying to be different and set ourselves apart from them (as is often the case with mothers and daughters and with fathers and sons).
There are so many ways in which loving – our most essential nature – continues on.
So if you ever wonder or doubt whether your life and love is of value, know this: It’s not over yet. Even when you take your last breath, there is so much more of your life left to live. So many seeds yet to emerge from underground and be seen.
And the most wonderful thing I’ve learned is that relationships don’t end with death. I’ve never been closer to my mom. I see her sometimes in dreams and feel her presence in certain moments and places. Whenever I need her, she is never further away than my own heart. My heart and dreams are the portals that allow love to flow both ways. At this point, love is all that’s left, and it’s everything.
Yesterday, I went hiking with my husband and decided to stop to take some pictures, so he went on ahead. There was a period of several minutes when I walked alone through the woods. And the most bizarre thing happened: A bird landed on the path a few steps in front of me and walked with me the whole time. It was like walking a dog, but it was a bird. The bird stayed real close to me the whole time and made me giggle. It was a Snow White moment, for sure. But I also wondered if the bird was injured because it didn’t fly away.
Eventually, I saw the blue of my husband’s jacket in the distance, and the moment he came into view, the bird flew off into the woods. It seemed like it had wanted to keep me company as I walked alone – didn’t want me to be alone.
When I told my husband about my bird companion, he reminded me that it’s Mother’s Day weekend, and perhaps it was my mom saying hi. It felt like the bird wanted me to know that I wasn’t walking alone. And I think that if our departed loved ones could give us any message, especially now, it’s that.
They are still with us, and the love continues to bloom. And not only do we get to witness it, but we can dedicate the merits of our own awakening to them.
I only take in current events in small sips. It’s all my sensitivities can handle. Touching in briefly a few times a week is plenty for me. I don’t watch the news at home, but when I go to the gym, headlines flash on multiple television screens, from different sources. But it’s pretty much the same: angry-looking heads and talking heads talking about why everyone’s so angry, sandwiched between commercials designed to make you feel not-good-enough without whatever product or service they’re selling.
From where I stand, it looks like a lot of unmet needs creating lots of fear and suffering. We are the walking wounded, walking around wounding, whether we realize and intend it or not. We’ve all been hurt in some way and often don’t even know how we are wounded and what deeper longing lies beneath the veneer of our various cravings, addictions, and aversions.
My mother was an appearance-conscious stewardess during the golden age of flying, and I experienced a wound in childhood that set me up for a life of self-consciousness and suffering. She couldn’t possibly have foreseen how deeply her words – intended for my benefit – would hurt me. She, too, had been wounded, in a different way, and I have tremendous compassion for her. The person who wounded her did so out of their own woundedness. And so it goes. It’s the human condition, what we’re given to work with and evolve from.
How would our view of others and our interactions with them – the quality of our hearts – change if we could see people as walking wounds crying out: Love me! Assure me that I’m good and worthy! Even the ones who seem so full of themselves.
How would our relationship with our self change if we could see our own wounds as being rooted in innocence? And if we could see the wounds we’ve inflicted on others as being rooted in ignorance rather than inherent badness?
Have you ever held a baby in your arms and soaked up their radiant innocence?
Have you ever been held in the arms of someone who sees that in you and loves you unconditionally – perhaps a grandparent? If this person were around, what would they say to you now? What do you most need to hear? What would set your heart free?
If Love could speak, what would s/he say to you? And what difference would hearing it make in your life/heart/mind/relationships?
Well, I did a little exercise (inspired by author Elizabeth Gilbert) that you can do, too. I reached out to Love and then wrote down what Love said to me. It went something like this:
I’m right here, sweetheart. I will be here for you No matter what you look like Or how much you weigh. You don’t have to try to be More special, successful, Popular, or prosperous. There’s nothing you need To be or do To be worthy and beautiful And forgiven for everything You’ve not forgiven yourself for.
I will never abandon you. There’s nothing I need from you, And there’s nothing you could do To lose me. I’m with you When you get stuck In the painful trap Of conditioning and fear And fall short of who You want to be And find it so hard To accept yourself.
When you lose sight Of who you really are, I remember and hold up a mirror So you can catch a glimpse Of yourself as I see you And love yourself enough To draw healthy boundaries And shine. But I also hold you dearly When you feel too tired to shine. I’m here when you stand tall And when you fall.
When you are in need, Call upon me and hear The words I whisper constantly Into your heart: You are not alone. I see you, and you matter. You don’t have to prove your worth; You already are enough. I am always here. You can draw strength From me.
I’ve reread these words several times since channeling them and realized two things. First, what I’ve tried to do and be for others (the mirror) is exactly what I most needed, myself. Second, this is exactly how I feel about my four-year-old granddaughter and what I’d want to say to her every day for the rest of her life – though the third and fourth lines would be different and address her own inevitable wounds.
I’d be willing to bet that these are the words my own grandmothers would say to me if they could. And that makes the words very real. Not just some wish-fulfilling fantasy but a message that grandmothers and others who are capable of loving in the purest, most unconditional sense would want to imprint on dented hearts.
The good news is that we can fill ourselves up from within so we don’t walk around so needy. So we can love ourselves and others better. It’s a form of activism that feels important to me.
How would the world and each person in it be different if we reached out to Love every day and heard what we most needed to hear before even leaving the house or interacting with anyone else?
What would Love say to you?
P.S. – The night after doing this exercise, my mother came to me in a dream for the first time in quite a while. In the dream, we hugged for a good, long time. I felt her love and warmth, and surely she felt mine. It was the first time I’ve experienced a dream-hug with my mother (who passed away nearly six years ago). And it was wonderful. Totally filled me up. I went through the day shining brightly and radiating love.
We can do this.
And if you’d like to hear the words Love spoke to me, then listen here. I recorded this for you.
I enjoy conversations with my granddaughter so much. During this week’s sleepover, while making star-shaped cookies on a stick that looked like magic wands, the topic of dragonflies came up. Over the summer, we noticed a dead dragonfly on the sidewalk at Congress Park. Remembering that dragonfly has become a predictable segue for talking about my parents, which is one of her favorite topics.
“The dragonfly’s body stopped working, just like your mommy and daddy’s. Your mommy and daddy died. But they’re not died…right?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “My mommy and daddy’s bodies stopped working, so they don’t have bodies anymore. But they are still able to love!”
I used to write a lot about grieving my parents’ deaths. Writing was how I made my way through the dark forest of grief. Eventually, I found myself on the other side of the forest. The darkness was behind me. Mercifully, life goes on, and a new chapter begins.
Beyond grief, there is another story waiting to blossom. A rather amazing one if we’re open to it.
Our dearly departed continue to connect with us after they’re gone. But they are so much more than the quirky personalities they had on earth. They offer pure, unconditional love. If you allow yourself to receive it, it can transform your life. Big-time. It can save you from yourself and turn you into your own best friend. I know because it happened to me.
It started as a little voice that countered the words of my Inner Critic. As I paid attention to it, the voice grew louder and more constant. And when I heard it, I felt my mom’s presence. It seemed like she was near and speaking to me through my own heart. But it wasn’t the voice of her personality. It was the voice of unconditional love. I felt my mother’s deep, abiding love for me, as if it were a seed planted in my heart. It was also like being on the receiving end of the steadfast love I’ve always had for my children. The kind of love that didn’t want them to suffer and learn things the hard way, and didn’t need to be right. No ego, just pure love.
It was like my mother’s love was beaming straight into my heart and watering that seed, and also holding a mirror that reflected my love and compassion for others right back to me. So I could love myself. Really love myself, probably for the first time ever.
See, I went through some difficult years after my mom died. Grief made me vulnerable to losing myself in a way empaths are prone to. I’d given away my power, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t seem to take it back and set myself free. I was really stuck, and it was the worst feeling. I felt powerless and prayed often for help and guidance to rise above the illusions and habits that imprisoned me. And whenever I asked, it was given.
For a while, it was a being of light similar to Glinda, the Good Witch standing at the entrance to the forest of forbidden thoughts in my mind. She radiated love and light and assured me that there was nothing there for me. Her compassionate presence served as a shield that prevented me from stepping into the danger zone. She helped me to have healthier boundaries and to form new neural pathways by putting warning signs at the entrances to the old ones.
Then they arrived. All of them. Everyone who had truly loved me before they passed into non-physical. They formed a circle around me, and I felt their love coming through so strongly. They did not want me to bring suffering on myself but didn’t judge me for doing so. They couldn’t stop me, but they could be present and surround me with love and light.
Their light lit the lamp of my own self-love. It didn’t happen overnight, but in time it empowered me to stop searching outside of myself for love and self-worth and to kindle it from the true source within. And that allowed me to set down the backpack of illusions I had been carrying around. Finally, I didn’t need it anymore. The trance lifted, and I was free to be me and to shine my light brighter than ever.
It feels like I have bushwhacked back to my true Self, reclaimed it, and put it in charge of my life. And I honestly believe I couldn’t have done it without some help from the other side. There were also people in the physical world who helped me to get unstuck, and I’m so grateful for their love and patience. And other women experiencing similar things were some of my clearest mirrors. However, it really felt like a team of angels was assisting me, too. People-pleasing empath that I was, it wasn’t enough for me to want to stop suffering. Realizing that nobody who loved me would want me to suffer is what did the trick.
Love is strong medicine that can set us free. My parents’ love for me has continued after they passed on and was strong enough to help me to generate self-love, which empowered me to heal. I’ve learned to love and forgive myself, and everyone else, too. Now my self-talk is completely different than it used to be. I relate to myself with unconditional love: so nurturing and forgiving and loving. So powerful and transformative. I’ve never felt so alive, so fully myself.
It’s kind of weird timing because the world seems so out of sorts, and we already have snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens when it’s only mid-November. But maybe it’s perfect and exactly what is needed, and maybe it’s happening to many others as well. It’s okay, even if the world is going through tremendous growth pains and feels unseasonably and unreasonably cold. Maybe love blossoming within us, one heart at a time, is exactly what this world of ours needs most to evolve. We have each other, and the dearly departed, as well, loving us and rooting us on.
As for the cookie conversation, I assured my granddaughter that it’s okay that the dragonfly and my parents don’t have bodies anymore – because they don’t need them. The part of them that we can’t see keeps living and loving. I told her that even though my parents don’t have a body now, they send me so much love, and I will do the same for her when my body stops working someday.
Our conversations, and the love between us, never have to end. We just have to learn to recognize a different kind of voice, be receptive, and practice a different way of communicating. There is a bridge between physical and non-physical. We just need to find it.
It’s quiet in the house now except for the sound of the last load of laundry tossing around in the dryer. I still find it a little hard to believe that I’m the one with the washer and dryer and the adult children who bring their laundry home when they visit. Was it really that long ago when I brought my laundry basket to my parents’ house with young children in tow?
My three-year-old granddaughter and I had a really fun afternoon and evening together. I introduced her to watercolor painting and my old ViewMasters. She had her usual bubble bath with rubber ducks and measuring cups. She built with magnet blocks, counted “1…2…3!” and jumped with gusto from one futon mattress to another at least 30 times in a row, giggling in between. We made popcorn and ice cream with sprinkles and snuggled on the couch to watch a Harold and the Purple Crayon video before bedtime. We did lots of other activities together, too. It was an active day.
Young children don’t need fancy things to hold their attention. Ava noticed a tray of sand and small stones from the beach and became immersed in burying the stones in the sand until they couldn’t be seen. Then she imagined the stones were little people and acted out a whole new scenario. The sand and stones intrigued her long enough for her mom to run a solo shopping errand.
It’s interesting where the course of a day will take you.
This morning, I dreamed I was in my parents’ house and came downstairs and saw my dad sitting in his chair in the living room. He had just returned from a trip to England. And then my mom was there, too. In the dream, I realized something wonderful: They hadn’t really died! They’d just been away on a trip and were back now. All that time I spent grieving, and they didn’t die after all!
I spent most of the dream crying really hard because I was overjoyed to see my parents again. Then I woke up from the dream, still elated for a split second…until I realized it was only a dream.
My nose was already all stuffed up from crying in the dream. Then I cried for another half hour because it was one of those dreams that unleashed a wave of intense emotion.
It felt so good sitting in my parents’ living room next to them with good news to share. They were still alive and living in their home. In addition to feeling overjoyed because they were back, I felt like I mattered again and was supported in a way that was unique to my relationship with my parents.
It was like jumping back in time. For a little while in my dream, nothing had changed. I could still pull into my parents’ driveway, walk through the front door, and find them in their living room. They hadn’t died, and the house hadn’t been sold.
The ordinary things you don’t appreciate fully until they’re gone.
And now, here I am hearing a sweet, little voice call out, “Grandma?” before going to bed. She’s looking for me. How is it possible that my mom never even got to meet her?
She’s fascinated with all the moms and grandmas and how her grandma is her mommy’s mom – and enjoys trying to explain it when we’re all together. She likes to see pictures of the other grandmas, too – my mom and grandmother – and hear stories about them. How they would have adored her!
As we snuggled on the couch, she exclaimed, “I like this house!” And it hit me again how times have changed, and now I am the one with the house in which loving memories are made for a little girl. A house where she feels safe and supported and loved, like I did in my grandparents’ house.
My parents and grandmother spent 40-something years sowing seeds in the garden of my heart. Since they died, the seeds of their love have taken on a life of their own. When we tend to these heirloom seeds with faithful care and compassion, the blooms are more beautiful than we ever could have imagined we were capable of growing.
Now I know what a grandmother’s love feels like, from the inside out. How strong and unconditional it is. A mother’s love, too, though I think you worry less about outcomes as a grandma.
Experiencing a grandmother’s love as the grandmother is magical. It’s like having a superpower. When you can love someone like that, you also can love yourself, including everything you haven’t loved about yourself in the past. Because now you can see through Grandmother’s eyes and heart, which changes everything. It plugs you into a bigger, more universal kind of love that transcends personal losses and heartache.
The secret gift of all these years of living, loving, and losing dear ones is: Eventually, you become love. Through our personal journeys, we connect with the Universal. If I could offer my children and grandchildren any words of advice for when I’m gone, it would be: Practice daily loving yourself as I have always loved you. Because it makes a huge, positive difference in your quality of life and also helps you to love others better.
I started today grieving the loss of my parents and ended it snuggling with my granddaughter on the couch, my heart abloom, marveling at the realization that it’s my turn to sow heirloom seeds in tender, young hearts.