Hope Amidst Traumatic Grief

Dear Liz,

A very good friend of mine was murdered about four months ago. Her death outraged and saddened my entire community, and I’ve had a hard time accepting that she’s gone, because it just doesn’t seem real. I’m writing because I’ve had many dreams about her since it happened, and I’m not sure what they mean. Maybe she’s visiting me? Maybe my brain is rewinding to that event? Could you help me out?

 Dear Friend,

Death breaks our heart. You know this.  But what you are struggling with is not just grief, because there was nothing “natural” about your friend’s passing.  Her death was traumatic, which means your grief is traumatic grief—it will be heavier, distinctly shattering, and can leave you with post trauma stress well after the unbearable weight of grief has lifted.  I encourage you to speak to a counselor—with traumatic death, there are multiple losses.  I am not skilled enough to speak to those losses in this response, but I do know that a therapist skilled in the area of trauma and grief will support you through this heartbreaking crisis.  If you are a college student, there is free counseling available to you on your campus, and I know you will be received with open arms.  I am so profoundly saddened by what you have shared, and I pray that what I write to  you can help in some small way.

I’ve been hesitant to write back to you, because I’ve been gauging just how expansive my response should be. I was so happy, when several nights ago, I had a dream.  It was not unlike dreams I’ve had in the past, a dream that immersed me in that precious, invisible, something we are all a part of.  But I was grateful for the timing, and I woke feeling a bit more confident about how to reply.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my ideas about death, and about life.

There are dreams, and there are visits from those who have passed away. Dreams can help us sort through all sorts of anxieties and losses, and perhaps yours are helping you come to terms with your friend’s murder.  Dreams can also be the vehicle by which those who have passed can make their presence known.  Your dreams can be either, or they can be both. Visits often happen in the dream state, but that doesn’t make the visit a dream.  You will know the difference.  The key is to trust your feelings around the experience.

What struck me is that it seems you’re wondering if it’s even possible for your friend to visit you.  The answer is yes, and it’s not only possible, it’s probable.  The truth is, it’s only because we get death so wrong that we find experiences with those who have passed away so stunning, and we struggle to trust them.  Such visits are precious and healing and bring us joy, and if we were raised with the truth that there is no death, we would also find these visits to be wonderfully ordinary.

Why Do We Get Death So Wrong?

Our experience around death, our relationship with death, often turns on what our intellect suggests about death. Intellect refers to the mind’s ability to reach correct conclusions about what is true and what is real. Intellectual pursuit is informed by sensory perception, acquisition of data, abstract thought and critical thought.

Our mind is also the seat of our EGO. EGO is an energetic presence—it’s like a magnet, and it wants to be your touch point on all matters.  It wants you to rely on it for determining how you will experience your life.  It will seek to dictate your understanding of life itself, and the responses you have to the circumstances of your life.  Because EGO wants to remain front and center, it relies on the intellect to bolster skepticism on all matters that threaten to expose/annihilate it.  Intellect is good when it serves authenticity.  Intellect is destructive when it serves the EGO.

One of the clearest threats to EGO is the experience of acquiring knowledge outside of the intellect, through spiritual means, such as intuition or mysticism.  The Spiritual exposes the true intent of EGO, which is why EGO attempts to shut down even the mere openness to acquiring knowing outside of the intellect.  So, for example, when you have an experience with someone who has passed away, EGO will be right there saying, it was just a dream…it’s wishful thinking…it’s your grief speaking…And if you continue to trust what you experienced, EGO will then demand that you prove it (it will yank you back to the intellect).

EGO’s other job is to manage the “small self” (one’s sense of worth, self-esteem, and the overall experience of being in the world) while simultaneously convincing us that the “small self” is the true self. Interestingly, the very cornerstone of convincing us that the small self is the real self is by pointing to death.  So when we begin to consider that death may not be what we thought it was, we are also positioned to consider that life, and our personal experience of our own life, may not be what we thought it to be, which challenges the interests of the EGO.

Between sustaining a false sense of self and convincing us that death is real, it is fair to say that EGO is the root cause of our suffering. Why?  Because we can’t live in the margins of truth and feel at peace—the human animal is not designed that way.  And so, if something is pressing you into deception—if something is creating suffering—it only makes sense to re-evaluate how intimate you wish to be with that something.

Challenging EGO, Re-considering Death

  1. While there are many ways of acquiring knowledge, it seems most cultures prize the intellectual acquisition of knowledge, while dismissing (or relegating to a far lesser status) the intuitive and spiritual acquisition of knowledge. While intellectual ability differs from person to person, all human beings have equal ability to intuit and spiritually apprehend knowing. When we discount those means of knowing, we unwittingly confer dominance to our EGO, perpetuating the falsehood of the small self, and that we are finite beings. The first step in challenging our EGO is opening to the idea that we are spiritual beings, who happen to be having a human experience.
  2. Our experience of time also prevents us from “getting death right”. The condition of being human (having a body and a mind and an EGO to contend with) can hijack our ability (or at a minimum, make it really, really, hard) to experience no time. Time appears linear because our mind perceives beginnings, endings, and the time in between. But only the body is subject to linear time, and we are not our body (despite the EGO’s effort to sell us on that idea). The truth is that we are greater than the sum of our parts, and that greaterness is spiritual in its nature. The body is temporal, but Spirit is not. Spirit is Divine, and your soul is the place you experience Spirit spontaneously.

The Price We Pay for Getting Death Wrong

When we overly identify with our EGO, we dull our ability to remain receptive to our spiritual nature. This leads to a diminished reverence for the natural world and all living beings, and contributes to the compulsions that undermine our happiness:  fear of humiliation, worry, shame, and fear of death.  EGO cultivates indifference to creating a just and merciful community, and it gets us high on materialism.

When we get death wrong, we necessarily get “life” wrong. If you begin with a falsehood, you proceed falsely.  For most of us, our very understanding of existence turns on our understanding of death, so if death is an illusion, then perhaps what we’ve come to understand about our very existence is also illusory.

My advice:

Sit quietly with your dreams, and work to discern their meaning—work to surrender to their message by getting comfortable with what appears mysterious. Open your heart to your friend’s presence. We are spiritual beings who happen to be experiencing the condition of being human—nudge the “human part” of you aside just a bit—shift your consciousness to all the spiritual energy you are wrapped up in.  Trust  your intuition, trust your feelings, and trust in the mystical experiences that befall you.

Trust is the key—trust annihilates doubt and worry.

The human condition is best understood to be Spirit, embodied (incarnated). Your consciousness determines your life:  saturate your day in as much “Spirit consciousness” as possible, and month by month, year by year, you will come to clearer vision.  Your EGO will lose its magnetic pull, enabling you to discern reality from illusion.

Trust is the key—trust annihilates EGO.

Your friend is no longer on earth, as you long for her to be, and you will continue to long for her physical presence in all the years to come. This is love.  This is what love looks like when love is grieving:  it yearns for, it misses, it weeps, it remembers, it finds joy in remembering, but also heartache in remembering, and the longing continues.  This longing is an inescapable truth of being left behind on earth.  But please don’t forget that your longing is a form of communication, it is love, and your friend is receiving your love.  She feels you, she is present, she is available, and she always will be, here on earth, and long after you leave earth.

Love never, ever, ends.



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