A Sibling Grieves Their Sister’s Death, and Seeks Spiritual Insight

Dear Liz,

Almost a year ago, in March, my seventeen-year-old sister died from SUDEP (unexpected death from epilepsy). Grief is a weird thing… Last spring, I felt hopeless, sad, angry, but eventually that subsided and I just kind of went numb. Recently, I think because the anniversary is coming up, I have been extremely emotional, exhausted, and can’t seem to find much motivation to do anything. For example, for the past six months or so I have been going to yoga to try to release my emotions in a positive way, but I don’t even want to do that anymore. Do you have any advice about grief and any insight into the spiritual realm? I used to have vivid dreams of her, I haven’t in a while, we have been to mediums and they said to look for dimes from the spirit realm, I haven’t found one in a while. I just miss her.

Dear Friend,

It is so painful and so lonely to grieve. I do understand your sorrow, and I pray that what I share will soothe your heart, so that it is not so difficult to get out of bed, lift your head, and look out into the world.

The only advice I have about grief is not to resist it.

The truth is, there is no way around this pain. We can’t control how grief moves through us, only that we let it. That this illusive thing called time will pass, and soften the sharpest edges of our grief, is something we must put our faith in. For now, be present to what you feel, even if what you feel is numb. Feeling numb when grieving can be a temporary coping mechanism. But do try and let the numbness morph into something you are able (willing?) to feel. And if there is a day that you feel good—feel that too, but know that that feeling will likely disappear, without warning, and the sadness will return with a vengeance. One step forward, sometimes three steps back—that’s how grief works.

When we grieve, we honor what it is to be human at our core. Grief is another version of love. So, let grief be. It is a matter of aging into your loss. You will never be the same. But you will be okay.

You asked me if I had any “spiritual insights” to share. I do, though I hesitate. I hesitate only because the insights grew out of profoundly personal experiences, experiences I’m sometimes self-conscious about because I know them to be true, but they are unprovable. Nonetheless, my experiences have been healing for me, and I will share with the hope they will initiate a bit of healing for you, too. Please bear with me, as I pull you into my very personal story.

~

My first pregnancy was bookended by death; death then life, death then life. I’ll explain. Four months into my pregnancy, lying on an examination table in an emergency room, I was told that I miscarried: I’m so sorry, you’ve lost the pregnancy, the placenta is passing, and you need an emergency D&C. My heart couldn’t bear that it was over. All of it. The baby, and my life with my baby. Our love. It was all gone. I had never experienced so much sadness. It was a loss that would tip the scale.

I think the doctor gave me a bit of time, a little space, to prepare for the D&C, but all I could do was stare off and cry. Time passed, when something peculiar happened. A no rose up from within me; not from a place of thought, but from deep within, speaking for me. I immediately attached myself to that no and when the doctor spoke to me, I explained that I didn’t want the D&C. I wanted to go home and give birth to my son. The truth was, I couldn’t bear the thought of her taking him out of me. She did gently warn that he would look like a baby, and I remember feeling glad to hear that, because I wanted to see my son.

I was grief stricken, I was afraid, and I felt worthless. Not only had I failed to sustain his life, but I was devastated that my child died, and I hadn’t even noticed. No maternal instinct, no intuition. I had no idea when he left me. How did I not notice my child’s last breath? How could I be so remote?

I avoided going to the bathroom. I was afraid of any pressure, because then he’d come out of me, and I didn’t want him to, yet I knew he had to. It was agonizingly surreal. The doctor had given me three days, three days to “pass the baby”, or I had to go back to the hospital. It was day two, when for the second time in a tiny span of time, another unexpected and very peculiar thing happened.

I was staring past a movie about Joan of Arc, in a sort of accidental meditative state, just filled to the brim with sorrow, when I had this instantaneous recollection: with god all things are possible. But it wasn’t a thought. It just rose up and presented itself to me, like that no in the emergency room. The remembering brought me immediate excitement and joy, and I felt so foolish for having bought into my son’s death. I turned to his father and said it doesn’t matter if the baby is dead…with god anything is possible…god can bring the baby back to life. And that was it. I didn’t hope my son would live. I didn’t have faith he’d live. I genuinely knew my son would live.

On the third day I returned to the hospital, underwent an ultrasound, and saw my beautiful boy, very much alive.

~

My father’s death was sudden and overlapped with an especially vulnerable period in my life. I had just given birth to my son and was in a relationship with someone whose wounds had morphed into addiction, leaving little to no room for genuine love. My father’s death magnified my sorrow—the sorrow and loneliness I had known for most of my life. Holding my sweet boy, just days old, staring out a window, I wondered out loud how I would ever be able to survive all this pain, and a beautiful cardinal perched himself on a branch.

Almost immediately following the death of my father, I began to experience his presence. I hadn’t asked for this, nor did I have enough of a time lapse between death and despair to even wish for this. I know now that try as we might, one cannot conjure these experiences—they are unexpected and interrupt whatever mundane thing we might be doing in the course of an ordinary day. The first time I was stunned, and each time thereafter, it was the same thing: I was caught completely off guard, and instantaneously enraptured.

I had my first waking vision of my father about a month after his death, though had felt his undeniable presence hours after his passing. Soon after, and over the course of a year, when my mind was still and asleep, I began to see him in full body. Some dismiss these visits as mere dreams, but anyone who has both dreamed about someone who has died, and been visited by someone who has died, knows the experiences are worlds apart. I understand the skepticism, because death consciousness itself, the belief that at some point we will cease to exist, works to distract from another truth: we possess two consciousnesses: the ego’s consciousness (its home is the mind) and the spirit’s consciousness. Sleep quiets the egoic mind, and thus the spirit, already in the same dimension as those who pass, can experience those who have passed.

On two occasions, my father’s visits led me to experience, temporarily, his perpetual experience: the spiritual beingness of my nature, the “fully me” within me, putting existence itself into perspective. During one visit I was afraid to lift my head and look in his eyes, because I thought he’d vanish. He must have experienced my thought, because immediately I “heard” trust, and so I lifted my head, and looked in his eyes. It was him. Not a dream, not an image of him, but him. Him, but different.

I have no doubt about the authenticity of these experiences. They are the most difficult experiences to speak of because they were experiences that defied earthbound sensory experience, and in some respect, defy words all together. They are also so deeply personal. I will say that being with my father after his death was the happiest experience of my life-nothing compares.

These profoundly personal and painful experiences, my miscarriage and my father’s death, left me with two pillars that became the foundation of my life from that point forward:

With god all things are possible
There is no death

It was as if I was given a clean slate and a good reason to begin a sustained contemplation around the condition of being human. It seemed to me that if we all knew we were spiritual beings having a human experience, we’d be far less likely to succumb to the mind’s ills, like fear, worry, and despair. This awareness didn’t happen overnight; it came about alongside my own personal healing. But over time, amongst other things, I was able to refine my insights into death and grief, which I’m happy to share.

~

It seems to me that grief has two dimensions to it. One is the existential dimension (I exist, I will cease to exist; you exist, you will cease to exist) and the other is the I just miss you so much dimension. The existential dimension is with each one of us, all the time, in the form of death consciousness: we live alongside the knowing that we, and all those we love, will die. This knowing creates a chronic low-grade undercurrent of dissonance within us. It informs the entirety of our life, especially our drive to make meaning of life. When someone we love dies, that dissonance forcefully invades our psyche, resulting in an acute agony. We suffer through the most bitter flood of existential angst. Time passes, and eventually, the dissonance slowly recedes, returning to its chronic, anxious, hum.

Following the first visit from my father, the existential dimension of my grief instantaneously vanished. That is the truth. It went away. My grief then consisted of what it is now—I miss my father. Yes, it was far more intense back then, because I hadn’t had time to adjust to his absence, nor had I had practiced our new version of relationship. Then, and even now, I of course revisit sorrow with each what could have been, if he was still here with me on earth. But the profound suffering was immediately alleviated, and it never returned. We simply do not cease to exist upon death, which of course means your sister is alive.

But there is still the other dimension of grief, which can’t be minimalized. When it comes to your life here on earth, your sister is gone forever. You are still enduring the condition of being human, and she is not. You are grieving not just the loss of her, but the loss of all that could have been, all that should have been, and that is heartbreaking.

But I suspect if we can experience freedom from the existential dimension of grief, an open space is created, one that facilitates our ability to be intimate with and commune with those we have lost. I’m suggesting that you can continue your relationship with your sister; your closeness will simply need to be sustained by a new energy and a new language. It takes some faith, and it takes some practice. But love will patiently wait, with an aim to reunite you, despite your being here, and her being there.

Over many years I came to realize that death consciousness is the origin of all versions of psychological suffering, and when we cease living alongside that false premise, there is more  space for hope*. That was a tremendous gift for me, given the waves of cataclysmic loss that would consume much of my life. That doesn’t mean I didn’t suffer with each loss—I did, very much so, but I managed to reunite with hope every single time, because there was less fear between me and hope, and that made room for all those possibilities that appeared impossible.

*Hope isn’t an idea to consider, but a living dynamic intent on the highest good, sustained by Love, that we access through trust.  Hope transcends sadness, fear, and all worries.  If fear and despair are the language of ego, Hope is the language of our soul.  Our ongoing connection to Hope sustains our will to live and our ability to live in peace.

~

So, what can I offer to you? My experiences are just that—my own. And my truth is just that—my own. I do believe we can “tap into” the faith and the knowing of others, with a desire that it settle upon our own heart. But it is just as important that we develop our own spiritual practice—we need food for our body, and equally so, we need nourishment for our soul.

A spiritual practice sustains our tenderness and deepens us into our own truth. For some, religion is the path. For others, a deep connection with nature is the path. For many, the Twelve Steps provide a path, while for others, mindful presence is a path. All I can suggest is that if anything I have written resonates as true, begin your own spiritual exploration at that starting point. Read books, make space for quiet time, be in nature, learn to meditate, keep up with your yoga. There is nothing I can shed light on that you don’t already know. The most I can do is share my truth, and I am grateful you asked me to do so.

With Love,
Liz

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