Husbands and the Hereafter
My friend’s husband died recently and she told me that she still feels his presence around her in sometimes obvious and sometimes not-so-obvious ways. She found his photo tucked into a random book she picked up off her bookshelf to read and she has no recollection of putting the photo there. His favorite shirt mysteriously appeared in the laundry weeks after his passing – and again she has no idea how it could have gotten there. A close family friend told her that she was sitting in her parked car and her crystal medallion that hangs from the rearview mirror started swinging without any apparent cause at the exact time her husband passed and this friend had an overwhelming knowing that he had just died and called to confirm it. She felt like he swung through to say goodbye.
These events could be dismissed out-of-hand as fantasy. After all, coincidences are not proof of an afterlife. My friend obviously could have forgotten that she put her husband’s photo in that book. Or he may have tucked it in there before he died knowing that one day, she may stumble upon it and find comfort knowing he is still a part of her story. The shirt in the laundry? Who knows, it may have inadvertently been gathered up with a pile of her own clothes. As for the swinging medallion and her friend knowing something she could not know, air currents are not always felt or seen and her closeness to her friend may account for the insight into her distress.
Another explanation, albeit an unscientific one, is that each of these events can be embraced as a source of comfort that offers a possibility of life after death and the ability of our loved ones to communicate with us beyond this physical reality. I have no problem accepting these events as my friend’s true personal experience and I am happy if she can find comfort in finding validation that her husband does live on. I also, simultaneously, marvel that the mind could be capable of creating such occurrences as it searches for meaning and connection in a complex and vast universe. Are these internal processes creating an external event or are these external events awakening an internal knowing?
I myself have had many such occurrences after experiencing the deaths of close family members. An unwound clock started chiming as I was endlessly creating a collage of photos for my daughter’s funeral just as I said that I needed to get going to the funeral home, a vivid dream of my son on a train heading off to an unknown destination a few days after he passed was as real as if I had actually been on that train with him, a song “Part of Me, Part of You” that was played at my husband’s funeral came over the speakers in the grocery store (an odd choice for typical grocery store music) as I passed by the Coors Light case (my husband’s favorite beer) on the anniversary of his death. I have seen pennies materialize on the floor or counter where they were not there just moments before. This happened so many times that I could not continue to dismiss it as selective awareness – that they were actually already there but that I just didn’t notice them.
Depending on the day, all of these occurrences bring doubt or comfort. My rational mind searches for a cause for everything. I want to understand life and why we are here at all just to one day be gone with only the memory of us that lives on only as long as those who knew us. When these events happen, they can happen in such a way that only I can draw meaning by causally relating them into a narrative that either challenges or confirms my belief that life goes on and that those who have died are truly never really gone. In that grocery store, on the same day, in the same section, hearing the same song, the person standing next to me could never know the profound experience I was having and I could never know what was happening inside of them. Psychologist Carl Jung termed the word synchronicity to describe this experience of events that appear causally unrelated but occur in such a way that they are meaningfully related for the individual. This, for me, creates a warmer and more connected world than the stark rational one that vies for dominance at times.
What is our part in all of this? Do we unconsciously create these events to bring a penetrating sense of connection to something beyond physical reality? It is surreal and the meaning I assign at that moment is not only valid but it is my reality, although not necessarily an absolute truth. It is my husband reaching across the veil of death telling me that he is okay and that life goes on. It is God bringing comfort to a broken grieving heart. It is the universe conspiring and coalescing events to say that all is as it should be and everything happens for a reason. It is synchronicity with profound implications. It is a meaningless coincidence. It is my own volition creating an event bringing me to that location at that moment to experience a salve to save myself from despair. It is all of those things and none of them. It is whatever I choose it to be. I choose how to interpret the world around me just as everyone chooses to interpret his or her experiences. That is how we create our world.
The balance I seek is in how to integrate my inner reality, full of wonder and profound growth as an individual, living in a shared world. This shared world is a place where every other person is living a myriad of internal experiences that they may never be able to fully articulate or even understand but that drives their thoughts and actions. These thoughts and actions then create the world in which we all share. When viewed from this perspective, my inner reality is crucial to driving my life forward to help create the world that I want to live in – not only for myself but for future generations.
So, is it important that I deal only in verifiable truth? Do my beliefs and thoughts matter? What if I, or my friend, choose to find comfort in other-worldly connections? How does that shape the world I want to live in? Is it crucial for all of us, as we evolve as a species in our understanding and knowledge of how the world works, to loosen the stranglehold that the western rational mind has had over human development since the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason? Perhaps we would be wiser to embrace Shakespeare’s profound words: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Are the mysterious signs that I and my friend experienced indicative of other worldly connections? I choose to think so because, honestly, it makes my life feel better. I have had too many strange occurrences to continue to rationalize them away, and it hurts no one. It actually helps me when I expand my perception of life. It would be the utmost of hubris to think that I alone have the answers to what happens after death, or to think that I understand completely the capacity of the human spirit to bring comfort, or that my rational mind alone is the arbitrator of all reality. There is mystery in this life that I cannot deny. Finding comfort in a cold, harsh world is not only necessary for me to ever live with joy and love but to also be able to connect with others knowing that I may not ever completely understand their inner world. I also know that they too have a depth beyond what may be apparent as we pass each other in the grocery store.
Most of the time, we are all just trying to feel safe as we search for comfort and meaning in this life. I know that the comfort I find when I get even the smallest glimpse into an alternate reality brings a richness and depth to my life that makes me a much more compassionate and aware human being as I strive to live a life of meaning and purpose. Did my friend’s husband visit after his death? I don’t know. But I hope she can find comfort whether he was there or not.