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Posts Tagged ‘stages of grief’

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Death popped into my inbox recently and into my life. Someone wrote to me about losing his father to Alzheimer’s, wondering how–if the brain does not produce consciousness–his loved one could have been so completely lost to the world. Around the same time, I lost my cat Nod. Nod was family. She helped me raise my daughter. We had her for 12.5 years, and she was the soul of the house. My husband stayed with her while the vet injected her with a lethal cocktail. I ran away and cried hysterically in the parking lot. What do Nod’s death and the loss of my reader’s father have in common? One, fundamental, question: where is my loved one now?

Here was my response to his question:

“First of all, my sincere condolences on your loss. Our family lost someone recently, so I understand the tremendous pain and confusion. 
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I have had multiple surgeries where my consciousness was altered by anesthesia. So, I understand how vital this question is. My grandmother had moments where a different level of awareness would operate, even in the worst of her disease. Suddenly, the light would go on, and she was ‘back’—of course, nothing about her diseased brain had changed; yet, she would go ‘online’, as if plugged in to an entirely different level of consciousness. There were no medical explanations for this. In my own case, of course anesthesia would knock out my everyday, operating consciousness. However, on more than one occasion, I became aware of myself on the operating table and was able to ‘see’ what the surgeons were doing to me. Once, I saw myself with my eyes closed and a mask on my face, even though I had made the anesthesiologist promise me that no mask would be used during surgery (the very idea terrified me). I remember confronting the shocked doctors about that fact. There was no way that I could have known what they were doing via ‘ordinary’ consciousness.
So, there are different mediators for consciousness. This higher awareness is like the generator kicking in when the electricity fails. Another common metaphor is the television set or the radio—if the machine is damaged, the signal is scrambled or lost, but the signal does not cease to exist. The brain interprets, filters, and modulates consciousness, but it does not create it. There are many (countless, really) examples of the brain being “offline” and conscious awareness finding another way to make sense of one’s surroundings and circumstances. The lucidity in one’s dying moments that so many nurses and family members report (and I have witnessed) is not due to a sudden recovery of the brain, but to a higher consciousness going online, a switching over to another system.
Another example are people with traumatic brain injury who are still able to execute functions that biology would tell you are impossible. I had a friend who had half of her brain removed and lost no significant function—nobody could explain her complete lack of disability given the catastrophic injury she had sustained. There were experiments with mice where so much brain was removed that they should have been utterly non functional, and yet they ran mazes based on memory that should not have been there at all if memory was stored in the brain.
So, your father is still conscious, but at a far greater level than he was before. Exactly how this works or what form we take is still part of the great mystery; but everything points to the same conclusion: consciousness is not dependent on or created by our brain. I hope that is of some comfort to you during this difficult time.”

Even if one fully accepts that consciousness continues on, there is nothing that erases the physical pain of losing your loved one. After deaths in my own family, I would feel the loss as actual pain in my body. It would affect my stomach, my back muscles, my energy levels, my ability to sleep, my concentration, and show up as depression and fear. Loss of the physical presence of your loved one is brutal. There is nothing that erases that, not even knowing that their consciousness continues, because we don’t know HOW their consciousness continues; my kitty can’t sleep on my chest anymore, and my reader can’t talk to his father anymore.

Sometimes, the signs that our loved ones leave for us can create even more pain and confusion. Nod has appeared in many, many, ways; she has jumped up on the bed and walked up to me; but when I reach for her, there is nothing but air. She can’t appear in her physical form. It’s as if she were both here and not here; exists and doesn’t, in equal measure. In that sense, she is like Schrodinger’s cat, both alive and dead at the same time. I have felt that acutely since her passing, as I did when my grandmother passed away and when my two friends from Wisconsin killed themselves. They, too, left tantalizing evidence that their energy was still active in the world, but I could not talk to them or reach out to them. If they decided to come to me, they did; but when they decided not to, the loss and emptiness was overwhelming.

A few things are clear from my experiences with the ‘transitioned’ states of my loved ones: I cannot force contact, I cannot predict it, and I cannot control the form that it will take. Contact does not respond to or respect my fantasies, desires, and needs. It happens when it happens, and each time someone makes the effort to reach out to me, I try to respond with gratitude and grace. Lately, however, I’ve been stuck in depression over the magnitude of the losses. Like my reader, I wonder how it is that it is possible for consciousness to continue in the way that I have observed. It feels like energy and memory, sparking reactions and effects in the physical world. And yet, it also serves to remind me that so much of what makes this life meaningful is the sheer physicality of it, the warmth of a hug, the sensation of petting your kitty as she sleeps on your chest, the electricity of a kiss, the joy of shared laughter. I want to use all my five senses to reconnect with my grandmother, my cat, my friends–and yet, I am asked by the Universe to redefine my senses in order to make contact. I am asked to connect on a far more subtle level, one that requires energy, concentration, meditation, and an intense ability to observe and tune in.

This refinement of the senses in order to contact one’s loved ones is not simple, because it can be clouded by grief and depression. It is hard to focus on the signals when you are wracked by sadness and overwhelmed by loss. For all of you who know exactly what I am talking about, let me make one thing very clear: the essence of who our loved ones are, their essential pattern of energy, their personality, does not disappear. However, in order to appreciate it, we can’t be in a state of denial, deep despair, anger, or resentment. We have to accept the physical losses and the radical change in the nature of the relationship. Once we have accepted the loss and let go of the need to hang onto to form, we can clear a channel for communication.

I feel for all of you who have endured a loss. It’s a long process to come to terms with our own emotions. Grief can overwhelm the body and the mind with such force that we wonder if we will ever feel ‘normal’ again. We will. It takes time, patience, and abundant love. I have felt the love and concern of my loved ones from beyond this world. They want to know if I am OK. Well, not yet; but I will be. Death tends to bring up every trauma that we have suffered through, every death to which we had to adjust. It is soul work, and it hurts.

But I will do the work, because love is stronger than any force in the universe. It is from that love that we take these forms in the first place, and it is to that love we will return.

—Kirsten A. Thorne

(kirstenthorne@gmail.com)

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