Everybody has a story, that sequence of life events that they use to design how they present themselves to the world. My story began November 15, 2008. It goes something like this….
Brenda is Broken Open
— Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Kahn
The universe whispers lessons and sometimes you hear and that is awesome, But sometimes you don’t hear. Sometimes you get so busy with life and with the mundane, mediocrity of physical existence that you forget to take the moments to sit in silence and to really listen. So then the whispers get louder. And if you still don’t hear them, they turn into shouts so loud that you have no choice but to hear.
My shouts stopped me in my tracks. My shouts had me cowering with arms over my head wondering what horrible thing would come next. It all began with Janice.
My sweet soul friend and I had worked together for several years, creating costumes for the local high school plays. So many hours we spent together, planning, shopping, sewing, gluing, organizing and laughing. Janice laughed a lot. She had an infectious joy and even in the most stressful of times, she would share the humor of the situation and before we knew it we would all be laughing with her. A tiny dynamo with energy to spare and happiness in abundance, she spent her life and her last breath in laughter.
It was her night to sit in the audience and watch. I laughed and teased her that she would cry during “Be Our Guest”, like I had the previous evening. Seeing all of our kids up there giving it their all, the music swelling, the dancing spoons and forks and candelabras, the cute little salt and pepper shakers, the raucous napkins dancing the can-can, she would be moved as I had been. And of course she would laugh at herself for crying, as I had. And sure enough, intermission came and Janice showed up in the green room, laughing about crying, bustling around looking for some velcro to fix the Beast’s boot, talking a mile a minute. Stooping over and searching through a bag of fabric, her voice ringing with laughter, she gushed about the first half of the show, her pride in the kids and in our accomplishment apparent. She stood up suddenly, turning to me, and her laughter faded. She looked into my eyes. A question.
Hand fluttered to her chest.
“Janice. Are you alright?”
Eyes simply closed. I caught her as she fell and laid her gently on the ground. Her breath shuddered. She was still.
“Get these kids out of here”
“Is a doctor in the house?”
“Where’s Larry? Go find Larry.”
“Does anyone know CPR?”
A few shuddering breaths, her body shutting down. I knelt beside her, held her hand and watched the final reflexes of her dying body. The world shifted beneath my feet.
And then things got really weird.
As Janice left this world she took me on the first part of the journey. I was crouched on the ground, holding her hand, shouting to Kristen to call 911 and watching Dave and Evan hustle the kids out of the room, then my focus narrowed to the place where my hand was holding her hand and I had the singular thought, ‘She is gone’. That is when I left my body and was at the ceiling, staring down at myself holding Janice’s hand. I could see it so clearly and at that moment I experienced an instant of “no fear”. It wasn’t a feeling of peace or of bliss or anything like that so much as it was a feeling devoid of fear, something I had never experienced before. It made me weightless. But the really crazy thing that happened as I floated there with Janice, is that I could see that I had wings.
Yeah. Wings. WTF?
Seeing the wings totally freaked me out and I was instantly back in my body. It made me think that I was the one who had died and my tiny human brain latched onto the FEAR that had up until that point kept me shackled to this reality. Fear was my brutal grounding comfort.
The next few weeks I thought perhaps I was going a bit crazy. I was in the clutches of grief, but also I was suffering from some pretty intense PTSD symptoms, not getting much sleep, panicking and crying and trying desperately to hide my struggles from everyone. Finally I told my American Husband what I had experienced. I sobbed as the story came out and I am pretty sure he thought I had gone off the deep end. But being the amazing, understanding guy he is, he told me very simply that he believed me. He had no explanation for what happened and neither did I … but he accepted that it must have been real.
He believed me.
Does anyone wonder why I love that man? In the months and years to come I would have many more opportunities to rely on his quiet, sure strength and to be grateful for the solid foundation he affords me.
You see, the Universe wasn’t done with me yet. Oh no, there were many more surprises in store. Just about done with the PTSD you say? Well then, kerBLAM! your other soul friend, Rod, has terminal cancer. And while you watch by helplessly as his life is slowly tortured away, POW! let’s just take your job of 16 and a half years away. Not enough stress yet? Okay, then, SLAMMO! here’s a lawsuit to chew on. That ought to keep you busy for 2 or 3 years. And in the meantime, OOF! time to say good bye to Rod. Now how about a nice ONE/TWO PUNCH! first beloved Sadie and then devoted Wyatt, best dogs in the world, both gone within 3 months of each other.
Did I mention the part about cowering with my arms over my head wondering what in the name of all things holy would be next?
What followed was 2 years of such severe post traumatic stress that I would often have panic attacks that would leave me thinking I would rather just die than to face the daily rigors of FEAR of what would befall me next. When Janice died, so suddenly in my arms it woke me up to the fact that our time is truly limited. Of course I knew on a logical level that we all die one day and that each of us has our own unique expiry date, but to see it happen, like somebody turned out the light, one moment laughing and full of joy and the next… just gone… well that was the wake up.
This awakening has taken me to some dark places, and eventually to some incredibly light places. Along the way I have experienced a whole lot of strange and wonderful things. It began with the wings, but moved on to some even more bizarre happenings. The roads have led me here, on this path of self discovery, where I have come to the realization that the lessons I learn in this life are even more valuable when I can add to them the lessons I have learned in other lifetimes. Keeping a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing is the essential key that fits the locks and opens the doors to so many incredible experiences. Anything is possible. And yes, miracles happen.
As for the wings, I’ve done a lot of research, asked a lot of questions, read a lot of books and come to the conclusion that there are about as many theories as there are people. Some resonated and some did not, but the one that brings me the most comfort is simply that an Angel stepped in and took over in those few moments I was unable to cope. And as I traveled through the wreckage of my life those next few years I often imagined that if I ever needed her again, that Angel would be there for me in an instant.
Our stories happen to us and it is very easy to become identified solely with them. For the rest of this life I could walk around and be that victim of circumstances and loss and only that. Instead I choose to take the wreckage of that time and climb on top of the rubble and use it as a ladder to something more. In hindsight I see that all of the chaos and calamity was really a gift from the divine. It gave me a glimpse of eternity and opened my awareness to a realm I never knew existed. I was plain old sepia toned Dorothy opening that farmhouse door to the land of Oz and discovering that the whole world is in vivid, glorious technicolor.
Since it all happened I see things and hear things and know things that defy logic or explanation. The greatest part of it all is that I no longer have any fear of death because I know it is an illusion. Only our bodies die, and we cast them off like an old, tight shoe and soar to realms and dimensions we only get hints of now. We really are spiritual beings having a human experience. But boy that human part of our experience can sometimes really kick our ass, can’t it?
If you really want to see how high my freak flag can fly, take a look here: Page 8 (Great book by the way, I highly recommend it.)
For more information on that whole shared death experience, please read Glimpses of Eternity by Dr. Raymond Moody. Turns out this type of experience is not uncommon. (A huge shout-out to my friend Joanne for pointing me toward this book and helping me to understand that I am not <completely> crazy.)