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"Losing a Loved One"
Wednesday, July 8, 1998

[The following article is reprinted by permission from VENTURE INWARD, the magazine of the ASSOCIATION FOR RESEARCH & ENLIGHTENMENT (A.R.E.) and EDGAR CAYCE FOUNDATION, P.O. Box 595, Virginia Beach, VA 23451.]

By Marshall Kent
VENTURE INWARD, July/August 1998

One March morning my sweet wife was alive and happy. We were talking in bed just before getting up, she to her bath and I to do exercises. We were planning to go skiing that weekend. When I came back to the bathroom to shave, I found her flailing around in the tub unable to speak, eyes casting about things I could not see. After 47 years of affectionate marriage, it appeared that my worst fear was now my reality.

Her eyes couldn't see me. I called, "Gail, talk to me, talk to me, please." There was no answer or recognition. I knew it was a stroke. I pulled her out of the tub onto the bed and called 911. The paramedics were quick, efficient, kind. In the hospital emergency room, after they had her hooked up to various monitors, I sat beside her and held her hand. The look of bewilderment had left her face and even though her eyes were closed she had a look of peace. It seemed as if she needed rest, but something in me made me shake her awake to try to communicate. She opened her eyes and I moved my face to be in front of her vision. Her eyes softened beautifully in recognition. We had previously discussed the probability that if one of us were dying, and he/she would be unable to speak, it would be up to the survivor to carry on both sides of the conversation. This I did.

"Gail, I know you can hear me. Squeeze my hand if you can." I felt the squeeze.

"You look like you are at peace. Are you?" Again a squeeze of the hand.

"Do you feel surrounded by the light of love?" Another squeeze.

"Is a Spiritual Being holding you by the hand?" A very hard squeeze.

It was beautiful and felt holy.

The right side of her face was paralyzed but nonetheless she gave me a lovely half smile and her eyes projected love such as I have never seen. They said, "Thank you, I love you," and much else. The word beatific comes to my mind when I think of her look. I'm so glad I have that vision indelibly in my mind.

The look also said, "I know I am dying and am content. I want you also to be content with my going and you can be." We had often told each other that if we were to die tomorrow, we would feel that we had lived a full and wonderful life and could therefore leave contented. I knew she was leaving life contented, and I can't tell you how much that means to me. Now it was up to me to be content with my life without her and to carry on with my growth as in the past but physically on my own.

I wish I could convey the immense beauty of watching my beloved friend and companion with whom I had experienced so many adventures, so many joys and difficulties, so much, much sharing and feel her finding and sensing the peace of God. It was awesome -- the most tender experience of my life.

The CAT scan showed that she had suffered a massive blood clot that was blocking off large parts of the brain including the speech section. The doctor said there would be a crisis Saturday night or Sunday morning -- she only had a 50-50 chance of surviving -- and if she did survive there would be no way of knowing the extent of the brain damage. At best, she could probably understand very little, which would make any kind of muscular rehabilitation very difficult. He asked me what life support systems he should use, if any, to maintain life. I knew she would want none and told him. He agreed with this decision.

I told one of my sons that she had already decided to leave and would be going quickly. I knew she saw no reason for staying around. She went into a coma before midnight and died 24 hours after her stroke. "You did it your way," I told her. She had left of her own accord before the crisis that was supposed to have occurred later.

Even though one thinks about it, how one will actually react to such a crisis is beyond one's knowing. I often wondered as I got into my 60s whether I would want to go on living if she went first.

Now I was faced with that very cold fact. My reactions frankly astounded me. It came to me that I could choose another way, a better way, to react to her death than hopeless grief and depression. Deep grief need not be the inevitable result of losing a loved one.

This other way was prepared by several convictions we shared.

First, we believed the purpose of life was to learn and that our Creator was benevolent, even if we humans weren't.

Second, we believed that there was an afterlife, not necessarily like those described by any religion, but an afterlife nonetheless.

Third, we had discussed death and how we would handle it. I knew what her feelings were. I was not to be defeated by it and to regard it as a great learning opportunity.

Fourth, we believed that communication was possible from mind to mind without the use of physical means. Indeed, we had had frequent examples of that between ourselves.

This way of coping with death has been of wondrous help to me. I have felt little or no hopeless grief and depression. I have little difficulty in seeing life as still beautiful. I look forward to each day and activities to enjoy. No, I am not in a continuing state of shock nor am I in denial. Before this sounds too unbelievable, let me say that, yes, I do feel sad and that I would very much choose to have her back with me. In fact, there are tears in my eyes as I write this, but I would be hard pressed to identify what those tears are for. They include sadness but also joy, and perhaps the strongest of all, the feeling of the gracefulness of the whole thing. I can also choke up particularly when I tell others of the beautiful way Gail died.

Hopeless deep grieving to me is that total feeling of loss without any glimmer of light or feeling that it will ever be different: the bottomless abyss. This I have not felt. Sadness is more a temporary feeling that does not consume your entire feelings. This feeling I do have. However, when I cry or choke up, it is only my body that feels this while my inner self is serene and at peace.

When our friends call out of concern for me, their first question is am I keeping busy. It is as though the best thing that could happen to me is to be so busy that I have no time to think that Gail is now dead. In other words, I am not capable of facing the truth and I must attempt to keep truth's realization at bay by much activity. I have always believed that you cannot solve any problem by either pretending it isn't there or sugarcoating it into a different, less difficult problem. Facing the ungarnished truth in my life experiences has always been a successful technique, and I have no wish to abandon my trusted tool in my greatest challenge.

Gail was dead. I had assumed that the first night after her death would be pure hell of longing, grief, and crying, for she and I slept together with great joy in cuddling together. Strangely I went right to sleep and have essentially been doing that ever since. I didn't realize at first how this could be, but had the common sense not to question it and accept it gladly.

We have a small woods on our property where she and I used to go and just sit and watch the birds and deer. After Gail died, I went there often. It was far enough away from the house so that I could cry and talk out loud with no fear of being overheard. The day after she died I went there and started sobbing about her going. It was the closest I came to deep grieving. During this sobbing I heard in my mind this statement, "You are surrounded by God's love and my own. When you are aware of being surrounded by our love, there is no room for fear to enter. You need not fear being alone, or being without me or anything else." At that moment I did feel surrounded by her love and my crying dried up. It was as though love occupied a physical space around me and fear of the future just couldn't force its way in. I understood this intellectually, but best of all I felt it. She, I sensed, was actively partaking in my response to her passing. Her spirit had survived death and was continuing.

Some people will have difficulty with this. Believing in an afterlife is hard enough without throwing in the communication with the deceased person. A valid theory (not necessarily the correct one) is that whatever is coming to me is just from my own inner self and that my conscious mind likes the idea of ascribing it to her, so it builds the rationale to make this the explanation. It doesn't matter whether it is coming from her or not -- somehow I am using the emotional energy generated by her passing to tap inner resources that were previously not easily available to me. I believe it was Gail because when she was alive we had been able to communicate mind to mind without words and we had come to recognize each other's style of thinking. This same thing was continuing now that she was gone. The only difference was that I could no longer confirm it with her verbally.

We had long ago realized that even as we related to each other as two egos, we also related as two spiritual selves. At times the ego selves would buck heads and be difficult, but our spiritual selves were slowly and steadily building a solid joining that death would not sever. We were still joined spiritually even though she had laid aside her body and ego. The spiritual joining we had while she was alive and had grown accustomed to in our married life was still there and thriving. In fact, in many ways I could feel it more clearly as it was not obscured by our egos. Thoughts and understandings came full blown into my mind that were comforting and they felt as if they came from her. But it does not matter who the messenger was as the message itself was the key.

It was not luck that allowed me to feel this way. We had planned it. We had realized and discussed that when one of us died the other would be in a high state of emotional energy. We also knew that when you have such a state of high emotional energy, your mind is able to perceive and penetrate things that normally are beyond you. Trances, altered states of consciousness, meditation, hypnosis, and oracles are all various words we use for getting perception beyond the confines of our usual conscious state. Either she or I would have a golden opportunity to use this high emotional state to learn a great deal that we had previously been unable to tap. We could choose to dissipate this energy into negative depression and grief or deliberately redirect it to positive healing and learning. We should hold ourselves open to receive whatever there was to receive from whatever source. So at her death, contrary to the professional and customary view that I must let grief run its course unhindered, I deliberately tried to focus this emotional energy away from grieving and toward being open to various sensations and thoughts that, I hoped, would crop up unbidden within me. They came, a bonanza of insights and understandings. An appreciation of our essential spiritual nature showered upon me. And this encouragement made it much easier to turn away from grief with peace in my heart.

Some communications were eminently practical, too. Neither Gail nor I wanted a public memorial service or a grave. We wanted to be returned to the soil where our ashes might contribute to something living and without a plaque or such. Just a simple recycling to the living. So for our family memorial gathering on Easter Sunday after she died I wanted to plant a tree and mix her ashes in the soil around the tree.

When we bought our land, we planted a black oak tree which now, 40 years later, is a big lovely tree. We had talked about planting another black oak but never got around to it. Now that seemed most appropriate.

Our local nursery said they had no black oaks and couldn't order one be- cause it was the wrong time of year. I called other nurseries for 100 miles around, with negative results. I reluctantly concluded that we would have to plant a redwood.

We already had a number of redwoods on our hill and one more didn't seem quite what I wanted. However, I had tried my best. I went down to the nursery to select a redwood.

Shopping and I do not mix well. I prefer to walk straight to what I want, buy it, and leave. Gail, when shopping, liked to browse around. While I was walking into the nursery to buy the redwood tree and be gone, a thought came to my mind: "Don't be so silly. What makes you think they know what they have in their own inventory? Walk around." I immediately knew that this was Gail's thinking; it was how her mind worked.

Committed to being open, I changed course and headed up an aisle of plants. At the very end against the fence were three black oaks, one of which had an outstanding shape. I would have picked it out of 100 trees as her tree. It had wonderful character. I laughed out loud and thanked her. It is now planted on our hill and has to be the most pampered tree in the valley.

I believe she arranged the whole thing, including the frustration, knowing that this would get my attention. She also knew I would try my best to accomplish what I thought was right; but -- if it was not to be -- I would also be accepting, assuming that there was something there for me to understand, and there was.

What a lovely, humorous, and gentle way for her to let me know of her presence and help.

I hope you now understand why I call her death beautiful. I feel blessed to have been able to be with her during this transition. I felt inspired to try to do those things we talked about. I want to stay open to whatever might occur and keep my analytical (I have an engineering degree) mind in neutral. There would be plenty of time later to analyze. Now was the time to feel the unseen, hear the unspoken, and know the larger extent of our spiritual selves.


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