This quiet Easter morning, I am blessed to feel the silence. There is a bush tit nest in our English birch. It is a fragile, tiny construction, a hanging weave of grass and moss, well camouflaged by the gently bowing leaves.
Fragile. This word has been traveling through my mind of late. I feel it deeply, remembering the hands of those I have lost. The hands of my beloved Aunt resting next to mine as she slept during her final days. A hand I knew so well. I placed mine next to hers. The features, tone of the skin, shape of the thumb: hers, mine.
I remember the hands of her son, my beloved cousin. Only a few months ago we sat in a restaurant, ordering triple berry pie. I had given him the ring of my father and grandfather. “It’s a bit gaudy for my taste,” he said, but he wore it that day. I watched his hands as they pushed his slice of pie toward me. He couldn’t finish it. He smiled as he watched me savor each bite.
My cousin died two weeks ago. His long, gentle hands, his wild laugh, his loving eyes are no longer manifest on our earth. I weep and wonder where he has gone, if his consciousness still exists anywhere in the vast dimensions of the Universe. Many years ago we watched a movie together, Ramblin Rose, a comic, poignant story about a Southern family who take in a teenage foster child. Rose, played brilliantly by a very young Laura Dern, has had a wild past, and proceeds to educate the family’s 12 year old boy on the glories of sensual human contact. The film takes a hilarious, tasteful, compassionate look at this all too common behavior from young people who have been abused. The mother in the family, played by Diane Ladd, proves a powerful role model for young Rose. In fragile health, this soft- spoken Southern matriarch studies for her Master’s Degree in psychology. A conflict arises when she asks her tradition-bound husband, played by Robert Duvall, to do the dishes. He is outraged: Rose should do the dishes, he shouts: “it is a ‘woman thing!’ ” Diane Ladd rolls her eyes and calls to the heavens, “Man things, woman things, what does the Creative Universe care for such nonsense?”
My cousin and I howled. For some time after we evoked the Creative Universe, and acknowledged that She knows what is best, in every situation.
Now, I find myself wondering where he is in the Creative Universe. Even if he is in “a better place”, we can’t text him or phone him, or hear his voice, so what good is it, this elusive gnome called “faith”?.
And yet, in the blessing of dreams, my cousin continues to teach me. Last night I had a dream that I was in a car, going to a Memorial. I was worried about the arrangements, where I would stay, what I would wear, what I would say if asked to speak. He appeared beside me and said, “Have an orange, purple coconut cookie.”
I woke laughing. Life is too short to waste it on worry! Eat the cookie: enjoy the moment. An irreverent, loving message from my cousin in the Afterlife, or perhaps….a message from the Now life.
Jungian psychologist James Hillman wrote that the “Afterlife” is not some magical kingdom we go to when we die, it is alive, here, now, in our unconscious mind. The part of us that makes dreams and fantasies and takes in the impulses of the world to create works of imagination. The Creative Universe inside of us.
I see this as a sort of Jungian Reincarnation. We lose the body of our beloveds, but their archetypal reality endures. How many of us have lost someone, only to discover their essence appearing in a new friend, a relative your reconnect with as a result of the loss, or, perhaps most profoundly, emerging in your own character? Viktor Frankl wrote, “Nothing is lost.” I used to rebel against this as sentimental nonsense. Now, I am beginning to understand what he means.
If we are fortunate, not only do we see our loved ones’ characteristics mirrored in the temporal world, we are visited by them in our dreams. “But they don’t come to me in my dreams,” you say. Fair enough. If you want to take charge of that process, you can imagine your departed ones, and have a dialog with them. The people who always knew just what to say, how to soothe, and what questions to ask, are still available to us. We have only to call upon the Creative Universe within, and they are there.
This practice, conceptualized as a version of Jung’s Active Imagination, or intentional meditation or guided imagery, can be a powerful aide in the grieving process. It is a paradox. On the one hand giving us the experience of being with the person in our imagination is joyful, and yet it can be bittersweet, because they are within us, but not beside us in the sensual world. Someone said (Rumi? Jung? Thich Nhat Hanh?) “tears are the river to the soul”. So if the dream visitation of a loved one or their dialog with you in your mind can inspire grieving, and this too is healing.
There is no way to avoid the pain of loss, but the gift of continuing your relationship with your loved one, in dreams and meditation, can give you the visceral experience that they are walking through this with you.
And, who knows, wherever they are in the unknowable dimensions of the Creative Universe, it may be healing for them to be with you in your imagination and dreams.
You can share a cosmic coconut cookie, in a place of that touches the eternal in all of us.