Dialing up some courage

Cowardly_Lion

Among my favorite movies of all time is the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.  Of all the characters in the story I’ve always understood the Cowardly Lion the best. Despite being told that I was courageous for going into architecture without knowing how to draft, completing college as a single parent or not losing my mind after Gus’ passing, in my heart I’ve always felt like a coward.  It never occurred to me that any of these accomplishments required any courage on my part; I was sure I could figure out how to draw lines; being in a bad marriage seemed a waste of my time and I had no choice but to accept Gus’ loss.  To me courage meant only one thing – facing my greatest fear – insecurity.

For most of my life I tended to shy away from anything that made me feel vulnerable. While I can be perceived as a loud mouth, I don’t like speaking in public.  Expressing my opinions makes me anxious because I am afraid of being disliked.  I refrain from asking for help because I don’t like to feel indebted and above all I hate to be dependent on anyone for anything including my husband.

I always balked at the idea that losing one’s child is somehow different from losing one’s parent, spouse, sibling or friend. I maintained that a loss was a loss.  It occurs to me now that I was likely saying this to remove attention from myself and the implied sense of awe that I was surviving our loss.  Losing one’s child is different however, not just because it defies a sense of the natural order of life but because it exposes the limits of our ability to perform the most basic duty of parenting – protecting our children.  We work so hard to nurture and provide for them that it feels like the universe’s greatest betrayal to snatch them away from us in ways that seem unconscionable.  The only blessing in this kind of grief is that it makes all other fears appear small and insignificant.

In the last five years, I’ve been chipping away at my insecurities one by one.  I’ve spoken in public on a few occasions; expressed my thoughts on politics and church law, and allowed myself to be helped by my family and friends.  This year it was time to tackle my biggest fear yet – allowing myself to become dependent on my wonderful husband.

For the last twenty-two years I have been a full-time employee at the same place.  While I’ve enjoyed the work, there were many times I considered quitting to be a full-time mom but did not because I was terrified of being fully dependent on my husband.  What if the economy turned? What if despite all evidence to the contrary he suddenly decided not to work? What if we didn’t work out?  What if we didn’t save enough for college?  The “what ifs” were interminable not to mention that it was empowering to contribute to our household finances. It must seem counter intuitive to change my working conditions now that I have no children to look after but this is no longer about being an at home mom – that ship sailed long ago.  This is another step (if not the final one) in learning to let go – to trust that my husband and by extension the universe will always take care of me.  So as of this week I am no longer a full time employee….. I am part-time.  WHAT? I said I was a coward…..but I am starting to get better.  LIVE – LAUGH – LOVE!

 

What do you do on the 4th anniversary of your son’s passing? You get a tattoo.

smiling but not happyDo not be fooled by my cheery disposition or attempts at connecting with the universe through positive talk and action, at the core I am damaged beyond repair.  I run out of the room silently cursing under my breath during childhood cancer awareness commercials in May – yes thank you I am very aware;  I blink back tears when asked if I want to donate to St. Jude’s research hospital anywhere I shop during the month of November – of course yes just add it to my bill; and I turn on the radio and pretend to sing along when my brain wants to replay Gus’ last twenty-four hours on the anniversary of his passing in June. Every single day I am at odds with myself, one side going about her business in a state of peaceful acceptance the other saying over and over again that the happiness is false, a tenuous coping mechanism at best that will eventually crumble – just you wait and see.  I loathe this persistent emotional conflict, it has turned me into what I never wanted to be – sentimental.

I had a single fictional hero growing up – Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. I wished more than anything to be like him – calm, rational, logical.  Unfortunately, I was born with a heightened sense of justice that was easily offended not just for myself but for everyone else making me quick to rant and rave about unfairness and inequality.  The only way I thought I could make myself more “Spock Like” was to avoid becoming overly emotional about certain aspects of my life.  I promised myself that no one would ever break my heart, that I would never regret a single thing I did and that I would always barrel forward much like a bull in a china shop – heartache, remorse and nostalgia were all illogical. If a romance dissolved, even when that was my first marriage, it was my pride that suffered not my heart.  I acknowledged my actions impassively and barreled forward without looking back, my mind always on the next goal. Even when my first two sons were infants I was already preparing for them to leave me and then when I married my best friend and saint of a man, I kept some distance in case it was for “now” and not “happily ever after”. Gus changed everything, he wrapped himself around my heart so tightly that his passing broke it, my helplessness during his illness filled me with regret and I can’t help but long for days past.

Terrifying illnesses and injuries alter our bodies, leaving scars that announce to the world that we’re survivors, that we’ve gone to the brink of the abyss and come back to tell the story.  The most poignant struggle of my life however, would leave no visible trace, nothing to show that I have kept moving even though my feet are encased in concrete.  I knew I needed to get a tattoo, it would be my mark of survival, but of what and where? Earlier this year my husband was doodling on a pad when it came to him, he drew a heart with Gus’ name within it like lightning bolts, it was perfect.

Gus TattooOn June 24th, after that day’s yearly routine of early morning mass, visiting Gus’ niche and breakfast we drove to Broken Art Tattoo in Silverlake, a place my sister suggested if only because it sounded like “broken heart”.  I was nervous, unsure if it would hurt too much or just turn out badly. After sizing it on the inside of my left wrist and selecting the colors, the inking began.  I could feel the tiny little stabs as my tattoo artist (I now had one) traced around the heart and Gus’ name but it did not hurt and when it was done I realized it was better than I could have ever imagined.  There is a comic book quality to the colors and shading that remind me of the emblem of a superhero (Gus), the bottom tip of the heart points to the main artery that goes to my heart and having placed it on the inside of wrist gives me the ability to either conceal it or flash it – like Spider-Man throwing his web or Wonder Woman blocking bullets. It is at once irrational and overly emotional, much more like Jim Kirk’s approach to a crisis than Mr. Spock’s. I suspect this was part of Gus’ mission, to force me to narrow the distance between myself and those I love. Is there space for me to still channel Mr. Spock?  I certainly hope so, until I find out may you – LIVE LONG & PROSPER….

The sounds of my silence.

Quiet Me-2I have been silent even while my mind was not.  I refused to put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard until I could orchestrate the cacophony of thoughts and feelings into a symphony of happiness instead of the “emo” noise that seemed to be characterizing my posts. My goal in starting this blog was to talk about the many ways I am finding happiness in spite of the loss of my precious boy and yet looking back at some of my entries I feel I was beginning to sound pretty pathetic.  Yes, I miss Gus and think about him daily but I am happy, healthy, in love with my husband, in awe of my children, grateful for my extensive network of friends and family and just plain in love with my life. I’ve stopped worrying about the things I can’t control and focus on being open to the next adventure.

In the spirit of this refocused intent, I’ve decided to make a few changes.  First, I’ve changed the title from the “Upsides of grief” to “Live, Laugh, Love”.  There is a story about this title which I will share in my next post but for now it is enough to say that the new title best describes what I am all about – living life to its fullest, finding any and all opportunities to laugh and loving everyone like it is going out of style.

If I ever start to sound too sad please drop me a line and remind me to “smile” because Gus is fine.

 

Meditation – An Introduction

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This is not me.  I do not sit crossed legged, hands gently posed in “gyan mudra” listening to myself breathe.  I don’t just struggle to meditate, I writhe, kick – internally judging myself and every thought I have until I forget what I was doing and give up exasperated.

I decided to turn to meditation as a way of quieting the movie that went off most nights as soon as my head hit the pillow.  It was a short film that began with me taking Gus to emergency a day after his last chemo and concluded with us watching him take his last breath and slip away from us.  Sometimes I was watching from up above, looking for alternate paths I might have taken.  Other times I was just reliving the entire day.

A few months after meeting with AJ Barrera (find out about our reading in Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Parts One-Four) I received an email from his office announcing a workshop to “meet your spirit guides” and develop “communication with other side”.  While I did not believe that I had the “gift” of mediumship (if that is a word), I was hoping to meet my “guides” to lead me to what I was supposed to do now that I was no longer required to shepherd my last child through high school.  So, I signed up, paid my fee and showed up on a sunny day in November to a hotel in West Covina.

I arrived early finding a few women already sprinkled around the room. I sat away from them in the center of a long empty table.  I doodled on a small yellow pad that had been left at each seat to avoid eye contact and any mutual judgement. Within a short time, the room filled and as it did I could overhear people swapping tales of communicating with the other side. I scoffed and then felt ill and panicky. All these women couldn’t have “abilities” could they?

At ten on the dot, AJ Barrera introduced himself and urged us to allow the “spirit” to connect with our inner beings.  The spirit he explained is always ready for us to be open to it.   “OK” I thought “I’m ready – communicate with me”.

AJ began the session with a guided meditation.

“You are walking down a staircase….” (Interesting, my staircase looks like the escalator at the Grove.  Wait! I am supposed to be on a stair case.  Well just stop the escalator.  Ok that is better).

“The staircase has lead you to a tunnel at the end of which you see light.” (You are doing good Cec, just keep following the tunnel. I know what kind of tunnel this is, the kind that opens up to a….)

“Beautiful valley” (football stadium! What? Did he say valley?  Great I am in the wrong place. Valley, valley, valley, what does a valley look like – Oh I know like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Ok.  I am back in.)

“You see an animal there. It is your personal animal spirit. What is it?” (Oh this is exciting, what is my animal? Tiger? Lion? Bear? Is that a rabbit?  Are you kidding me? My spirit’s animal is a brown rabbit?  Ugh… that’s disappointing.  No! Don’t judge!  So its a rabbit – follow the rabbit.)

“You follow your animal through the valley, getting calmer and calmer, breathing deeply letting him lead you where?”  (I can’t be calm, the rabbit is hopping along.  It is annoying. Ok Cec just breathe. Let it go!  Go with it!  Am I at the football stadium again?  What is it with me and football stadiums.  Forget it – this is stupid.)  I kept my eyes closed but I was out – meditating was just too hard.

When the meditation was over (5 excruciatingly long minutes later) the exercises to increase our “spirit” communication commenced.

Exercise #1 – Cold reading.  In this exercise we were supposed to sit with another person and tell them whatever came into our minds.  Like the worst athlete on a school playground I was the last to find a mate.  Fortunately for me, my partner also did not believe she had any powers and was only there to accompany her two children who she was sure did.  Still we sat across from each other and while my mind was blank, she asked if the number 10 meant anything to me.  I said no but it did. (Gus was 10 when he died and his birthday was August 10th.) 

Exercise #2 – Reading what was inside a sealed envelope.  We were instructed to gather in a circle with our table mates and pass around an envelope that contained a picture of a person that we were told had passed on.  The women around me wrote furiously on their pads for one minute and then when directed shared the results.  I again had nothing but the women around me had consistently written, “male”, “older”, “curly hair”, “mustache”, “heavy set”.  I initially thought they had all lost their minds until the envelope was opened and not only did their description match but other tables matched the contents of their envelopes with even more specificity.  The table that blew my mind had accurately described an image of Michael Jackson down to his profession.  The “spirit” had even had the presence of mind to cause the envelope to find its way to the one girl who had an image of MJ tattooed on her arm that no one saw until the big reveal.  (Ok – maybe something IS going on here).

Exercise #3 – Blindfolded reading. AJ and his assistant removed a few volunteers from the room and asked the remaining people in the room to switch seats.  Everyone was then blindfolded and his volunteers lead back in the room. We were asked to raise our hands if anything that was said resonated with us.  A woman I could not see mentioned a child who’d passed over recently. I raised my hand and AJ told the woman who was blindfolded to continue.  She had nothing else.  (Getting kind of close).

Exercise #5 – Volunteer readings. What happened to exercise #4 you ask?  Well it was supposed to be a musical chair type of reading where two lines of chairs faced each other and we would move over a space after a two minutes of exchanging quick readings (like speed dating) but that exercise was quickly abandoned when it became obvious that the young lady with a broken ankle and currently sitting a wheel chair would not be able to move in any direction. (A huge relief to me knowing I had nothing to say)  Instead AJ decided to have a few volunteers attempt to communicate with whomever made their presence known.  The first volunteer talked about a farm, a male, passing over from a heart attack.  It seemed to make sense to a woman in the audience although it seemed kind of vague to me.  The second volunteer I seem to remember was better but what she specifically said has now escaped my memory because it was the third volunteer that touched me deeply.

A tall woman with a splash of pink in her hair was the final volunteer of the day.  She had been quiet all day but the pink in her hair or just her manner had caught my eye since early morning.  Whereas the rest of the volunteers had been coaxed and prodded to speak, she strode to the front of the room like a woman on a mission.  She turned before AJ could say anything and asked the room (looking straight at me) if anyone had lost a child to cancer.  It is boy she said, about eight or ten.  I nearly fainted.  Raising my hand, she looked at me and said that he had been with me the entire day. She said she had “seen” him next to me first with a bouquet of balloons during the chair exercise and then with only two balloons one pink and one blue that he was offering to her for me.  He is “fine” she said, using the word that I most closely associate with him as he always told me, “Mom, don’t cry I am fine”.  “He just wants you to know he is always with you” she said as I burst into tears.

I went home shaken but moved,  somewhat less skeptical and more open to finding the “magic”.  It is in life’s “magic” that Gus dwells, making himself known to me (us), through song, by his name or even his image (I will talk about this one next time). I am still not very good at meditating, but I’ve been trying nightly ever since. I recently purchased a guided meditation that promised to introduce me to my guardian angel.  The woman who speaks…in,,,a,,,halting…and…annoying…manner promised that when I was ready my guardian angel would identify him/herself.  The other night I clearly heard “Tommy”.  (Tommy? Really? First a rabbit now a Tommy?) I highly doubt that my guardian angel’s name is Tommy but what was curious is that I have always been told that I do have a male guardian angel – so why not.  I am also not sure that I am closer to finding an answer to “what now” but I can tell you that the movie plays less frequently now. Sometimes it is even replaced with the physical sense that Gus has slipped into my bed and is resting comfortably in my arms.

50 Shades of Red

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A few weeks ago middle son informed us that he was “going away” for Valentine’s weekend with his girlfriend of more than a year.  As a consummate planner, I appreciated the heads up so that I could get him his traditional valentine’s gift before he left.  Last week, I dropped in on SEES’ candy between errands and bought my boys the traditional small box of candies, a tiny gesture of my affection that I hope is obvious to them every day of the year.

In truth, I don’t like Valentine’s Day, it implies a certain kind of giddy, silly love I don’t particularly care for.  Love to me is serious, profound, and always life altering.  Notice that the color of love is red, its shape a heart, its flower a red rose.  Red is also the color of stop signs, blood and fire; the heart is the singular most important organ in our body and the rose is as prickly as it is beautiful. Love to me is present in the smallest actions; in the cheerful manner we greet each day, the gratitude with which we do our jobs, the enthusiasm with which we listen to each other’s stories, the attention we give to each other and the space that surrounds us.  Words and gifts to me are meaningless if not accompanied by the daily actions that make the sentiment irrefutable.  The “intention” to love is not enough, there is no lasting evidence of “intent” but the smallest daily action will stamp love all over your heart and soul forever.

Gus was in the habit of leaving notes for us everywhere. I love you dad is scribbled on an orange metal bucket he had in his room and on a piece of foil that was once used for now indeterminate purposes.  Sometimes, when we came to bed, we’d find a note on our pillow filled with his love and gratitude for all we did. Upon arriving from work daily, he’d ask me how my day had been and then sit with me while I made dinner. He attached himself to his brothers as though he was another appendage, draping a leg over each of them as he sat between them in the car or on the couch. Gus’ ten years were packed with so many little gestures that spoke of a love so strong we can all still feel it even in his absence.

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I did not buy my boys (men) cards this year because when my office moved to another floor late last year I remembered seeing Valentine’s Cards that I had bought one year as I was likely planning for the next.  It broke my heart to pull them out yesterday as I prepared to write the notes that would accompany their candy, I discovered that I had bought them when I still had three boys living not just two.

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My notes and candies were left on the hutch yesterday so that middle son could take it on his trip, just in case we did not see older son over the weekend and for my husband just to be fair.  I don’t wonder if I will receive anything in return because evidence of their love for me is everywhere.  Older son dusted the family room the other day, middle son did the dishes and husband works tirelessly never forgetting to squeeze my hand when he finally ambles into bed long after I’ve been nestled in.  I don’t need 50 Shades of Grey when I have 50 shades of Red.

Grateful for happiness?

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving was at our house this year and in a sense it was the most relaxing one yet.  This is the first year I wasn’t stressed about making the turkey since taking over that duty from my mom, more than a decade ago.  My sister and I have tried to make it a bunch of different ways but slathering a mixture of butter and herbs de Provence between the skin and the meat makes the juiciest most delicious turkey so we stick with that recipe.  My broccoli gratin was made in advance and the rest was potluck so while twenty-eight of us would gather around the table this year, I spent the day taking a walk, watching football and generally just waiting for the turkey to be done.

Thanksgiving day was warm, sunny and stunningly beautiful.  My California sycamore seemed to glisten in the sun even as the leaves dropped gently to the ground.  It was the kind of day Gus would have been running around the yard, kicking at leaves, agonizing over how long much longer he’d have to wait to dive into the turkey.  I imagined his legs, which would have been by longer now, draped over the end of the couch as we watched the football games or episodes of Twilight Zone. I imagined I would have been trying to capture the family Christmas card picture while none of the boys cooperated. I willed myself not to cry.

Each year, before sitting for dinner, we go around the room taking turns expressing something for which we are most grateful for that year.  Over the years, this tradition has taken on a life of its own as I imagine all traditions do and going around the room has been taking longer and longer because everyone seems to want to make a speech.  I decided I would limit everyone to a single word this year.  To make sure we were all listening to each other, I would ask that each person first say the word just said by the person next to them before adding their own and that we try not to repeat any sentiment or object of our gratitude already expressed.  It would be a wonderful exercise in listening and being concise.

As the time neared for me to start off our expressions of gratitude I wondered what feeling or thing I would choose and if I could mean it. Grief can be unpredictable and devious and so while I thought I had somehow learned to co-exist with it, it has turned around and poked at me with much more ferocity than I expected this year.  I have been missing Gus terribly this holiday season. I feel constantly sad and on the verge of tears most days. Another holiday without him, another year gone by. I reminded myself that Gus would not want me to be sad or make others sad and so when it was time, I slapped a smile across my face and gathered everyone around the table.  After thanking everyone for joining us again, I said I was grateful for happiness and I began to mean it.

Allowing happiness to enter into our midst has been as difficult as the loss itself.  Being happy seems wrong somehow as though it is an act of betrayal or a sign that we are “over it”.  There is no getting over your losses, I still miss my grandmother now deceased thirty years, I miss my grandfather, my mother-in-law and I can’t imagine ever not missing Gus but I have to make a choice. I can either to wallow in the sadness or bask in the sunlight of happiness.  I choose happiness because that is the best way to honor my baby boy who was always happy even when he was sick.  The truth is there is much to be happy about, lots of “upsides”.  I have great friends, an awesome family, a wonderful husband and two amazing, talented, funny older boys.  I have lost weight and feel great about myself.  I have extraordinary parking karma, finding a spot near where I need to go even when the lot is full. I have a job a like and I am taking a shot at doing what I always wanted to do – write. I am finally in a book club through which I was introduced to incredible books and authors. We have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel this year.  We skied in Utah, visited my sister in New York, cruised through the Panama Canal, partied in Vegas a couple of times and next week we will head to Seattle to watch the Seahawks take on the 49niners.  We must be happy because everywhere we go, Gus is with us. Our most recent and obvious encounter with him was when we stopped in Cabo San Lucas at end of our family cruise.  Of all the places we could have chosen to stop for breakfast we just happen to pick the one restaurant that is permeated by the image of a figure with outstretched hands in a sign of victory much like Gus’ memorial picture.  Thank you Gus for giving us happiness by your life on earth and from above in heaven.

Gus' memorial picture

Gus’ memorial picture

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on the window outside.  Gus with his brothers again.

Gus image on the window outside. Gus with his brothers again.

Hummingbirds

 

hummingbird-garden-hoverHummingbirds are not a strange sight especially in California where the weather is warm and all the native plants seem to have been created just for them.  And yet, these little birds have taken on a new meaning in our lives recently.

Just a week before Gus’ untimely passing, he celebrated Father’s Day, with his grandfather, dad, brothers and cousins at the local trap range.  No, we don’t have a shotgun at home, but yes my husband taught him to shoot one a few days after birth (o.k. a little later), a carryover from the family roots in the mid-west.  With Gus gone, the trap range was the last place my husband wanted to ever visit again.  This place where he’d spent much of his youth with his own father was now the last place he’d been with his son and he was afraid the grief would overwhelm him. We’d made a commitment though, to face our grief head on by going to those exact places, attending those events and being with those people who reminded us most of our time with Gus and therefore caused the most pain.  And since my husband had already been to his school and even taken his friends to the Big Time Rush concert  that Gus had been looking forward to, he headed to the trap range to meet his dad for dinner.

DSC_3452-1Parking at their usual spot, he looked out to where Gus had taken his last shot.  He’d been trying to remember how many Gus had hit that day or if he’d hit any at all when he became aware of fluttering outside his window.  The tree he’d parked under a thousand times before was swelling and contracting with the greatest quantity of hummingbirds he’d ever seen in one place. How he wished Gus could have seen it.

We knew nothing about hummingbird folklore at the time but the experience was such that my husband wanted to share the story with friends over dinner later that week. The four of us had begun as parents with children in the same class and ended up as parents with children in the same cemetery.  They had lost their infant son to SIDS months before Gus and their eldest son started kindergarten. They shared that in the wife’s Korean culture, the hummingbird was thought to carry the soul of the departed. In fact, they said, a hummingbird had followed them around for days shortly after their baby’s death. It was a sweet to think that Gus might have been buzzing about his dad’s car that day and we joked that he’d needed so many to get his attention.

Since then however, the hummingbird makes a regular appearance every where we go.

IMG_0049_5405-1After Christmas, on a short trip to Sedona, Arizona, “it” was in a store devoted to the work of local artists.  I’d gone in there to clear my head after an emotional breakdown and come across a series of hummingbirds pictures which I thought would make a great gift for my Korean friend and keepsakes for us.  I had forgotten my purse so I had to return the following day as we were heading out.  The store clerk that day just happened to be the artist herself who was only there one Sunday a month and as it turned out had also lost her youngest son of three many years before. Meeting her was remarkable not just because of the hummingbirds but because I had been struggling with the concept of time, the idea of moving away from him as time marched on.  She told us that the Native Americans believed that the hummingbird was a messenger from the “other side” and in a sense the hummingbird had brought me to her to confront the passage of time, like the hummingbirds had made their presence known at the trap range.  It had been more than forty years since she’d lost her boy and while she still ached for him, the tears had slowly become less.

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This spring a hummingbird made its nest on the mariachi hat of my wind chime on the back porch. Despite the many years I’d tried to lure hummingbirds with an assortment of specialized feeders, it was the first time one made our home its home.

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Later, on a trip to San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) in May, this hummingbird mosaic found its way into my hands.  Walking through an organic market, I met an American woman who’d moved there and then “accidentally” founded an art school for children, when children just wouldn’t leave her house after giving them pencils and paper. She was most excited about one particular boy’s art, “he makes the most amazing mosaics” she said.  After assuring us that all proceeds went to the school, she asked if we’d be interested in buying something. Turning to retrieve the piece, she lost her footing and as I caught her and the multitude of pieces she toppled over, she shoved “it” into my hands.  Of course a hummingbird.

Then, at my husband’s family reunion in Iowa this summer, one aunt had a hummingbird on her door while the other wore a hummingbird t-shirt to the reunion and finally on our epic family cruise, we came across a hummingbird drawn on a leaf as we walked ashore in Costa Rica.

Like the “Love You More” sign, drawings and bands we find when we least expect them, the hummingbird has become another sign that Gus is all around us…

 

 

 

Magical Gus

Smile - I'm Fine

Smile – I’m Fine

It occurs to me that we spend a great deal of time in life thinking about what happens after death. If the movies are any indication, we seem to have come to the consensus that the only way our spirits can linger on earth, if they linger at all, is as attacking, angry, torturing, evil presences. Otherwise the “good” spirits are supposed to have gone to the light where they roam about in vast fields awash in vibrant colors as the most beautiful version of themselves just waiting for us to join them.

It doesn’t seem fair that only evil spirits would have the power to make their presence known.  Shouldn’t loved and cherished spirits have the power to conquer all including death? As a Mexican-American I believed the spirits of our loved ones are always there to guide us; we need only be open to the signs. In my own life, when I was most anxious, worried and afraid, I had the sense that my grandmother came to me. Just as I started thinking of her, her favorite song (a very old one) played on the radio or she’d come to me in a dream.  But most often I felt her near me in the dead of night. I’d be jolted from a deep sleep by the smell of cigarettes (none of us smoke). The specific scent of her Lucky Menthols lingering far into me becoming fully awake.

The night Gus died I thought I felt his weight against my arm as though he had slipped into bed between us as he had done nearly every night since birth. I hoped to feel it again the next night and the night after that but the feeling never returned. I was beginning to think that it was only wishful thinking that had kept my grandmother around when we went to see AJ Barrera.  The reading suggested a spiritual awareness though that was far beyond what I ever imagined.  When we left, we resolved to be more open to the spirit, more specifically Gus’ spirit.

We left AJ’s house and headed to a Hallmark store for a gift.  Since Gus’ passing we’ve walked into a million stores carrying those painted wood signs with inspirational sayings.  We even bought the one with the quote by Wilfred Peterson, that says “Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…” The sign we saw that day was different. It appeared like a personal message sent from above coming so soon after the reading.  It simply said:

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This was our thing with him.  A nearly daily verbal war that was never resolved.  He’d usually start with “I love you Mom or Dad” and we’d say “I love you more” and then he’d say “I love YOU more”, and we’d go around and around until something else diverted our attention.  In typical Gus fashion he was getting the first word, foreshadowing Gus’ alternate presence in our lives.

 

 

 

For my birthday that year, his art teacher and a dear friend to me was wondering what to give me when she found this drawing he’d made on a rare day he was at school that last year.

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My friend swears the box in which it was found had been emptied the previous fall in advance of the new fourth grade class and gone through a number times.  She was shocked to pull it out as an answer to what I should get for my birthday.

 

 

 

 

For father’s day a month later, my husband and older sons decided to go golfing at the last minute, getting one of the last few tee times at a course they’d never been to. They arrived to discover that a fourth man had been added to the group who walked up to them and said “Hi, I’m Gus!”.

Then later on the Fourth of July, a day Gus loved because we’d spend the entire day at the beach lighting sparklers well into the night, we found this:

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A band he’d likely made at his last cub scout camp out. Could we have really overlooked it each time the car was cleaned out for over a year until it appeared in time for one of his favorite holidays?

 

 

 

His prayer card (shown above) says “Smile. I’m Fine”.  It is what he said to me each time he could see that I’d been crying.  I tried desperately not to cry in his presence, but sometimes I could not help it, the tears streaming down my face as much in grief as in anger that my precious boy was in crisis again.  AJ said Gus’ mission was to help us; to remind us to smile because we would be fine on earth as we are in heaven.

While I wish everyday he was here in the flesh, I am amazed at the many ways he continues to be present in our lives and how the spirit moves to answer and address the questions and concerns that affect our hearts.

Love you more……

Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part Four

Always smiling

Always smiling

I have no doubt that many readers will find a million ways our meeting with AJ Barrera was a complete farce.  We are after all grieving parents eager for evidence that our son is not really lost to us. Even I can point to the many times we offered up unsolicited information.  However, there is no way AJ could have known about the collie, the location of Gus’ memorial shelves in our house, the memorial plaque at his school (see below), that Gus would poke fun at his relationship with his oldest brother (see below) or that he would take credit for the music that fills his other brother’s life now (see below), not to mention accurately describing the personalities of all the other relatives that made an “appearance”.  But the reading was even more than that, hitting nearly every aspect of the difficulties and questions we had not even had the heart to talk to each other about. For example, until the reading, my husband had been incapable of venturing into the backyard, especially where the wagon was hiding directly across from the swing set.  It was there, at the bottom of the slide, that he and Gus had last spoken, having a heart to heart about life as Gus enjoyed the sun warming his bald head.  For my part, I was wondering if he’d woken up on the other side disappointed that he was no longer with us.  I could almost hear him say, “Aw Man, I’m dead…”.  I worried that it was my fault for not giving him the stem cells sooner, that I had missed something that would have kept him alive. It gave me great peace to know there was nothing I could do to prevent it and that he had been in control of his leaving and was ready for his transition. We left the reading with the knowledge that Gus is not just in our hearts and memories but that his spirit is actually still with us – we only have to be open to the signs.  Like our walk in Spain, our reading with AJ was trans-formative.  Since then, Gus is as present in our lives as ever and we are practicing living each moment with more presence and openness.  Life can be truly magic.


Final reading segment:

AJ:          I might misinterpret this….is there….I actually want to drop it down younger.  So I want to drop it down to your younger energy and I rather be wrong on it, but is there actually like a mural or either some sort of engraving or some sort of writing that you had done in honor of your son that I have to bring up here?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Where is this if you don’t mind me asking?

Us:         It’s a memorial plaque at his school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus' school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus’ school.

AJ:          He wants to let you know…” thank you for honoring him and thank you for doing this” because there is a part of it that is written and it’s engraved and there is a part of it that he wants to let you know, it’s his way of waking up and being a legend because he is a legend on the other side because he is known on this side, there is like a superhero type of energy, that he is still strong and not fighting this but still the main guy on this side.  Is there a reference to him like just being like honestly a character?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Because part of it like he is making me feel like “I am not sick, look, I’m not sick”, part of it like I’m alive, I’m happy, I’m having a good time and his energy for me is about kind of making you guys happy and making you guys laugh because I feel like his energy, when it was here physically was kind of to make you guys happy and make sure mom and dad were ok, it wasn’t for you guys to make him up, you know what I mean? I feel like his duty was to assist you and help you guys out as well, he’s also bringing up for me, do you actually…and this will sound very unique,  you don’t have his jacket with you do you?

Us:         Not with us for today, no.

AJ:          Do you carry his jacket around?  Why would he bring up his jacket?

Us:         His sweatshirt is hanging inside his room and I grab onto it every day.

AJ:          He wants to let you know that “I’m there with you when you do that”, “I’m there with you”, because he is making me feel like I need to acknowledge the jacket or the sweatshirt he is identifying with you and he wants to let you know I am still there for that event, I am still part of your life, because his energy, again, he is alive, like spiritually, he’s like right here, my hair is just rising, he’s a vibrant energy for you guys again, it’s not about the medium it is truly about you guys of understanding of why he wants to come across to you guys, it’s about making sure that mom and dad are ok.  They are also bringing up for me like when this energy….. did you say your mom passed on the fourteenth?

Us:         Uh –hugh.

AJ:          Then there must be another reference to this, because flag day is like June 15th, so is there another significance to a governmental holiday, that I need to bring up for you guys?

DSC_0038-1Us:         This morning, the cub scouts go put flags on all the graves for Memorial day.

AJ:          Are you guys doing an event?

Us:         I haven’t done it the last two years, today and last year but we did every year since he was born with him as a guy in a stroller, or as a cub scout.

AJ:          Have a party for him, he is going to be at those events so if you are placing the flags, he wants to acknowledge that I will be there with you guys, so enjoy the moment, enjoy the time with him and even though spiritually he is around you guys even though physically he is not, there is part that he wants to let you know I am still a part of your life today as well,  because when I look into you guy’s energy, he is making me feel like, you guys are a team, you are a whole, you guys are a backbone, so I don’t feel like one is weaker than the other I definitely feel like you guys balance each other where you guys are at, but his energy is like I just want to step forward and be this true energy for you guys as well.  Why? Is there a weird reference…..do you guys have ties to Orlando? Like Florida?

Us:         We took him to Disneyworld.  I have some relatives there.  We went there twice with him.

AJ:          It’s something one step further.  I don’t think it’s just Disney.  Or two I need to call him by a different name. So would he go by like Dopey, Sleepy, Goofy or something like that?  Is there a name that I am actually supposed to bring up here? To acknowledge him, or to acknowledge one of you guys? I feel like it’s a funny, haha, reference that he wants to acknowledge because I don’t think it’s just making the trip to Disneyland because I’d actually see like Anaheim but I feel like if you have ties to Orlando, then I feel like in some sense I need to acknowledge Disneyworld or maybe the name of something.  There is something they want to bring up here, like it’s a name.

Us:         We used to call his brother Grumpy.

AJ:          That makes sense, his brother?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          Your brother?

Us:         No, his older brother.

AJ:          Still call him Grumpy. Let him know he is still Grumpy from the other side, because I feel like I need to acknowledge him, and need to acknowledge like the name the character, and was he close to his brother if you don’t mind my asking?

Us:         Yes.

AJ:          Because I need to acknowledge him in a joking way, like bust his chops and let him know that I still want to feel like the brother energy.  But he is making me feel like he’s the better half though. So kind of like tease him with that, so he makes like he was known for that and even though parents don’t have like a favorite child, there is a part of him like he is the better one. So I feel like it’s his way of teasing him in a unique way because he’s making me feel like “I still have all the attention” regardless.   So I feel like it’s that type of energy of how he wants to step forward for both of you guys, you know what I mean? And I feel like the energy of him is just to be funny.  It is truly just to be funny and remember him how he was like today as well.  Now is there a separate energy, like on you guy’s level that is like a male that is passed over?  When I say your level I mean, brother, cousin, friend.

Us:         No – we don’t think so.

AJ:          If not then I might be switching over…….  AJ does switch over after all this time to another person in the group but Gus was not done.   After speaking to another woman for about twenty minutes, AJ turns back over and says…. Why is your son bringing up music? Was he a musician or why is he bringing up music?

Us:         No.  Our middle son is really into music all of a sudden.

AJ:          Your son is bringing up music.  Like he wants to let you know… like I am seeing musical notes.  Like when I am talking to her, he just threw music at me.  So I feel like it’s almost like he is not done, you know what I mean?  So I feel like he wants to jump in so I feel like of how they want to jump in just to acknowledge the energy.  They often do that just to get like the little messages across but I feel when your dad steps forward I need to acknowledge the signs and signals, so I feel like he is going to be inspired, like your son is inspiring your son now as sending the music across to him.


 

 

Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part Three

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Well – Hello Nana….

I left off just as AJ was about to bring in a new energy – my mother in law Robyn Anne Deppe. In transcribing the recording, I recognize that some of the information we readily forked over although there is still very specific information about dates and circumstances that he could not have known. What doesn’t come across in the transcripts, is the change in tenor in AJ.   While Gus’s energy was light and made him laugh, he seemed to struggle more with her Robyn’s energy, giving evidence to her strong personality.  She was exactly as he describes her, tough as nails, blunt, raw. Meet Robyn….


AJ:          They are also bringing up for me, where is the fourteenth significant at as well?

Us:         The fourteenth? Um.. my mom (Paul) passed away on the fourteenth. Ten days before he did.

AJ:          I was going to say, would your mom know your son… obviously right? So your son is bringing through your mother.  Often times we have the older energy that brings in those energies so I feel like it’s your mom stepping forward acknowledging it’s her way of coming through together.  The part with your mom’s energy is that she is being like… she is different from your grandmother (chuckles) so I feel like your mom’s energy is… unique… if you will (lots of laughter) And, there is a part of it that your mom wants to acknowledge that “I’m different”.  So, she wants to place herself separate from everyone and that is no disrespect to you guys, but I feel like it’s her way of acknowledging her type of energy.  I feel like your mom’s energy is like “tell it like it is”, you know what I mean?  I feel like she just wants to be blunt, and be open – free; and I don’t want to say like “I miss you – I love you”, but I feel like it’s more so acknowledging that she is still around you and she is also bringing up for you… did you say she passed away recently?

Us:         Yeah- last June.

AJ:          Is there… your name is Paul though right? Is there like a C or K name connected here? Like Christopher or Cathy connected here?

Us:         Cameron [Yes, I know we offered up this name before.]

AJ:          Who is that?

Us:         Cameron

AJ:          Is that her?

Us:         No her grandson, my nephew.

AJ:          Would she know that newer energy?

Us:         Yes – that was the fourth – the birthday on the first.

AJ:          Ok, so I feel like your loved ones want to acknowledge that energy.  So, I don’t know if there is something going on with Cameron, or something going on with that energy, or  to talk about its intuitive ability, but I feel like your mom want to send love to that energy as well and to acknowledge you guys.  I feel like when your mom steps forward there is a part of it that she makes me feel like “I’ve done this before, I’ve witnessed it before” and there is part of it that she wants to acknowledge like “I’m over the situation, I’m over the passing”.  So I feel like in some sense like I don’t feel like with her, again this was not a tragic event.  I feel like with her, it’s like your son’s energy.  They are making me feel like there are parallels in what happened; of how they deteriorated and how their body passed over, do you understand that?  And there is a part…was there something neurologically going on with your mom?

Us:         Uh she had…

AJ:          Was it Alzheimer’s, stroke, something like that?

Us:         No. She had cancer all over the place.

AJ:          Ok. There is a part that she makes me feel like “I’m aware” and “I remember”.  So I don’t know if she was going in and out of consciousness but there is a part it like, “I’m remembering and I’m aware of what’s going on here” because she is making me feel like I need to pay attention to the things around me but also acknowledge you guys as well. And is there two girls, two sisters?

Us:         Not on her side, I have a sister (Paul).

AJ:          You have a sister?

Us:         There are just two of us.

AJ:          There is only the two of you? Ok because she is bringing the two, the two. [There are two girls.  Paul’s sister and her daughter.  Another “Duh” moment] Don’t take this the wrong way, but were you close with your mom?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          There is part that it’s almost like I have to bring up like “man up”.  So it’s almost kind of like “take charge – take charge of your life”, kind of like “do what you need to do”, because the part of it  is that she is like placing you on the same level, but she wants to kind of like put you higher than your sister. So I don’t know if there is a difference between you guys.   If it’s like how you guys have your life style or what your situation is, but she wants me to put you higher than what you are.  So, if you feel like you are not good enough, if like things are not going well for you, there is a part that she wants to let you know “I want to put you up”.  Same thing with your grandfather, there is the same kind of energy of how they come through for you as well.  They are also telling me, is there also like an Anthony or an Angie connected here?

Us:         Not that we can think of.

AJ:          Connect that to your mom’s side of the family.  There is definitely an “A.N” name.  So, there is going to be like an Andrew, like an Angela.

Us:         (Long Pause) her middle name is Anne.

AJ:          Ok. That would probably be her way of just acknowledging herself. So, there is not another Anne still living or passed over?

Us:         No she was an only child.

AJ:          Just making sure. I want to make sure they are not bringing through a separate energy. I need to acknowledge then it’s just your mom identifying herself.  So simple yes or no. Did you guys already say your mom’s name? Did you already tell me?

Us:         No.

AJ:          Ok. The only reason why they would give me their middle name… this is why… if there is someone who has first name – first name, or two that again, either of you guys already mentioned it to me. So is there any reason why your mom would not go by her first name?

Us:         Not that we can think of.

AJ:          I am just trying to understand why she wouldn’t give me her first name. It’s very rare when they give me the middle name

Us:         Because she is different. That would be her.

AJ:          Put it is this way, your mom is the type of lady for me that would make me…that would try to tell me how to do my job.  You know what I mean?  It’s like…

Us:         I (Paul) was just going to say she’d make you work for it.

AJ:          You know she is. She is making me work for it. I mean, trust me, like she’s the type of lady that is being like “No, you are doing it all wrong.  This is how you are supposed to do it”.  Like, there’s that type of energy she wants to acknowledge that “this is my way of stepping forward, this is how I want to come through”.  It’s like… it’s not that she’s difficult… but she is. That is her energy, but I feel like a lot of it is just her being blunt, being raw. And,  I believe that her type of energy is that she just wants to step forward truly for you.  Now dad is still here which you’ve already acknowledged, correct?

Us:         Yes

AJ:          I need to acknowledge dad.  I don’t know if they were together or if they were separate.  It doesn’t matter to me.  But, she’s making me feel like I need to acknowledge her other half and let him know that I am still sending love to him as well.  I am also supposed to bring him the green light as well.  What the green light represents for him actually is moving more so emotionally on the situation.  So, it means like going out and dating, going out and living life.  I feel like there is something he needs to do and she wants to send the love and make sure things move in the right path for him as well.  She’s also telling me like…do you know?  And I don’t know if this is back over to your son … was your mom on morphine?

Us:         Uh.. yeah.

AJ:          Was your son on morphine, if you don’t mind me asking that?

Us:         Yeah, well but just a little bit, just one time.

AJ:          If it is was just one that would not make sense.

Us:         Oh ok then no.

AJ:          Was your mom like… treated…like “give it to me constantly”, I can’t say constantly but…?

Us:         At the end, because she was…. for the last month.

AJ:          I’m getting this nasty taste in my mouth and I feel like I’m very dry or dehydrated.  So there is a part of it that I feel like something  going in my pancreatic and that I need to bring up here… like “I’m good with this, I’m glad I left my body.”  So I feel like she left the body before anything really quite happened but, she makes like she was aware of it. So, if she was like in a state of mind of being in a coma, I need to acknowledge that she is making me feel like “I am aware and I remember what was going on here as well.” I am also supposed to bring up here and I don’t know if this directed to your mom, or directed to your son or directed to mom and this child but did you actually crawl into bed with your mom?

Us:         We both did in both situations actually.

AJ:          Ok. Here is a reference that I need to give to both of you guys then; because if it’s individually or with the kid or what not, they are bringing up for me that I have to acknowledge that it’s almost as if you guys took a beat and took a moment and said even though they were still physically here, it’s like “I’ve got to remember this, I’ve got to take this all in, I’ve got to take this energy in, I’ve got to know this moment.” It’s like you remember the beat and there is a part that they want to let you know, “don’t remember that moment”. So don’t remember like the bad times, remember more so the moments that you had with them because I feel like we kind of attach ourselves with that negative emotion saying you know what “what if I had the last chance, what if we could have done this.” They are making me feel like they don’t want you to remember this in how they step forward and how they want to acknowledge you guys. You know what I mean? When these energies step forward, it truly is for your guys, to assist you and help you guys grow in the right way as well. They are also showing to me, like they are bringing up my brother’s birthday, so you already validated June though, right? You already said June though right? [When Gus took his last breath and slipped away he looked so beautiful we wanted to keep that moment forever.  The fact that he said this was particularly poignant]

Us:         Yes, we said June.

AJ:          Is there another June connection or another “six” connection that I am actually supposed to bring up here?

Us:         On Paul’s side?  Um well – we have a niece born in June.

AJ:          Going to be born right?

Us:         No.  We have two nieces born in June and one will be four in June actually.

AJ:          Did that happen last year? Then it wouldn’t be it.

Us:         No.

AJ:          I feel like I have to go with last year or go like a year back.

Us:         Well, they both passed away in June. Both our son and his mom passed away in June.

AJ:          Your son passed away in June?  That would make sense because I think you said mom is June right? You said someone is in June.

Us:         Both of them passed away in June.

AJ:          Ok.  I have to acknowledge…but they are making me feel like there is another date that is significant, of another event that is connected here.  So, it’s just both of their passing’s they want to acknowledge as to how they are stepping forward here as well.  And I feel like the circle of energy of how they step forward it’s about like being like ambushed.  I don’t know if you ever want to be ambushed by like your mom, but there is a part of it that she wants to jump around and like “I want to ambush you.  I just want to come at you and throw information” but I feel like it’s more in the spiritual way to assist you in the right way.  But, I feel like with your mom’s energy is like a tough love type of thing. It’s like even though it wasn’t the right information, it would be like she would think she was right with the information.  So, there is a part of it that she wants to acknowledge is that she is still right.  So whatever you are doing that you would say like “mom would have said this” she makes like she still would have been right.  The thing with your mom’s energy in how she is stepping forward is that she’s still the same energy.  She is kind of being the dominant one if you will, because there is a very strong energy at how she comes through.   But, there is not anything she wants to stress on her passing.  So again, it is obviously someone who knew what was going on and had kind of lived their life if you will.  But I don’t think they lived their life to the fullest.  I feel like there is a part of it where it is like very nonchalant, like kind of just went with the flow of how things went but…… I might be switching or I might still be with you guys…. just switching to someone else or they are bringing through another energy for you guys…. Was your mom a smoker?

Us:         Uh, hugh.

AJ:          Like not an occasional smoke but smoker.

Us:         Yes.

AJ:          She’s making me feel like she’s still smoking on the other side.  So she’s made like she’s enjoying what she’s doing, like she’s having a great old-time on the other side.  Like this is the type of lady and this may not be her, but her persona, what she is showing to me, this is the type of lady that would be sitting down smoking a cigarette and playing cards, you know what I mean?  That’s the type of energy – how she is coming across to me like “I’m doing what’s normal to me” this is normal.  And,  I don’t know if that was a cause towards her passing, but I feel like she should not have been smoking.  You know what I mean? But if she could have smoked in the hospital or a facility, she would have done it, even though she was not supposed to. That’s the type of lady, she is making me feel like I am beyond the boundaries.  There are no boundaries for me and I want you to know on the spiritual realm, there are no boundaries on the other side to come through and communicate with either one of you guys.  I feel like, how she is coming through, she wants to acknowledge” I want to bring through my grandson but I want you to know that I’m here for you as well”.  So, here is the unique part, I don’t know if your child and your mom is someone you want to link with, or that you wanted to know that they met up together.   They are making me feel like your son kind of like greeted each other.  Like your son also greeted your mom and your grandmother and your grandparents greeted the younger energy as well.  So I feel like the elders do bring that energy, but I do find it very unique, that your son brought in your mother, rather than your mother bringing through your son, you know what I mean? It is usually the opposite of how this process works for me and I feel like again, your son had to have been like an old soul.  He obviously had some sort of experience because… like how he is coming through to me, he was aware of the process.  But, he is making me feel like there is no responsibility that I need to worry about here as well. [In re-listening to this part, we think he was actually talking about Paul’s grandmother, Maureen.  This is more in keeping with her personality.  Smoking and playing cards was definitely her thing.]