For those who are associated with, or involved in, the process of hospice, I wanted to post an excerpt from my book Cracking Open: Adventures of a Reluctant Medium. As many who experience hospice will tell you, there is so much more to a person’s hospice stay then just medical care. This chapter, titled Carol’s Death, speaks of my spiritual experience with someone walking through their death transition. Please note that this is only one chapter and it is taken from the middle of the book, thus some background information will be lost in translation. However, as this was a significant moment of growth for me on my path, I wish to share it with you!
For more information on Cracking Open: Adventures of a Reluctant Medium, click here.
Carol’s Death ~ Chapter 27 ~ Cracking Open: Adventures of a Reluctant Medium
I sat across from Heather in the lounge of the homeschool co-op as we talked about the standard school topics. After a while the conversation shifted to the stress Heather was currently dealing with in her life. Her mother was dying.
Carol, Heather’s mother, had been diagnosed with a lung disorder and wanted to spend her last months at home with Heather, Joel, the grandkids, and her husband, Roland. Since the diagnosis, the two families were living together in the familiar cabin that sat yards away from the sacred circle where Big Dog and I spent so many hours.
I asked Heather if there was anything I could do. Two days later she called to say that her mother was excited for me to visit. I quickly agreed to come over that night.
I walked into the cabin to find the family waiting in the kitchen while Carol was resting in a back room. I could feel anticipation mixed with anxiety, which made the air heavy with importance. I had no idea what I was going to say. Carol and I had never met. I didn’t even truly know what I was doing there.
I could smell the odor of hospice as I made my way closer to Carol’s room, a room that was most likely a den before she arrived. There was no door to it — it was a simple twelve-by-twelve box at the end of the hall, with windows on two sides and a sliding glass door that led to the back yard. The area had been turned into a bedroom, modified to help Carol feel comfortable.
I stopped at the end of the hall when I saw her. Carol in her hospital-style bed, lying on her right side looking away from me. Behind her sat a translucent man dressed in a white suit, clearly there for her and obviously content to stay by her side. I made the fast assumption he was an angel watching over her. When he “heard” that he laughed at me. “I’m not an angel. I’m her dad.”
I apologized. He smiled, and pointed toward his daughter as if to say “What are you waiting for?”
I walked around the foot of the bed and found an old wooden chair. I tenderly pulled it over so I could be close to her.
“Hi Beau,” she said, as I sat down.
“Hi Carol. It’s really nice to meet you.” I tried to stay calm and sound relaxed.
She smiled at me and sat silent, examining my face with her eyes.
“I hear that you have been doing a lot of thinking lately,” I said.
“Yes,” she responded, with a subtle wind behind her voice. “I’m in an interesting situation.”
Her eighty-three-year old skin was white with shades of brown and yellow. Her hair, thin and white as the rest of her, was sunk deep into her pillow. Her left hand was draped close to the edge of the bed and I reached out to take it. When my hand touched hers I saw a shift in her eyes, as if that touch was a gift.
“You look like you’re thinking,” I said, as she began to squeeze my fingers.
“I have a lot to think about and not much else to do, really.”
“Are you thinking about your upcoming journey?”
She nodded her head slightly on the pillow. “I am not sure what it will be. It’s kind of frightening.”
I thought for a while before I spoke. I kept picturing a friend saying goodbye to their astronaut buddy just as the astronaut is going to head out to space, and the friend giving them advice on what to do when they hit outer space. The image kept me humble. I wasn’t the one going on the journey of death. Carol was.
“Do you have any particular faith that you follow?” I asked.
She shook her head no.
“What do you say we talk about energy then?”
She seemed to welcome that idea, so I continued. “Do you see your eyeglasses laying here on the table?” I picked up the glasses to show them to her. “They can’t see. You are the one who can see. These eyeglasses are just like your eyeballs. They are made up of carbon and miscellaneous different types of materials that each have fancy names that scientists like to label, but nothing that can actually see.” I paused for a moment and took a second to look into her eyes as she looked into mine. “Your eyeballs cannot see any better than these glasses can. It is the observer behind the eyeballs that can see.”
“Yes,” she said, with a hint of “go on.”
“Our spirit is made up of energy. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t exist. Do you remember hearing the theory that energy never dies?”
She nodded once.
“Well, when we pass, our spirit’s energy simply steps out of the body. It doesn’t die. It separates from the body and takes a different form, like water evaporating.”
We sat for a few moments, the corners of her lips turning slightly up and her eyes focused sharply on mine. I asked Carol if she would like another example and she nodded.
“Okay. So, our physical body is like a vehicle and our spirit is the driver. When the car gets old….”
She pointed her thumb toward herself and grinned.
“Yep, when our car gets old, we simply step out of it. And this is where the fun begins. We can get another car if we want to or we can decide to be without a car for a while. Best of all, when we step out of the car we realize that the car was very limiting, and without it we are free to do so much more.”
“I wonder what that is,” she said. “I wonder what there is to do.”
“It will be beautiful,” I said.
“Do you think I can do it?”
I nodded my head yes and smiled in the silence as I let the idea of her passing settle into the moment.
“Are you scared to leave your family?” I asked.
She nodded, clearly too touched by the topic to speak.
“That makes sense,” I said. “You have an amazing family and an amazing life.”
“Had,” she said.
“I have to argue with you on that.” I repositioned my hand just slightly in her grip so I was holding her tighter. “You will still have them. That will not change. You just won’t drive here in your car.” Her eyes started to shut, I felt her exhaustion. “I’ll leave you for today,” I said.
“Come back tomorrow?” she asked, with her eyes still closed.
“Absolutely,” I said, as I kissed her hand goodbye.
I walked back through the house, filling the family in on the topic of the day and asking if I could come back tomorrow. They were more than happy to have me return, so that’s what I did.
“Hey, Carol. I’m back,” I said, with more comfort this time.
“Hi, Beau,” she said, as light rolled onto her face. “I was hoping you would come back and talk to me. I like to talk to you.”
“I like to talk to you too. You know you told me yesterday to come back?”
She closed her eyes and chuckled once. “I forget, you know.”
“I know, Carol. So what’s on the menu today for discussion?”
“I just like to hear you talk,” she said.
I leaned into the edge of the bed, feeling the ease of being near her. “Okay. Well, let’s talk about your family. Do you have any worries about leaving them?”
“My mom left when I was young,” she said, as she grabbed my hand again and squeezed it tight. I saw the sadness come over her face and I knew this was a big part of what was keeping her here.
“Are you worried about your kids feeling the same thing?”
She looked at me, the sadness still in her eyes. She said nothing. She didn’t have to.
“Carol,” I continued. “I can’t imagine losing my mom so early. That had to be incredibly difficult.” I paused to gauge whether or not I should continue. “The pain of losing a mother is very, very hard. I can see how you don’t want your kids to feel that way.”
She looked away from me, drawing her eyes down to her bed. I could feel a sense of defeat flow through her hand to mine. I wanted to take her pain away — to tell her it would be fine — but I knew this was her process and I would be far more effective supporting her if I was just present.
“How about I just sit with you for a while today? We can talk later?” I asked, with more lightness in my voice.
She smiled, and we sat.
A few weeks went by with Carol. Each day I would wake up in my bed and think about when I could be with her next. Most days I spent at least a short bit of time with her, some days I couldn’t. I was taken with how comfortable I had become around her, how much I wanted to simply sit and be with her. It wasn’t like I was sitting near “death,” it was as if I was sitting near someone preparing for an incredible journey and I couldn’t help but be both sad to see her go and excited for her trip.
She spoke of her mother’s death repeatedly. Many times I would look to her father for guidance, asking him the best way to handle such a tough topic. He was kind and compassionate, making sure to advise me in ways that made Carol the most comfortable. Each time she shared with me, I could feel a lightening in her spirit.
“Mom’s not doing well today,” Heather said one afternoon, as I let myself through the front door. I had been welcomed by the family in a lovely way – I wasn’t allowed to knock anymore.
“How so?” I asked.
“She isn’t speaking,” Heather said.
We sat uncomfortably silent for a few minutes.
“It’s very exciting Beau,” Heather continued. “She said she saw three women last night standing at the end of her bed. She talked about it like she really saw them. I think she did.”
“Wow. That is cool,” I said. “And now she’s not speaking?”
“Yes. Well, we don’t know if she will speak. She seems to not be able to right now.”
I looked down the long hallway that ended in Carol’s room. I couldn’t see her bed, but I could see her dad, sitting, looking on at her. As I stared down the hall I began to see a variety of smoky colors flowing in and out of the hallway. Sometimes, one would shift in or out of a human shape.
“I think it’s really crowded down there today,” I said to Heather.
“What do you mean, crowded?” she asked, as she leaned over the island to peek down the hallway.
“Spiritually, it’s really crowded. She has a lot of people… you know, spirits… down there,” I said.
“Is it the three women?” Heather asked.
I took a moment to silently ask Carol’s dad. He shook his head no. “No,” I relayed to Heather. “I don’t think it’s the three women. It feels more like… like they are there to do work. Like they are there to prepare Carol?”
Heather was now crying. I felt horrible and immediately apologized. I made a quick mental note to be more careful with what I said around family members.
I walked down to be with Carol, passing by colors and shapes that were weaving through the air. As I turned the corner I watched her dad stand up, tip his head to me slightly, and then fade away.
The colorful spirits that surrounded the room didn’t feel like family members of Carol. They felt like workers, amazing and compassionate workers. I stood frozen in the entryway, knowing that stepping in further would somehow interrupt the process. I watched as they twisted and swirled around her, like watching a beautiful, weaving embrace. Ten minutes went by and the graceful dance of color around Carol slowly morphed into a deep rose hue that circled counter-clockwise around her. She looked more peaceful than I had ever seen her before.
When the light faded and the room calmed, I tiptoed over to her side and quietly leaned over her. Her eyes were distant, as if she was paying more attention to somewhere other than the room we were in. A visual flashed through my head of her holding her father’s hand with her left as if he was pulling her up a cliff, and holding Heather’s hand with her right as if she just couldn’t let it go.
As I smiled at her peaceful face I heard her voice speak through motionless lips, “Hi, Beau.”
I gasped, and tears started to roll down my cheeks. Excitement and bliss poured through me. She could see me. I could see her. She was so beautiful.
“Can you hear me, Carol?”
“Yes.” Her lips remained still but her voice poured through my head. “Look, Beau! Look!”
“I know. I can see you. You are so beautiful,” I said.
I stood motionless for a few moments, watching as images of her floating among waves played out, waves that looked like… I don’t know. Freedom? After some time the images faded and her human body came back into view as if my focus was pulled away without my permission and forced to plant itself back onto Carol’s body — a body that started to cough and moan. She had returned. I stepped to the side as Heather came into the room and began taking care of Carol’s basic needs, clearing out her mouth with a soft toothbrush, wiping back the hair on her forehead. I went back to the kitchen and made myself some tea.
As I sipped the last of my tea, I felt something pull through me like the house had been emptied of all of its air. I stood up slowly so not to alarm anyone, and casually walked down the hallway, all the while wondering if I was going to find Carol had died.
I stepped into the open room and felt as if I was standing in a desert. There was not even an inkling of life. I walked quickly over to Carol and watched as her chest rose and fell. She was still alive. I sat in the wooden chair and looked around the room, desperately searching for anything spiritual that could help me to understand the empty feelings I was experiencing. Nothing, just open empty air. I turned back to Carol, hoping I could see her spirit again. Nothing.
Puzzled, I walked outside to see if Big Dog would help me understand what was happening. As I approached the circle I saw him cupping his hands in front of him casually as if he had been standing there all along.
“Hey. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here,” I said, as Big Dog welcomed me into the circle.
“Anytime,” he said, with seriousness about him. He knew I was struggling.
“What is happening to her? Where is she?”
“You noticed she isn’t there,” he said. “You are right, she is not there.”
“But she’s alive,” I said in disbelief.
“Her body is alive. She, however, is not there.”
“Okay, back to the beginning. Where is she?”
Big Dog stepped closer, close enough that I could reach out and touch him. The pull to rest my head on his chest and let him comfort me was intense. “You care very much for her, don’t you?” he asked me.
“I do,” I said, as I started to sob. “I just… I just… I’m trying to help.”
“Simply being there is all the help she needs,” he explained. “You are her witness. It is in the witnessing, in the actual acknowledgement of her process, that you are allowing her to transition.”
“Transition?” I sniffed.
“She is going through her book. There is a lot of work for her to do over the next two days,” he said, as he held up the image of a book to me. Somehow I knew the book held Carol’s life inside it.
“She is passing in two days?” I asked. Big Dog nodded yes.
I walked back up to the house and peeked into Carol’s room again. It was still bitterly empty. I said goodbye to the rest of the family, keeping the information of the time of Carol’s death to myself, and came back the next day to find the room still empty.
Carol was off doing her thing again and her body was lying in the bed, breathing and holding space. Figuring I’d pass the time until she came back, I walked out to the circle. Big Dog was not around. No one was. I sat for a while, staring up at the treetops and contemplating as birds swooped and darted by. Ahead of me was a small pond, big enough to float a canoe but not quite big enough to take it anywhere. I walked to the edge of the water, careful not to slip in through the marshy green. I stared at the surface. It was perfectly still except for one or two water bugs dancing across it. I felt a rustle in the middle of my back, my hairs started to rise, and a sensation climbed upwards to the top of my head. Above the pond the sky seemed to become lighter and lighter as if a blaze of brilliant white was settling in above it. I looked up to see a flattened sphere of white and gold light form and hover above me, stretching out over the pond. My eyes glued to the light, the obvious question ran through my head, “What is it?” As the question finished forming in my mind, her voice startled me.
I felt a bolt of energy pound directly through my body, ripping the breath out of my lungs. Shaking, I kept my stare on the object, and worked to stay upright on both feet.
“Carol?” I shouted.
It was definitely her. I stood there in awe until the light faded and the sharp colors of the forest came back into view. I dropped down to my knees and started to weep. I knew I had touched the otherside. The moment was brief, but is now etched in my soul for the rest of my life. “Thank you, Carol. Thank you.”
The next day I returned again, this time to find the entire family gathered around Carol’s bed. She was still with us here on earth, but it was becoming very clear that she was close to departing. The family welcomed me into the room and we sat together, talking and not talking. Occasionally, without moving her lips, Carol spoke softly, making subtle requests. “One more kiss,” I heard her say in my head, as her spirit looked on at her husband, Roland. I watched as Roland got up from his seat and bent over the body of his wife, kissing her on the forehead. I sat in silent amazement that words unspoken were clearly heard. Moments like this were treasures.
The night rolled over the day. Carol’s room was never empty, her bed always surrounded by family members, living and dead. As the clock ticked closer to midnight I told the family I was going to head out for the night and return in the morning. They all said goodbye, their hugs extra tight.
I made my way down the hallway, out the front door, and halfway to my car. I stopped for a moment, feeling pulled to turn around. Carol appeared behind me, in full form, with a huge smile fixed on her face.
“Goodbye, Beau,” she said.
I started to cry, “Did you die?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I asked hesitantly.
“Thank you, Beau,” was all she said before she faded away.
I went home that night and slept maybe an hour. I laid in bed periodically opening my eyes thinking I might see her there, but I didn’t. Eventually I fell asleep and woke up groggy. I skipped the shower and breakfast, changed into new clothes, said goodbye to my family, and burst out the door to head back to Carol’s side.
I reached over to change the radio station as I drove over the massive green bridge that linked New Hampshire to Maine. I saw someone sitting in the passenger seat out of the corner of my eye.
“Hey, Grandma,” I said, assuming it was my usual co-pilot.
“Nope. It’s not your grandma,” Carol’s voice said. “It’s me!”
I turned my head and saw Carol sitting beside me. She was dressed in a long blue dress, her cheeks filled in and rosy. “Carol!” I shouted.
“Yep. It’s me, Beau,” she said with excitement. “I did it! I did it! Can you believe it? I really did it!”
“You did it,” I said, not sure how to respond — then it sank in. “You did it? Oh, wow. Are you gone?”
She nodded excitedly.
I looked at the road and chuckled a bit, unable to block out the carefree feelings radiating off Carol. I never expected her death to unfold for me like this. I had pictured tears by a bedside, not excitement on the freeway.
“I’m really proud of you,” I said. “You did it.”
“Me too.” She sat back a bit in the seat now, looking around at the world outside the car for a moment before she turned her eyes to me again. “Tell them thank you for the song.”
“Yeah. They sang to me,” she said, as she held her hands over her mouth as if the song they sang for her was the most amazing gift anyone had given her.
“I’ll tell them,” I said, as I took the left onto their gravel driveway.
I walked into the kitchen to find it empty. I made my way back to Carol’s room and found everyone gathered around, holding hands and weeping gently.
“She’s gone,” I said.
Heather nodded as she looked up and raised the sides of her mouth just slightly, welcoming me to this moment. I sat down next to Carol’s still body lying on the hospital bed and experienced the surreal moment of also seeing Carol’s spirit standing directly behind Heather. Carol nodded at me as if to say I should share.
“Carol was in my car this morning,” I said to the family. Joel smiled and reached out to squeeze my arm in gratitude. “She said to tell you thank you for the song you sang to her.”
Heather gasped, Joel smiled, and Roland began to weep again.
“Oh, Beau. She heard it!” exclaimed Heather. “I take it you sang to her?”
“Yes. Yes, we did,” she said. “It was our way to honor her.”
“Your entire family is so beautiful. Carol is so lucky to have you,” I said, as I was moved to tears.
We sat around Carol’s body for another hour or so, singing songs to her and periodically reaching out to embrace each other and the moment.
Later, two men from the funeral home came to the cabin to bring Carol to the crematorium. They were wonderfully respectful of the family, and walked through the front door with their heads slightly lowered and their moods somber. When they started toward the back of the house to collect Carol’s body, Joel stopped them and informed them that the family would be walking her out. The two men stepped back and simply witnessed, as I did as well, the solemn moment when the family pushed Carol’s hospital bed through the house and down the front steps to the driveway. Each family member holding onto the bed at all times, they walked slowly and methodically, embracing the experience, making sure even the smallest family member, their son Cayden, was able to participate for the entire walk.
At the end of the walkway the family handed Carol over to the two men, who delicately lifted her into the van. They gently closed the doors and ceremoniously turned to the family, looking down slightly as if they were willing to stay there as long as it took until they were dismissed. Roland stepped forward and placed his hand on one of the men’s shoulders, squeezing it gently and thanking him for taking care of Carol. The men, clearly moved by the experience, walked slowly toward the front seats of the van, climbed in with care, and started to drive away. Ten feet down the driveway the brake lights lit up when the driver noticed out the rear view mirror the family was walking hand in hand, slowly behind the vehicle. I saw the look on the driver’s face, and watched a slight sob and a sniff as he witnessed the amazing scene. The van rolled no more than one mile per hour down the driveway for over a hundred feet until it crested at the top of a hill and the family stopped their march. A pause and a moment of silence, and the van again began to creep up and over the hill, this time alone.
I stood on the walkway watching the events unfold, Carol by my side.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked me.
“Amazing. You are so lucky,” I responded.