“Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is; if there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”
James Lee Burke – “Robicheaux”
I love that sentence, not just for the incredible poetry of Southern writing, but especially for the last part: “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”
If someone you loved intensely dies you know that feeling of being in a basement too well. Suddenly they’re . . . gone. All of their magic, all of their thoughts, their words, their touches and glances, have disappeared forever.
No matter what your spiritual beliefs may be – and I personally believe very strongly in an afterlife – the physical body, the material presence of the person you loved is gone.
There is, I think, a natural reaching out which most of us do after a death. Trying to somehow contact the other person, to imagine them and how they are. Are they confused and disoriented? Are they blissful and satisfied? Are they finally out of the pain that they were in and experiencing peace? There’s just that burning need to touch them, to feel their spirit one more time.
Religious people will tell you that they’re in heaven having pancakes with Jesus and, by golly, they have REAL maple syrup in heaven, not Mrs. Butterworth’s. Spiritual people will tell you that they’re on, “the other side,” and dancing on rainbows or cruising through the astral plane. Psychic mediums may be able to give you very detailed descriptions like, “She’s in the garden and she’s wearing a white lace dress and your dog Skipper who died twenty years ago is there with her.”
And it’s all very comforting and sweet, all of those well intentioned words and Hallmark cards, but what we really want is to be able to see our loved ones for ourselves. Instead, it’s like we’re, “in a basement with no windows.” We can’t see up and we can’t see out. We can’t see them.
If you actually talk to people who are grieving a death you’ll find an amazing number of them HAVE felt or seen some sort of a contact from their loved ones. Maybe a pair of earrings suddenly appear on a bedside table, or a long lost note from them falls out of a book, or the lights flicker on and off whenever the dead come to mind. There are signs and signals from them and, yet, we can’t quite get through to them. No matter much we miss or desire that contact we just can’t touch them.
It feels, of course, like a great big Cosmic Door has been slammed shut. We’re on one side and they’re on the other. We may hear a faint murmur of their voices but we can’t get past the door.
Oddly, though, Death can be the start of a journey that will take you to much greater heights than you could have ever imagined. Getting through that goddamned door can become a Quest.
The Sioux tribes believe that people who are grieving over Death are closer to Spirit World than normal humans. That the veil between the two worlds is thinner for them, that the Spirits hear them more clearly, and that their prayers have greater powers. Certainly deep grief feels that way. It’s as if you exist in a world apart from ordinary life and you see and feel things that others who are aren’t grieving can’t see and feel.
In other words, people who are close to Death – either their own or a loved one – are existing in a Sacred Space. There is no other time when we are more likely to ask the right questions and get the right answers than when we are in the presence of Death.
Death leaves clues and symbols for us that point to a higher, Spiritual realm. What we do with them is up to us. We don’t have to understand them at first, we just need to acknowledge that they’re real. Yes, those earrings DID appear out of nowhere. Yes, it IS odd that a note from my husband fell out of a book just as I was thinking of him. Yes, the lights DO flicker on and off for no reason when I talk about my dead child.
And, yes, it’s entirely possible that our departed loved ones are still here, “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”