Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When the Spirit Opens





“I don’t know when the spirit opens itself to the river.” Kathleen Dean Moore

Moore was writing about someone drowning. I wondered about this movement of the spirit, too, when I sat by Evelyn’s bed in the ICU. Was she still present, or had she drifted off and now existed somewhere else?

Neurological tests indicated that Evelyn’s brain had died a short time before. Machines were keeping her body alive until they could repeat the tests in 24 hours to confirm the finding. Yet I sensed that Ev had waited for me to arrive so she could say goodbye before her spirit left, but this may have been wishful thinking. When I received the call at work that the paramedics were working on Ev, I sensed that our connection had been broken.

If her spirit was gone, when did this happen? Did she leave when the paramedics were shocking her heart to reboot its rhythm, or when the oxygen levels in her brain bottomed out? I don’t know. I will never know THIS.

Evelyn was tenacious. She did not give up on anything – strained relationships with friends, public schools that didn’t focus on students first, helping me be more emotionally expressive, and her struggle the last ten years to get back to full health. Recently we thought she had turned the good corner; then she died of a heart problem no doctor had ever mentioned.

If her spirit had already left her body, it probably doesn’t matter when. Yet I want to know so that I can interpret the signs I was perceiving. Perhaps I was aware of her saying goodbye, her final gesture of love, some word to give me strength for what I would face next. We had been together for 18 years, sharing thousands of thoughts and feelings. I wanted to stay connected for as long as I could. I wanted to know if she was feeling confusion or fear about what was happening, because maybe there was something that I could do to help her.

At the point of death, many religions believe, if they believe in the continuation of individual souls, that the spirit/soul separates from the body but hangs around for 3-49 days as the future is worked out. Then it departs. Even if Ev was no longer united with her body, her spirit could have been near, watching me sit by the bed talking to her, hoping that the sound of my voice would be the beam in a lighthouse and either guide her out of the fog and back to me, or on to her new destination.

Ev would fight to stay until the decision was taken out of her hands, because she would worry about me floundering without her. Even with additional physical problems, she would try to stay for me. And I would care for her no matter what her new physical challenges would be.

And yet, if she had enough consciousness remaining, and had a vote, she may have decided that she didn’t want to add another health problem to her stack of maladies, said enough was enough, and let the reins on her body go slack.

I would not begrudge her decision, if she made this one. She had endured much and fought hard throughout her life, and it was her choice. Some say that we are in this world to learn all we can, and when we do, then it’s time to move on to the next. If compassion for all beings is the greatest lesson we learn on earth, then Evelyn was ready.


When this battle was lost, whenever it was lost, her spirit opened itself to what came next. Maybe she noticed the light, or saw her father in the distance waiting for her. Maybe the discovery she made two months before in the desert of Arizona, of finding her spiritual home, prepared her to open to something more, something unknown. And when she saw it approaching, she said “Yes.”

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