Robert C. Koehler
Life's elemental transitions -- birth, death -- have more pull on me than ever as I age. When they touch my life, they open up a sense of sacred space that aligns my every cell in prayerful awe. Not only that, the two events often dovetail with an eerie coincidence that leaves me mulling their connectedness.
When my wife, Barbara, died (how hard it is to believe it's been two and a half years now), the "mystical" event that left a door ajar in my consciousness involved a 5-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend of ours who had been extremely fond of Barbara. I happened to mention to Becky's mom, as I relayed the sad news, that Barbara died at the very moment a sudden rainstorm broke.
"I remember that storm," she said. "We were in the car and Becky said, 'Oh, someone's having a baby.' Then she frowned. 'I think Barbara's having a baby.'"
I don't know why she would have felt or said such a thing, but I believe her words were blurted in innocent wonder as something passed across her heart; and it strains credulity far more for me to dismiss as "happenstance or whatever" that Becky uttered Barbara's name at the moment of her death, than to accept the possibility of a linkage between Becky and Barbara, or her spirit, at some level of reality beyond the naked eye.
But it's the child's choice of words -- "I think Barbara's having a baby" -- that utterly rewrites my definition of death. I've let go of the empirical skepticism I once settled for, that death is simply the big sleep, the cul-de-sac of existence. When death touches your life, when it ceases to be an abstraction, its particulars present too many clues to the contrary.
Fast-forward to a few days ago. My tech-savvy niece, Carmen, e-mails me the first "photo" (i.e., the ultrasound printout) of her in utero baby, at about seven weeks along. Joyous confirmation of a long-sought pregnancy! But it was the lab date on the printout, when I eventually noticed it, that really opened my heart and stamped the event: miracle.
It was dated
So that date, now attaching itself indelibly to Carmen's pregnancy as well, stirs the soul with a sense of eternal renewal.
It was as though he'd blessed her, and his grandchild, with his awareness. Indeed, I believe this is so. Small matter the actual pregnancy was a year delayed -- it comes bearing Grandpa's imprint, the pressure of his hand in his daughter's, his wide-open eyes. He returned to earth long enough to share the wondrous moment with her.
There are those who say that death is another type of birth, into the next level of being. I know only that it is something more than the flat cessation of existence, the terminus of striving, the last, bitter irony. In my experience, death has not rendered anyone's life "meaningless," but just the opposite -- revealed it to be extraordinary.
A loved one's death may shatter us, but I believe at the deepest level the connection remains unbroken. In sacred space, all life is connected. The dead go away, but manage not to leave us.
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