I believe that the dead are very close to us. They are no more than a thought away. They are not gone. They are very present.
Often, though, when someone dies, we experience gone-ness. As far as we can tell, our loved one is gone. Here's why it feels that way. Something, indeed, is gone. What's gone is our loved one's presence in a physical body on earth. Our loved one is no longer with us in physical form. This means that we can no longer see or hear or touch our loved one. And we are so bound to the physical experience of each other that, when we can no longer perceive someone with our five senses, we feel that the person is gone.
When a loved one dies, our grief and longing are intense. We want to sit down with our loved one as we used to do, gaze into our loved one's eyes, hear our loved one's voice, hold our loved one's hand--but we cannot. And since this physical way is the only way we know to experience someone, for us our loved one is gone.
But there is another way to experience and be with those who have died. It is not a physical way. But it is a way.
I learned about this other way to be with the dead when my mother died. I'll try to explain what happened, starting with my mother's funeral.
I knew that people would come up to me at my mother's funeral and say things. And I determined that I would do my best to accept graciously whatever they said. It is not easy to know what to say to family members of the dead and people try their best to say something comforting and empathetic, so I determined to take everything anyone said as a gift.
What people actually did say fell into two categories: (1) it's terrible that your mother died, and we'll miss her immensely, and (2) it's a blessing that your mother was spared prolonged suffering, and she is in a better place. I was able to respond gratefully to both types of comments.
One woman, however, told me something that turned out to be a special gift in an odd way. She said, "Karen, these next months are going to be difficult. You'll find that you'll have to remember again and again that your mother is dead. As things happen during the day, you'll think, I'll have to tell my mother about this, and then you'll remember, Oh. I can't tell her. She's dead. And you'll have this experience many times."
I realized that this woman was telling me these things to help me, but as she talked, I became aware that I knew I would not have the experience she was describing. A thought formulated itself in my mind: No. That is not how it will be for me. When I want to tell my mother something, I will simply tell her. And she will hear me.
So this woman gave me the gift of making conscious something that I hadn't realized I knew: I can continue to communicate with my mother.
And this is what I have done. I know that my mother is present, just not physically. When I want to tell my mother something, I simply tell her. I can tell her out loud, or whisper it to her, or think it to her. And I know she receives my message. Here's an example. My mother loved flowers. I have no doubt that she still does. When I see lovely flowers, I can admire them, think them to my mother, and know that she's right beside me enjoying them, too.
I do not feel my mother's presence in any tangible way. I simply know she's there. And that's enough for me. I don't need to feel anything.
My mother died in 1997. Since then, my father died in 2000 and my sister Sandra in 2002. Occasionally, I believe that one or another of them says something to me. This comes simply in the form of a thought--a quiet, natural thought, not at all jarring or attention-catching. The thought is something that I probably wouldn't think on my own, and it has a Mom quality or a Dad quality or a Sandra quality to it. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, I pause and say, for example, "Mom, I hear you. Thank you for this thought. I love you and wish you all joy in the spirit world." I am grateful when this happens, but I would be content without this, just knowing that my dead loved ones are near and that they hear what I think to them.
I feel very sad when I hear people say of the dead, "If only my mother could be at my wedding," or "Your father would be so proud if he could only be here to celebrate your achievement." I believe that my dead mother and father are at all my important events. They themselves are really and truly present, just not in physical form. This means that I don't see them or hear them or feel them. But I know they are there.
I believe that if we can open ourselves to a different way of being with the dead, we'll find that they are very close to us. If we cling to what we can no longer have--seeing, hearing, and touching our loved ones--we will experience only gone-ness. But if we can let go of that need for the physical experience, we can send our dead loved ones thoughts and know that our loved ones receive these messages. We can even reconcile with someone who has died if we were not able to reconcile on earth.
I find that I don't need a tangible experience of my dead loved ones. I simply know that they hear what I think to them. And that's enough for me.