Love Beyond Death

By Drena Griffith
The CD lay on the break room table in a folded paper sleeve.  My name was written on the outside along with #12, so clearly it was meant for me. Sliding the disc out of its makeshift holder, I read the unfamiliar title: the next voice you hear/the best of jackson browne. There was no message. Perhaps I should’ve been puzzled--I wasn’t. The moment held a shimmering quality slowly becoming familiar.
My boyfriend Ed had been dead for two months. One autumn Friday morning he went solo mountain climbing. During his afternoon descent he fell sixty feet, breaking nearly every bone in his body and shattering his skull. Ed’s unexpected death stunned everyone who knew and loved him. And it ushered me into a season of life--and depth of pain-- that seven years later I still struggle to find words for.
After taking two weeks off to help Ed’s family clear his apartment and begin settling his affairs, I returned to my job as a bookseller, in body if not in heart and mind.  It took nearly all of my effort to make it through each day—to unpack the boxes, to scan books at the checkout counter, to say, “Have a great day!” with a smile.  
The prosaic minutiae of those early days of life with Ed’s death was hazy even then.
But already some peculiar moments had begun breaking through the gauzy veil of loss...uncanny serial dreams that began the night Ed died, an inspired letter from a friend, a surprise package in the mail from someone I barely knew--and then a follow-up, apologetic email from her: I put a note in the envelope, but I was afraid you would think I was a kook. So I took it out. But I think you’re supposed to know. . .. These and other similar occurrences all seemed guided, even orchestrated. 
But even my acquaintance's reluctance to share her message resonated powerfully.  
The materialist versus the mystic--that was Ed and me. At an earlier point in my life I would never have imagined myself with a partner who didn’t share my spiritual views. But life with Ed taught me that beliefs didn’t matter when two people shared the same soul. Then again, that’s the mystic talking. Ed actually didn’t believe in the soul. He believed in the bible of creation itself--in the Big Bang, in birdsong, in our bodies decomposing to dust. He did not believe in life after death. “This moment between us right now is all there is,” he’d said. “We need to savor it because when it’s gone, there won’t be another one.”
This conversation between us continued, strangely, after his fall.
Even as a child, I’d been no stranger to the subtle worlds. At the age of six, I began experiencing vivid dreams that I later came to see as portals to other dimensions.  And as I grew older, often those unseen realms broke through the narrower perimeters of day to day reality--so random communications with strangers and other synchronistic occurrences were common, even expected.
Ed, ever tolerant, never tried to talk me out of my strange, unproven beliefs. In spite of skepticism, Ed patiently entered into my experience of life with me--perhaps a bit like a scientist might observe an uncommon and unusual specimen--an anomaly--yet no less lovingly, even so. Ed didn’t believe in psychic phenomenon or spiritual quackery. But he did believe in me. I was real to him. Our love made us both real to each other.
But in some ways this made processing Ed’s death even harder as I didn’t want to trust what I couldn’t see, especially when seeing across the veil was something Ed had so vehemently opposed in his own life. Also, skepticism notwithstanding, who wouldn’t want to believe that death isn’t the end of our journey, that their loved one could reach out to them across the chasm, beyond the grave? Never before had I needed subtle experiences to be real. But my faith in them had never been more tenuous. Was I reading too much into the dreams, the letter and email--and now this mysterious CD? Were they messages from beyond or the wishes of a broken heart?
Such thoughts may be surprising from a member of a spiritual organization that speaks openly of beings from other worlds, but after Ed’s death it was easy--too easy--to collapse and retreat into that other world myself. It was too great a temptation. I had to somehow stand on this side of the veil and accept, slowly and by degrees, that Ed was truly dead, regardless of what I believed being dead really meant—and in spite of an absence growing so palpable that it had texture and form all its own.
In an ironic twist, Ed’s death impacted my worldview in a way that made me less open to synchronicity, less willing to embrace messages from beyond.  It was so much easier to believe in the numinous when it wasn’t tied to such an integral, fundamental loss.
“Did you get the CD?” my customer relations manager, Jenny, asked later in the day.
That was from you,” I responded, curiously. “Yes," she nodded, embarrassed. Then she explained:
“I am a huge Jackson Browne fan. But I hadn’t heard this one song in ages, and it kept coming on nearly every time I got in the car. And I kept thinking about you and Ed and I wanted to give it to you. But I didn’t think I knew you well enough, so I said no. But the thought wouldn't go away. It was very persistent. . .So I finally just put the CD on the table for you. And then I felt like I had done what I was supposed to."
A short while later, after clocking out at the end of my shift, I sat in the car, listening to “Sky Blue and Black”:
"Sky Blue And Black"
In the calling out to one another
Of the lovers up and down the strand
In the sound of the waves and the cries
Of the seagulls circling the sand
In the fragments of the songs
Carried down the wind from some radio
In the murmuring of the city in the distance
Ominous and low
I hear the sound of the world where we played
And the far too simple beauty
Of the promises we made
If you ever need holding
Call my name, I'll be there
If you ever need holding
And no holding back, I'll see you through
Sky blue and black
Where the touch of the lover ends
And the soul of the friend begins
There's a need to be separate and a need to be one
And a struggle neither wins
Where you gave me the world I was in
And a place I could make a stand
I could never see how you doubted me
When I'd let go of your hand
Yeah, and I was much younger then
And I must have thought that I would know
If things were going to end
And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it'll never fold back
Sky blue and black
And I'd have fought the world for you
If I thought that you wanted me to
Or put aside what was true or untrue
If I'd known that's what you needed
What you needed me to do
But the moment has passed by me now
To have put away my pride
And just come through for you somehow
If you ever need holding
Call my name, I'll be there
If you ever need holding
And no holding back, I'll see you through
You're the color of the sky
Reflected in each store-front window pane
You're the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
Sky blue and black
I listened, again and again, to Jackson’s beautiful ballad; in his lyrics I could hear my own longing, feel the irretrievable loss and separation Ed’s death created. But there was also a level of acceptance— even hope— bound together with the pain. It occurred to me that maybe Jenny’s persistent thought wasn’t Ed speaking to Jenny so much as much as her subtle response to the quavering of my fragile, broken-open heart, restless in its search for clarity and for an answer to the silent question that I could rest upon and trust.
Regardless, to be met in the inner chamber by such a reply, was truly stunning.  
Still, it took yet another synchronicity--an encounter with the writings of psychotherapist and grief counselor Ashley Davis Bush (who I discovered in the death/dying section of the bookstore) to help me begin accepting Ed’s continuing role in my life, including these loosely held postmortem experiences— in spite of emotional fragility, as well as the finality of death itself.
As Ashley explains (in her essay “Grief and the Myth of Closure” and book Transcending Loss:)
“In losing someone dear to us, it’s important to remember that the relationship itself is not over.  Death cannot take away the love that weaves its way through every fiber of our being.  Love will always triumph over death in this regard.  We want to hold our cherished memories close to our heart, recognizing that our love is an essential part of us.
Your grief will become incorporated into your life history, become a part of your identity. And you will continue now, and forever, to redefine your relationship with your deceased loved one.  Death doesn’t end the relationship, it simply forges a new type of relationship – one based not on physical presence but on memory, spirit, and love.”
Sitting in my car that afternoon, in the early months of life with Ed in death, I embodied this new relationship. Already I was fully immersed in this continuing, evolving conversation, with me longing for Ed and Ed in “memory, spirit and love” returning--letter by letter, lyric by lyric--to me.
Curious about an Incarnational perspective on life after death? Take a look at Bridges: Death and Dying, a self-study module taught by David Spangler. For questions or comments, please email or visit our Facebook page.