Afraid to die

Every now and again, and often, it seems, when I’m most discouraged, I’ll suddenly get an email from a total stranger, telling me how much my books have affected their life. As if the Universe is trying to encourage me. It’s always surprising. And humbling. I’m made aware each time of how the angels, spirits, guides, gods and goddesses, totems and devas, are manipulating time and space, to bring us our dreams and the desires of our hearts. “Buck up,” they say.

    I don’t think I was the only little girl to have pondered unanswerable questions:  Who was I before I was born? How did I ever end up on this planet of suffering and sorrow and joy and love? Or, most often: What happens when you die? Now I have to tell you I know a number of people who announce with conviction that the answer is “Nothing.” Nothing happens. The corpse is tossed underground or onto the fire, and that’s it.  It’s over. Think black void.  

     But even as a child I could see that my beautiful cat, now dead, was no longer inside her body. Something had “left.” Walked out. The Greeks called it the Psyche, George Bernard Shaw called it the Life Force, and most western religions name it the Soul. Or maybe it’s the Buddhist “I” that is observing our beautiful world and noticing the miracles and marvels around us (a tulip thrusting up in spring, the hawk in flight, the wind in the high branches of the bare winter trees that hardly touches you walking down below. . . . Such beauty.) And also that observes ourselves. Who is this “I?”  Is it possible that we really are cared for? Are there truly spiritual guides loving and adoring us, who think we are beautiful? 

     Well, here is one recent letter, and you can decide for yourself where you stand and how much you trust that cavalries of angels are riding to our help, that we have some purpose to our lives and that we go somewhere when we shed the body and (so-called) “die.”  The fact that communication so often comes in the shape of butterflies or birds should not surprise us: Don’t we, too, remember when we once could fly?  (I’m sorry I can’t find how to insert “read more.” I can no longer find the icon that allows it, much less how to add a photo, now that I’ve been upgraded mysteriously.)

Dear Sophy ~

Having worked as a doctor in a New York City hospital for 30+ years, I have been around death a lot – especially during the AIDS epidemic, when I sat at the bedside of many dying children and teenagers, and the mystery of dying has always intrigued me.

If I may, I’d like to share two near-death stories with you.

The first one is about my husband Charles. He was scheduled to have a titanium “stent” placed in his heart to increase his heart’s longevity. This is usually a simple and speedy procedure, and the surgeon who was to perform it, knowing that I was a fellow physician, had invited me to “scrub up” and observe the proceedings, which I was delighted to do. But minutes later, things went terribly wrong. Charles’ heart suddenly stopped beating, and the overhead monitoring devices began screaming their loud alarms.

I was immediately asked to leave the room so that resuscitation activities could begin. Out in the hallway a strange silence seemed to hang in the air. It felt as if time had stopped, waiting for an irreversible decision to be made.

And then, suddenly, the sound of the cardiac surgeon’s voice echoed down the hall. I leapt to my feet with joy! My beloved husband was fine! In fact, he was more than fine, for while his medical attendants were working on his body, he had gone on an adventure of his own, being drawn down a dark tunnel, at the end of which he was greeted by several “advisors” who told him that it wasn’t his time to die yet, for he still had important work to do on Earth before his final departure. And indeed, Charles has acquired a strong desire to assist others in many different ways.

The second story is about my parents. My father was a surgeon, and I grew up hearing him rushing out the door in the middle of the night, again and again, to help people who were seriously ill or injured. Meanwhile, my mother was a kind and caring person who enjoyed helping our many neighbors, and I loved her deeply.

When she developed pancreatic cancer, I took a leave from my hospital work to be with her, as I knew she didn’t have long to live, with such a serious diagnosis.

Then one night, she called me to her bedside, where I found her in tears. She reached for my hand, and, holding it tight in hers, confided that she was afraid to die.

I wanted very much to reassure her that there was nothing to be afraid of, but she was clearly overcome by her fear. Suddenly, an intriguing idea came to me. “Maybe you could send me a sign of some kind, to let me know if I was right about not needing to be afraid, Mom. I’ve heard that birds can sometimes deliver messages, and you’ve certainly been a friend of birds, what with all the bird-feeders you’ve maintained in your yard. I bet one of them would be happy to do that if you asked!”

She looked at me oddly, not knowing whether to take me seriously or not. “We’ll see,” she murmured. Then my mother closed her eyes, and that was the last thing she said. She passed away that very night. And, interestingly, my father, who liked to boast that he’d never been sick a day in his life, died the very next night. Out of nowhere, he suddenly developed acute lymphatic leukemia, and in two days he was gone. I couldn’t help but feel that he was rushing off to catch up with her!

When Charles and I finished taking care of their affairs, including selling their house to some neighbors who were delighted to acquire it, we got on the next plane we could find that was going close to where we currently live. In a short time we were tumbling into bed, and minutes later we were sound asleep. 

But not for long. Just as dawn was breaking, we were woken up by an 

insistent tapping on one of the two windows that flank our queen-sized bed—to be precise, the window on my side of the bed. There, to our amazement, was a small bird fluttering repeatedly up and down and pecking on the window with its beak, stopping occasionally to sit on the sill and peer into our bedroom, as if to make sure we were paying attention. After about ten minutes it departed, only to reappear the next morning for a repeat of this performance – and then the next morning, and the next and the next. Each time, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “I can’t believe this is happening!”

As days turned into weeks and then into months, with no apparent intention of the bird to stop these visitations, we began to worry that the poor thing might exhaust itself in its efforts to get our attention, so we tried taping a large beach towel over the window, preventing the bird from looking in and theoretically dispelling whatever odd fixation it had. But this strategy did nothing to deter the bird: the determined little creature simply flew to the window on Charles’ side of the bed, where it continued its determined tapping. One day, the bird even brought a flock of friends who perched in a tree close by, chirping excitedly as “our” bird perched on our window sill and tapped away.

And every day I repeated the same six words: I can’t believe this is happening! It became like a mantra for me.

Finally, some friends to whom we had been describing this mysterious behavior suggested that we try speaking with an “animal communicator”, and though we had never heard of such a profession before, we immediately set up an appointment. When the day came, we said nothing about my mother or ourselves, not wanting to influence her perception of what was going on.

She listened closely, then asked us to wait while she “connected” with the bird. A moment later, she exclaimed, “Why, yes, I can feel how strongly this bird is drawn to you. How strange!”

She paused, then continued with surprise in her voice, “But wait, I’m sensing another presence here too – a human presence! I’ve never dealt with humans, but this presence is saying that she’s your mother! Could that be true?

Astounded, I said, “Well, yes, I guess it could. My gosh, I can hardly believe this is happening. But can you tell me this: why is the bird still coming after all this time? I don’t want the poor thing to get totally exhausted and not be able to live its own natural life.

The answer the animal communicator got was immediate: “What you just said is exactly the issue. The reason the bird is still coming to you is because you haven’t fully believed what is happening!

Suddenly, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of my mother’s love. My heart opened wide in response, and all my stubborn doubts melted away. I was finally able to take in her amazing gift of reaching out to me from another dimension to let me know that all was well with her. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks, and inwardly I heard myself saying, “Thank you Mom, thank you! I love you!”

The next day, I awoke just as dawn was breaking and found myself automatically listening for the familiar tapping, but alas, it didn’t come. Sadly, but rightly, the little bird never returned. It’s mission had been accomplished.

As an expression of thanks, Charles and I maintain several bird feeders in our yard, where many different kinds of birds partake of our offerings on a daily basis, just as they did in Mom’s yard.

If you have any thoughts about these two stories, I’d love to hear from you.”

And if you, dear reader, have any thoughts or want to share your own experiences, I, would love to hear from you.  I have no doubts anymore: but I admit I’m not ready yet to die. I don’t want to leave this beautiful planet or the people that we are given to care for, and to love. Sophy

4 thoughts on “Afraid to die

  1. This is that author I did a phone reading with. She wrote that book on angels I lent to you. Enjoy the read.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Sophy,
    Loved your NY Times article on Sensuality and Aging as well as the above on Afraid to Die. ..I can identify with most of what you have written and though I have a few years on you, can still identify with them. There is a need for women our age to educate others as well as to have someone to share similar experiences with. Even with the pandemic, it is possible to share face to face, covered and distanced….much easier than on line. Would like to talk. It’s been a while.
    Nancy

  3. Thank you for this, Sophy. On the eve and the day of our memorial service for her, my mother let me know, in the most wondrous way, that her powerful spirit was present and in command. She has come to me again over the years, most always on my birthday. And when I visited my father’s grave, forty-some years after he died, I heard his voice. I need to find a time to tell these stories. We have souls, we are spirit; love lives on.

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