Being Open

When your child dies your world is blown up; the trauma, the tragedy, the missing, the disbelief, all swirl into your being.  You don’t have a choice; these all become part of you and your life.

After Christopher died I was in shock for three months.  I felt like I was living in a jar separated from the rest of the world.  Despite my shock and overwhelming sadness, I intuitively knew “I wanted to live!”  I was not going to kill myself.  I had so many other reasons to be alive.  I needed to be strong for my daughter, who is alive.  I enjoy a very close family; I want always to be there for them.  I was “in love” with Gary and was loved back.  I wanted to be part of and experience it all.

I also knew I did not want to have another child.  Christopher was irreplaceable.  And I was getting older.  I was forty-one and did not want to bring a baby into the world in the aftermath of Christopher’s death.

Even though I functioned fairly well, for a long time after Christopher’s death, my thinking was slow.  I was very aware of this thick see-through coating, which was the result of deep shock and intense grief.  When it lifted, it felt like a long deep breath.  I felt lighter.  I was so grateful to be aware and know I was recovering, just a little bit.

When your world is blown up, you notice more.  I became hyper-sensitive to everything.  I had always appreciated the important moments in life and had a solidly grounded perspective.  Now, in addition, I became very aware of how precious our time together is.  Small moments of joy gave me hope and I looked for “comfort” in any place that offered—even though I didn’t always take the offer.

Many parents who have been through the trauma of losing a child come to a realization of what is important to them and become more open to pursuing what matters.  They no longer allow the small stresses to ruin their day.  Instead, they want to enter fully significant moments.  Some garden, some volunteer, some spend more time with their elderly parents, and some begin writing.  Embracing the new activity comes from a desire to see and feel joy from wherever possible.

In addition to realizing how precious every moment of life is, I grew open to unconventional experiences, moments and thoughts.  When something unexpected happened, I didn’t try to push it away.  Instead, I embraced what came my way.

A couple of weeks before Christopher was killed, Michael, a friend of my mother’s (who had passed many years before) was in my neighbor’s yard doing landscape design.  I invited him over for coffee.  As we chatted, I learned that his partner’s (his partner has passed) parent’s home, which they had bought from my mother in Bolinas–where I had lived until first grade–was open for a major remodel.  He arranged for me to see the house.  I had not been back since I was a small child.  We made a date in a couple of week’s time.

This turned out to be my first trip out of my own home after Christopher had been murdered, and I felt like my mother had arranged the meeting.  After seeing the house, I felt compelled to call and visit some other friends of my mother’s, in Tomales Bay.  Amazingly, they had years of her journals, which I didn’t even know existed (my mother had died 21 years earlier).  Before she died, my mother had told me to be in touch with these friends, and it had taken me all these years to listen.  When these friends gave me my mother’s journals, I had the feeling she had planned things that way.

Perhaps my most comforting “vision,” came to me after the sheriff arrived to tell me Christopher had been murdered: I saw Christopher falling into my mother’s arms.  She was sitting with her best friend, Shirley, who had died recently.  This vision was not a surprise; my mother strongly believed in the “other side’ and felt if it was “really important,” communication was possible.  Then, that evening I was in bed alone and had another vision.  This time it was Christopher hovering in the corner of the room like an angel. “Mom, I am fine,” he said.  Seeing this helped me relax and fall asleep.  There was no doubt in my mind it was Christopher.

I am not alone in having these unusual experiences.  I have had conversations with many parents who tell me about “other worldly” events after their child passes.  I remember two parents in my Compassionate Friends ( group whose son was a DJ.  The night he died, after the hospital ordeal, his parents were settled in bed and all his DJ equipment suddenly came on.  It was his way of sending his parents a message.

I understand that even reading about these experiences may push boundaries for some people.  Before Christopher’s death, I was not aware of these moments and these possibilities.  It took the death of my son for me to see and accept such happenings.  My husband, Gary also opened up to this expanded universe.  He and I even shared one such moment.

We were driving on the California coast, and pulled over to take a walk on the beach.  Just as I was starting to get out of the car, Gary said, “Wait. I don’t like this parking spot; I am going to move.”  There were no cars in front of us or behind, but we changed spots.  Just as we did, a driver ran off the road – exactly where we had been minutes earlier.  We think he fell asleep.  He woke up and corrected in time to save himself, but if we had not moved our car, there would have been a terrible accident.  When this happened, Gary and I looked at each other and both said, “Christopher!”

One year, (they blend together) Christopher’s friend Gideon, who had been very close to him, called me.  He said “I had a dream and Christopher told me I had to come and see you right way!”  Gideon shared that he had come because he felt like I was in trouble and needed help from him.  But as soon as he saw me, he knew the reason he had come was for himself.  His life was full of great difficulties and he needed to be with me.

Another year after Christopher was murdered; Gary and I took a guided hike out to Point Bonita Lighthouse near the Golden Gate Bridge.  Our docent was very informed and we were having a really good time.  His name tag had been hidden, but when it was uncovered, I realized that this was a friend of my mother’s whom I had been searching for!!  Tom is now part of our family; he and his partner have Thanksgiving with us every year (smile).

Most of these extraordinary events took place when I was alone or with a loved one.  Then in 2008, Karen Peterson, a medium who specializes in the bereaved, offered a group of parents the opportunity to meet with her (  My daughter and I attended.

We all sat with Karen in a large circle in a community room.  She began by explaining that she believes that when a person passes, his/her energy vibrations change from slow to fast.  To communicate with the other side, we must speed up our energy vibrations, while those who have passed must slow down theirs.  To align those of us in the circle, Karen meditated for a few minutes, then opened her eyes and told us that those who have passed are always with us, “So if you think they are communicating with you, they are.”

“There are three ways I connect with your loved ones,” Karen further explained.  “Your loved ones come to me visually, which is clairvoyant.  They also come auditorially, which is clairaudiant and I also can feel them, which is clairsentiant.”

Once Karen explained this to us, she said, “There are so many kids behind me who want to get in here tonight, I hope we have time for them all.”  Then she turned her head and announced, “There’s a young woman here who misses leaving notes in the jewelry box for her mother.”

This kind of message is called a validation; it helps people know it is their child or loved one who is present.  The information it offers is something only the parent or loved on would know.  In this case, the mother, who was present, and her daughter, who was deceased, used to communicate by leaving notes in the mother’s jewelry box when she was not home.  When Karen spoke, the young woman’s mother and father knew immediately that their daughter was present.  Their daughter had died as a result of years of self-abuse (drug and alcohol) and wanted to thank her parents for never giving up on her.  She also said to them that there was noting more they could have done, that she loved them dearly and wanted them not to feel guilty.

Christopher showed up near the end of the session, with his ever-present humor.  But even before he showed up, I had begun feeling very graceful and patient, realizing that if Christopher did not communicate with us that evening, I would still be fulfilled because the smile on the other parents’ faces made me so happy.

As I sat listening, feeling quiet and reflective, Karen asked, “Who here has a connection to chocolate milkshakes?”

Christina and I laughed.  It was Christopher; we used to have contests to see who could make the best chocolate milkshakes (secret is a dash of nutmeg).

“I don’t care if you gain 20 pounds,” Karen relayed.  “You haven’t had a milkshake since I died.  Go have one.”

“This one is real funny!” Karen said.  “That means he is very comfortable where he is.”

Then, “Was there something about an argument?” Karen asked.

Christina shared that the last time she saw Christopher they argued.

“Is he holding on to that?” she asked.

“Of course not; let it go,” Christopher assured through Karen.

Then Karen asked, “Is there an important person named Beth, maybe on this side?”

“Yes, that is my mother on earth,” I replied.

This is a validation point,” Karen confirmed.

Is his name written on something with a bear?  Karen asked.

“The quilt I had made about his life,” I answered.

“That means a lot to him, really.”  Then Karen asked, “Who is writing?”

Christina responded that she journaled in the months after Christopher was killed.

“That’s not it.”  Karen replied.

”I’ve been working on an essay for a year,” I told Karen.

Through Karen, Christopher told me, “Keep writing and I will be with you.  This will help people and that is your purpose.  It is very important that you keep doing it.”

The very next evening, Gary and I went out and had chocolate milkshakes and toasted Christopher.  They tasted delicious!

Christopher continues to be very present in my life.  Recently, I had a health scare.  I was rushed for a biopsy, then had to wait for several days to learn the results.  The waiting was very hard.  During that time, I had a dream one night that I was on the phone with Christopher.  I said “What are you doing?”

He replied, “Thinking about catching a plane to Honolulu.”

“Why don’t you just come home?” I asked. Then I felt someone standing by my bedside.  I opened my eyes from a very deep sleep and Christopher was there.  “Thank you!” I screamed, waking up Gary and the cat with a start “It was Christopher!”  I told him.

After that, I knew the biopsy was going to be fine.  And it was.

One of the gifts with death for me is that I have become receptive to whatever may come my way.  I feel like I have open arms and that my willingness to receive will give my life more choice and gifts.  If I could change one thing in my life, I would ask for my son back, but I know that is not possible.  So I wish to live as well as I possibly can and help others along my way.