My current project is a series of pieces woven of memoir, poems, and actionable tips for cultivating a loving flow between the living and the dead. The excerpt comes from the first essay in the series, Speak Soul to Soul: Communicating with the Beloved Dead. The full essay with the background info about how I found my way to these practices following the death of my partner John in 2012 is available as a downloadable PDF.
There are rich traditions for connecting with the beloved dead and the ancestors. You may want to investigate some practices, starting with a tradition with which you have a cultural connection. My suggestions here are more about a mindset—or, rather, heartset—to cultivate and support connection with your beloved dead. They are not specific to any tradition but inspired by my wide reading about such practices. Because it has inspired me, I, of course, have suggestions connected to the Tarot, which, as a physical object, has a European origin, but through its symbols and images draws from global cultures across time.
Be aware of the small, the odd, the weird, and the wild all around you.
As we rush about, there is so much we miss. Our busy consumer culture would rather we bought some item rather than find solace within let alone connection to the spirit world (spirits never buy anything). When you move more slowly and look at the little details occurring around you, you might notice the two dragonflies hovering together are above two lotus flowers and below two crows flying high in the sky gliding back and forth, their swoops seeming to overlap. And then to say to yourself, “Jeez, that’s a lot of partners.” Perhaps this is a mirror being offered of the world beyond shining into the physical world, catching our attention and reminding us of continued connection.
Let your imagination lead …
Your rational mind might say “So what” to the small experiences around you, or it might try to stir up feelings of fear and doubt so you’ll rush on. That’s normal for the society in which we live. Just let these thoughts and feelings flow through you. No need to crush them. In fact, you’ll need the rational when you are going through many other parts of your life, but just not here. The imagination is your guide here. Once the doubt of the rational mind has passed through, let yourself ask and muse on: Ok, but why is this catching my attention? How could this be significant? Could this be a message? What is the message? Let a whole stream of possibilities move through you and take comfort in the generous flow.
… and your heart receive.
Open up your heart to even the most imaginative and strangest messages. That wild message could be a break in the boundary between this world and the next. Let that break be an opening for love flow to you from the other world, and for you to send your love back. Remember that love always flows both ways. Be both a received and a sender.
Find a talisman, or two or three or, really, as many as you want.
The talisman is something in the physical world that keeps calling your awareness back to your ongoing connection to the beloved dead. The talismans facilitate your noticing of synchronicities and tuning into messages. When you tend them regularly (i.e. as you would do a spiritual practice or follow through on a gym commitment), they support you to experience the greater patterns in which we exist and that stretch from this world into the beyond. Almost anything can serve as a talisman if it has meaning for you. The object itself is not of utmost importance, but rather the awareness it invites. Here are some examples to prompt your search for a talisman that fits for you:
An everyday object – The object can be very mundane. A woman once told me that whenever she comes across dimes—randomly found, which happened to her surprisingly often—she feels like it is her mother reaching out to her. An essayist wrote about how she often saw the type of car her late husband drove at significant moments.
A particular unusual occurrence – Strange happenings with lights is commonly reported by people after the death of a loved one. A special song playing on the radio as you are thinking of your person certainly stirs the heart. And you’ve already heard about my bathroom drain account. Maybe there is something odd happening in your life that echoes something of how your beloved was in life.
Special encounters with creatures – I met a woman with a hummingbird tattoo, and when I admired it, she sheepishly told me that they were special to her because she began seeing them regularly after her mother died. Many traditions identify birds as well as dragonflies and rabbits as messengers between the worlds. One of these creatures— either in physical form or through images—may suddenly show up for you, or a different creature special to your beloved may appear in interesting ways in your life.
Tarot and Oracle Cards – For me, Tarot and oracle cards are effective talismans because I have a relationship with them. If you already have or want to develop a relationship with these tools, they are talismans that you can use regularly to tend your connection. As I’ve described in the stories above, I found cards that when they pop up offer a special meaning related to John, and I take them out into the world to guide me toward messages. I also created a card with John as the main figure. When our local group created a collaborative Tarot, I used a picture of John facing the ocean to create the Knight of Cups. I always tuck it into my latest traveling notebook to have it close by.
Spend time by yourself … but not all your time by yourself.
When they were alive, you probably had times when it was just the two of you. Solitary time then is making yourself available just to them in that same way. Without the distractions of others, the subtle feelings of presence or of messages have more of an opportunity to be felt. You just might find that when you are by yourself, but you are not alone. Of course, as in life, you have relationships with others that you don’t want to neglect. We don’t want to use our on-going connection to the beloved dead to get in the way of our relationships with the living.
Recognize that communication varies soul to soul and may change over time.
As you can see from the stories above, my communication with John ranged from surprisingly clear and direct to just a sense of invisible presence. Who can say for sure, but perhaps this was because he died suddenly with much unsaid, or because he was a real talker in life. Or maybe both. Your beloved may be a different type of soul or have had a different death experience that impacts communication. A friend of mine visited a medium after her mother’s death from a long illness, and the medium said, “Oh no, she can’t speak now. She’s regenerating in the light.” If it takes a while to make a connection or the communication you’ve come to know seems to stop, don’t assume it will never come again or that it has ended. Messages between the worlds might be the ultimate snail mail, moving not on clock time, but in the flow of the eternal, where, I imagine, Nothing and No One hurries. And just as we change in life, my experiences have shown me that the dead change, too, including how they communicate. We need to evolve alongside them.
Receive what you’ve been sent.
There is the possibility that you will have strong and clear feelings and messages. Let those rare gifts fill your heart with gratitude. But more likely and most often, there will be just a fleeting wondering. What was that? Did I just feel them near? Receive that, too, with gratitude as a continuation of your connection. And as you immerse that ragged wisp of wondering in your gratitude, it might just grow. No matter the magnitude, you’ve been given a gift. It won’t bring your beloved back into the body you knew, but it feeds the flow between you.
All of this won’t bring them back. They—and us, too—are forever altered. And in that alteration, we have to create a new relationship to keep in connection. To remake a relationship in life is hard, so why would it be any easier in death? Like any relationship, time and tending and trust are required.
The new relationship will be strange. Many in our living circles will not understand, but would we trade their approval for this relationship? I wouldn’t. And after all, wasn’t there a strangeness to your living relationship? To be strange is also to be unique, and each partnering is unique.
The strange relationship will be a mixture of equal parts constant connection and never touching. Like the poet Ilyse Kusnetz wrote in lines written shortly before her death. “I’ll always be watching you go. You’ll always be / headed toward me.”
Always. Forever. Without end. These are the words of pledges made to our beloveds. Always is a blade slicing an opening between the worlds. Forever is a knot tying Life to Death. Without end is the shape of our love. And this is how we go on.
If you would like more background about how I arrived at these practices, you can download the whole essay Speak Soul to Soul: Communicating with the Beloved Dead. There is also a piece on the practice of creating an Eternity Box to make the first—or second or tenth—anniversary of a death. I am close to finishing the next piece, 49 Days and the Green Door of Death; be sure to be on my list to hear about when new pieces come out.