Encounter with the Beloved Dead


For Grievers

I had an encounter with my friend Chris while out walking on Monday morning. What makes this unusual is that Chris has been dead for nearly two years now.

It is not the first visitation that I’ve had from Chris. In August 2021, she appeared to me in a dream that I recorded and wrote about on the Soul Path Sanctuary blog

Here’s the dream: “I am sitting in a VW Bug, one of the classic 1960s models with two doors. Outside I see a rather gray landscape. Not an immediate storm, but maybe its aftermath. There is a shadowy figure off in the distance that I am suspicious of. I want to take a nap, and so to protect myself I have to lock the doors. I depress the lock button on the first door and then test to make sure it has taken hold. It hasn’t. I have to try again. This time I secured the door. I am able to lock the other door, too, and start to drift off to sleep. Still in the dream, I wake up to find one door opening, but it is not anyone to be afraid of. It is my beloved friend Chris who died in June of 2020. She smiles and I smile.”

And from my reflections in 2021: “I was delighted to have this first dream visitation from Chris. I immediately thought of how I had locked the doors, but that didn’t stop her from entering. Fortunately, our beloved dead are persistent in contacting us even when we put up barriers.

As I wrote the post and was thinking of Chris, I remembered that she was a healer, a nurse. She worked in the maternity ward ushering new life into the world. An idea washed over me: the dead want to help us birth new life out of all the death we are experiencing at this time. Having traveled from Life into Death, they know how to make a great transition, how to surrender familiar forms like the body, how to shape shift into something new. I imagine they see us struggling with the changes we must make to confront the climate crisis, bring an end to war, organize our institutions around empathy instead of power and greed. So they break through the barriers we have set up against them to be with us”

On Monday, I wasn’t asleep when I became aware of Chris. I was walking. I took my usual route for a morning walk out of my house over the bike path, and through the Brookside Cemetery. At the far end of the cemetery, there is a path that runs along a pond’s steep edge through pine trees and, further out, alongside marsh. 

There is one spot at a dip by the shore across from the marsh where I always think of Chris. In the days after her death I walked there frequently remembering her and offering a prayer for her on the journey out of Life into Death. Mountain laurel sits on the shore and a few cattails grow out of the water. Although Chris and I didn’t visit this place together, I find myself feeling her presence whenever I pause in this spot. 

A windstorm brought down an oak tree at some point last autumn and the decaying branches are falling over Chris’ spot. The laurel still stands but the site is disturbed. I’ve been dismayed to have the peace of the place broken, but also appreciated how the upheaval mirrored the world we find ourselves in right now.

I turned to go back and a friend approached—one very much alive. We chatted about feeling the hopeful energy of spring stirring within us even as we remained aware of the horrors of war, pandemic death, divisions, and challenges. 

My friend talked about how wonderful the marsh is. She told me that she once kayaked right through this marsh and encountered 2 huge snapping turtles coupling in the water. She said it was quite the sight to see, “like 2 VW Bugs mating.” She also shared that female snapping turtles can store sperm for up to 3 years until they find the right place to lay their eggs. 

We said our goodbyes and I walked away with the vivid image of the VW Bugs. How synchronistic to have it appear right in the spot where I connect with Chris. I was thinking of the VW Bug not only of the dream from last year, but also the VW Bug that Chris drove when we were in college together.  She loved that Bug despite its lack of heat—she got frostbite at least once driving around in Vermont winters—and everyone associated it with her. I don’t think Chris possessed my friend nor was there causal logic to the communication, But too many details aligned in a beautiful pattern to not honor this as a waking visitation from Chris.  Once again, she has persisted in reaching out to me.

Was she bringing a message? I can’t say the dead speak in the same kind of language as we living—their alphabet now springs from the vastness of the Beyond—but the story of the turtles issues me a call: serve life, create the new. That this call comes from a disturbed area encourages me to believe that it is not too late to offer this service to life and creation. It’s a springtime message of active hope. If we do the hard work of birthing—that snapping turtles do, that Chris did in her work as nurse—then we can bring forth renewal. It’s never too late to serve life. 

Chris didn’t give me a three-point plan of what to do. Probably because there is no one “solution”,” maybe even nothing to do that we are not already doing. The message coming through Chris could instead be a cheering on of those things we are already doing to serve life. Maybe a nudge to do them in a little bigger way or to share a little more widely. There could be an admonishment to keep going despite our fears, uncertainties, or belief that we are not doing enough. Individually we can never do enough so no need to evaluate our individual actions with the criteria of enoughness. It is only when we join together that we can do the enough and the more and what is needed.  

Joining with the living to serve life and create anew is so important, but Chris’ visitation sparks in me the belief that we would do well to join with our beloved dead. To open to their energy. To seek their support for the great changes we need to make. My experiences have shown me that they are willing to be called upon. They would love to be part of the possible impossible of bringing life out of the so much death of the now.

As I walked out of the cemetery, birds were flocking. I thought robins, but a bright blue flash caught my eye. It was bluebirds that were perched in the branches and alighting on the gravestones. Bluebirds are symbolic of joy and all birds serve as messengers between the worlds. As I walked home I felt joy in my heart and gratitude for the persistence of Chirs and all my beloved dead in my life. 

FYI, I am offering a four-part virtual series, Listening for the Beloved Dead, on Saturdays in April focused on prompts for practice for tuning into the presence of our beloved dead in our lives. 

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