Last week I went to Elizabeth’s Art Gallery in Goderich, Ontario, to have one of my paintings framed. While choosing the right frame, I learned that Elizabeth’s mother has been on life support for the last two months. It is painful to see a loved one suffer and not being able to help. One can see it in Elizabeth’s tired face, or for that reason in any caretaker’s face.
I picked up my painting, framed and ready to go, only two days later. Elizabeth would have all the reasons in the world to postpone a task, but she keeps working to have all her custom orders fulfilled in a timely manner. It’s a time of pushing the “auto pilot button.” I’ve been there. – I sent my painting off to a show in Vancouver since, but I can’t get Elizabeth and her mother and father out of my head. It’s a time I hold them in prayer. Is that enough?
I still find it difficult to know of other people’s pain and not being able to ease it. After my NDE (near death experience) eighteen years ago, I wanted to take away everyone’s pain and it took me years to learn that this is not possible and not even beneficial. The pain we suffer affects also other people, usually loved ones. Sometimes the pain we humans inflict on others is cruel and yet we all do it willingly or unwillingly in the one or other form. Pain, unfortunately, is part of our journey here on Earth. Our soul seems to grow through it.
A long time ago I wrote down the experience of my NDE, which I had hours after giving birth to my daughter, Emily. Naturally, I wrote it first and foremost for Emily, but also because I’d learned that there was actually a term (NDE) for this kind of paranormal experience and that there were even books out by people recounting their story. The fact that there were other people who have had a similar experience and to learn that such thing had happened to humans all over the world, to people from different cultural backgrounds and different believes and also at all times in history was liberating and confusing at the same time.
At first I refused to read other people’s near death recounts. I wanted to keep my experience unique and pure and to myself, and I certainly didn’t want to take chances to have it mixed up with somebody else’s story. But eventually I became interested in some of these books, and I made sure to first pen my story down to keep my experience purely mine.
The following version (still purely mine) was written years later, responding to a call by Rev. Peter B. Panagore, author of “Heaven is Beautiful,” for another of his books. Though the story of my NDE might be included in his book, I decided to post it here on my blog as well. The reason for this is that my “baby girl” has left her nest and stands pretty good on her own two feet. My job I asked to come back for is therefore done, and I can’t be sure when I’ll be called home again. But who really can?
So don’t get alarmed, I’m well and I’m enjoying life, but while I have the chance, I’d like to bear witness for God’s miracles. Elizabeth told me in a tired voice when I asked about her mom two days later, “there are no good news.” I responded, not to say that. There’s always hope! – Over the years I have been guided to find ways of helping people recover from health issues, though I’m far from being a doctor; others I have helped to die. While death is beautiful, dying not so much. It can be long, terrifying and painful, and nobody should ever be left alone on this journey.
We all suffer. We all get impatient. I’d like to urge you (and yes, me, too!) to be a little gentler and more compassionate especially when you don’t feel like it, to look for the bigger picture, and to not take yourself so important. We all merely know what we are doing and go by as good as we can. Be patient with yourself and with others. Then we’ve already won a lot. God bless you, no matter your faith.
Before I go on and tell you my story, I’d like to include Richard Rohr’s contemplative text from October 17, 2018 in my post. I found it quite suitable.
From the Center for Action and Contemplation
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.
Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history. The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. Even the Buddha said that suffering is part of the deal!
We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this. We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.
As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross or, as in Michelangelo’s Pietà cradling Jesus’ body. One would expect her to take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t! We must reflect on this deeply. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. It’s as if she is saying, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.
Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath the cross are classic images of transformative spirituality. They do not return the hostility, hatred, accusations, or malice directed at them. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery of Christianity. It takes our whole life to begin to comprehend this. It tends to be the wisdom of elders, not youngers.
Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to try to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.
Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 199, 120-121. Image credit: Tunnel, Anton Atanasov.
BEAUTY AND TERROR
By Antje Martens-Oberwelland
I always thought I could tolerate pain fairly well. Not that I enjoyed pain, but in my birth family one learned to bite their teeth together and suffer in silence. However, when on July 30th 2000 for the second time that day another wave of seizures rolled in, there was so much anxiety mixed with the memories of my most recent pains, that even I, stoic as I liked to appear, couldn’t stand it anymore. A swooshing sound boomed through my ears, my vision became blurry, cold sweat on my forehead made me feel chilly, and I knew I would lose control over my body any second.
“Help me,” I cried out, trying to keep my baby safe. The night nurse sitting at a desk across from my bed rushed over, terror in her eyes, and quickly fetched my newborn from my trembling arms to place her back into her crib. Both of us hadn’t been aware that I wasn’t allowed to nurse after my seizures earlier that day. There had been a change of shifts and apparently the night nurse wasn’t familiar with my case other than that I’d delivered a baby that morning. I had been too exhausted to communicate much other than smile when my baby woke up of hunger and the nurse brought her to my bed.
Upon her pressing the alarm button, a second nurse rushed into the room and together the women tried to calm me by speaking to and gently holding me until the doctor, more nurses and also my husband arrived. The blood-measuring machine had been rolled back next to my bed and an inflatable cuff was placed around my right arm. I already knew the drill. Every five minutes the sleeve was mechanically pumped up, tightened around my upper arm, held the pressure for a moment to then collapse and release my artery for the blood to flow. This time around, my blood pressure rose even higher than during my earlier seizures, my body started to swell up like a balloon and the sleeve around my arm seemed to squeeze harder every time. I much anticipated the short moment when the air floated out of the sleeve, giving my arm a moment to relax. But minutes became seconds and soon I dreaded the buzzing sound when the machine started to pump up the cuff just as much as the actual pain. It became a torturous routine. I couldn’t protest or demand to have it stop as the doctor relied on the data and was busy trying to control my body functions. I knew that and I tried to cope. But how does one cope with an all-consuming pain when the mind has no way to detach?
“Are you still with me?” a voice asked.
“Yes.” I looked into the soft face of the doctor who had delivered my baby that morning and who had talked me through my first set of seizures in the afternoon.
“What do you feel?”
“My back hurts,” I responded.
“Okay. Turn her onto her side,” the doctor ordered.
A nurse gently rolled me onto my right side, while another nurse made sure my arm, wearing the inflatable cuff, was placed into a secure yet uncomfortable position.
“Better?” the doctor asked after some time.
“No. My arm aches terribly,” I moaned.
“Move her onto her left side then,” the doctor ordered.
I was rolled around, but the line connecting the cuff to the machine was barely long enough. Every once in a while I was rolled gently, but since it didn’t really help to give me more comfort, eventually the nurses quit doing so because the doctor needed them for other tasks. Another doctor came running into the room, asking what was going on. The nurse who had probably called him in the beginning filled him in and the two doctors exchanged measures. A while later a nurse whose face reminded me of that of a goat stormed in. I was immediately afraid of her, even more when I spotted the huge syringe she held in her hand. She disappeared in the crowd of nurses on the left side of my bed and a short time later I saw her leaving the room again.
“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.
“What do you feel?”
“Everywhere. My legs.”
I nodded. “And my arm.” I slowly turned my head to my right.
“Where does your back hurt?”
“Middle. As if – on fire.” My breaths were short and shallow.
“It’ll get better soon. We are trying to get your blood pressure down.”
I nodded. But it didn’t get better. My body fluids seemed to boil. My arm in what felt like a screw clamp hurt even worse and the mattress against my skin felt like a million razor blades cutting into my flesh. I was literary on fire, burning from my outside and boiling from my inside, similar to a pressure cooker but without a vent for the steam. The outer shell working against the inner volcano, created more and more tension and ever less room to breath.
I knew that the many white coats surrounding me like a wall, the many faces leaning over of my body, wanted to help, but nothing they did seemed to ease my pain. Why couldn’t they help me? It angered me to be so powerless. Was there really no escape to this overwhelming agony? Was I doomed to lay helpless in a hospital bed? Why? I searched the limited view around me. Where was I even? Why didn’t I know anybody? I didn’t belong there. Who were these people? Why were they talking in a language I didn’t understand? They scared me. What were they doing? Why was my body attacking itself? What was going on?
I couldn’t lay still anymore, I wiggled and moaned, but the cuff around my right arm held me in place and added to the pain I experienced in my back. I wanted to scream, perhaps I did. I wanted somebody to cut off my arm. Amputate it! Surely I could live without my right arm if only the pain stopped. It hurt too badly. It was too much to bear. Too overwhelming. The pain took over me. I became the pain.
No longer could I think of a time before this agony started. I had no past, no memories, no connections. I knew no home, no newborn, no husband, no family. Not even the hope of a future. Nothing was left but merciless pain.
Suddenly a new sensation: my entire body shook so hard so fast, it vibrated and lifted itself up. For a moment this gave me relief. I hovered about an inch above the mattress … wow … the perception made me feel light and surprised, almost amused – until I gasped for air for I couldn’t breath. I screamed to God to interfere, screamed for help, but I had no voice…
Then, I guess, I passed out. Or I was on the verge of dying. Or as my doctor thought, I fell asleep from exhaustion, because I didn’t respond anymore. Perhaps I entered into what was long assumed by neurologists as a fantasy created by the brain under high pressure. Whatever caused my paranormal or near-death-experience, I know for sure that I left my physical body in that hospital bed and experienced a different reality that felt more real than anything I ever experienced before or after that night between the 30th and the 31stof July 2000.
I admit that since I was a child I had occasionally visions, intuitions and many vivid dreams. I saw then and still see emotions, even numbers in color and have a photogenic memory. It took me a long time to understand that not everyone has that ability. However, what I experienced in that night was something entirely different. Visions and dreams fade with time, the details of my NDE though seem to get clearer the more time passes. I experienced something unlike anything we can experience on Earth, and therefore it is hard to put into words for all the words known to mankind fall short to express even faintly the beauty and wonder of my most fantastic glimpse into another world.
At some point when my blood pressure rose too high and my body vibrated so much that I got the feeling I hovered an inch over the mattress, when I had no voice and no breath left and screamed to God in silence to please interfere, it suddenly felt as if a hand, light as air, gently penetrated into my body sliding from the back of my neck along my spine and then lifted me – the essence of who I am – upwards through my chest area out of my pain-stricken body.
A darkness blacker than anything I have ever seen, gently surrounded me. Complete darkness has always scared me, but this blackness I welcomed as it embraced me and released me of my pain. Everything was so calm. There was simply nothing anymore. No pain, no sensation against my skin, no pressure, not even fear. A wonderful nothingness!
Of course, I had left my body and therefore had no skin or any organ that – from our understanding – is responsible for our senses, like the eyes for seeing, the ears for hearing, etc. I not even had a brain to process the information or memorize what I experienced, yet I can remember every little detail almost better than most things I remember from my physical human life.
When I’d never experienced a darkness so dark, the next thing I remember was that I was submerged in a light so brilliant and bright I have no words for it to describe. I think I have been somehow transported into that light, for I know I didn’t do anything to get there. I don’t remember having seen a tunnel or a faint light in the distance as people often describe, the light was all of a sudden there. It made me feel astonished and thrilled. A bright white with traces of violet and blue, like in a hot flame, and hues of gold and pink and faint yellow as well. It radiated warmth and love and filled everything, even the air. I remember I breathed in the freshest and purest air that I had ever filled my lungs with on Earth, clearer even than the air I breathed in the high mountains of the snowy Alps as a child, and I don’t know how I remember the air, because of course I had no lungs to fill, yet it felt like I breathed for the very first time. There was no doubt that I was in the presence of my Creator.
I was raised a Christian and in the Bible God is called our Father, therefore I will refer to our Creator as “He,” but really God has no gender and feels like a loving mother just as much.
Nothing what I experienced happened chronologically either, but perhaps all at once, I can’t tell. In Heaven there is no time, but here on Earth we are bound to time and therefore I need to tell my experience as if it happened one after the other.
God – I remember – this all-encompassing light, vibrating love and kindness and truth and understanding, called me by my name. My real name! A name He gave only me, His very own creation, and nobody else shares this same name and only God can pronounce it and when he does, it vibrates pure love. I didn’t hear His voice however. His voice rather resonated in me. Everything we communicated to each other was an exchange of energy. Telepathy perhaps. When He called me by my name, I felt He knew me deeper and better than I ever knew or understood myself. I became transparent in His presence, like a clear light bulb with a colorful core that reflects its hues on its surface similar to a soap bubble.
To be known by God is not scary, it is a feeling of belonging, it is pure bliss. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” Isaiah 43,1
I recall a group of “lights” much smaller than God, tiny really in comparison, waiting to greet me. The lights, or let’s call them spirits, all glowed in different hues, again like the round glass of a clear light bulb, each with a differently colored core, and I could feel their excitement. Somehow I knew them all and they knew me, yet if I should tell you today who they were, I wouldn’t be able to. If you know someone well, you wouldn’t bother to ask for the names, would you? You recognize each other and therefore there’s no need for it. I recognized these souls or spirits, whether they were departed loved ones or angels or my soul family perhaps, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I felt such joy to see them.
Imagine your doorbell rings, you open the door and outside stand to your amazement all of your dearest friends and most beloved family with the biggest smile on their faces calling, “Surprise!” They radiate so much delight and joy and have so much love for you that you can’t help but feel your heart nearly bursts with joy. This is how I felt when I encountered this glowing soul group of mine. Were my most beloved, long departed grandmothers there? Perhaps. I don’t know. But I sure felt as safe and happy as I felt when as a child I ran into either one of my grandmothers’ arms.
I had so many questions for God, this all-encompassing light, and for my spirit family and they were eager to answer all of them in the most satisfying way. I remember that there was a time I solely talked to God and then a time I talked with the spirits. In “real life” I often talk fast because I don’t want to take up somebody’s time. “Time is the most valuable thing that we have, because it is the most irrevocable,” I learned from the ancient philosopher Seneca in Latin class. In Heaven however, no question was too little or too big, too unimportant or too complex and there was enough time and loving patience to still my thirst for answers until I was satisfied. I understood so much more than I ever could comprehend on Earth and yet, despite the generosity of time and wisdom shared, I still can’t put any of my questions or therefore the answers in words to share with the world. It remains the wisdom of the soul. In fact I can’t recall any concrete question of mine, but the most important one.
In this beautiful state of pure and unconditional love, my soul filled with an indescribable bliss, I asked God, just like a little child filled with wonder and delight might ask her parents in front of the lit Christmas tree, pretty gifts arranged all around it. Instead of asking “Is this for me?” I asked, “May I stay here?”
And God answered me – His beloved child – with the most tenderness, “Of course you may stay. This is your home.”
How can I ever describe the joy I felt?
I remember another light, bigger than the colorful lights of my spirit group, smaller yet of the same glorious color as God, saying to me, “Before you decide, let me show you something.”
We floated together side by side and for a moment I seemed to see the entire world. And then, as if we adjusted a telescope, we focused onto and simultaneously floated into a hospital room where I was surprised to see my body laying on a hospital bed with doctors and nurses busily working on it. Baffled at first, the sight amused me, because I was in such a wonderful state that there was no need for the medical staff to work on me so hard. I was fine. Wonderful in fact, didn’t they know? I tried to tell them that, but they couldn’t hear me. I felt their concentration and hurried tension and absorbed their emotions. All this effort – for me! I heard the sounds of the beeping machines, smelled the hospital scents, and though I was interested in what they were doing, I was glad I had escaped that body that was not more than a shell now. My organs were still working, but except for the familiarity I had no connection to that body.
Then my guide, Jesus I like to believe, asked me to look the other way. I saw Frederick, my husband, sitting in the same hospital room on the pale blue couch with our newborn baby in his arms. At once I was happy to see them and I was shocked. Shocked, because I had forgotten about them. How could I have forgotten them? They were all I had since we’d moved from Germany to Canada earlier that year.
Was there more than just one reality? As I watched them together, a tiny baby girl and a bear of a man, giving and taking comfort from each other, I felt nothing but love for them. – And then I understood! I turned back to Jesus, the part of God that knows what it feels to be human, and I said, “I have to get back now, don’t I?”
He said, “No, you don’t have to.”
“But I’m responsible for them,” I claimed. “We recently moved to this foreign country together. We bought a farm. Without me, Frederick has nobody except our newborn. The baby needs me. I’m responsible for them.”
God said, “No. It is I. I am responsible for them. Just as I care for you, I care for each of my children. I am the ONE in charge, not you. If you choose to stay in Heaven, their life will be different, but they are cared for. They are my creation.”
I floated up into the safety of God’s loving presence and to my surprise, He didn’t seem to be far away from that hospital room. Saddened, I didn’t know what to do. It was perfect happiness to be with God. I only ever wanted to be home with Him, surrounded by His unconditional love and light.
From birth on, I realized, I had longed to return to Him. Nobody on Earth was able to provide me with such nurturing, unconditional love my soul longed for so deeply. I’d always found life confusing and a little bit of a disappointment. Not that there hadn’t been much to enjoy, life on Earth was beautiful, but somehow it always felt a little short of what I expected it to be. There were so many rules to obey in our society, so little tolerance, so that as a child I’d often felt some sort of misplaced and often preferred the company of animals over people.
So there I was home in Heaven, bathing in the light of my loving Creator and surrounded by my loving spirit family, who I didn’t want to leave ever again! And on the other side a loving husband and a vulnerable baby girl. A decision had to be made. My decision, for God loves us so much that He grants us free will. Even in Heaven.
“Like everyone else you have a unique gift and a particular lesson to learn which you can only learn during your lifetime on Earth,” God explained to me. “You can stay here in Heaven, but then you have to start over eventually and learn your lesson another time.”
I looked back into the hospital room and with an immense amount of love I observed my husband and my tiny baby girl. Toxic as my body must have become as her environment, she had demanded to be born early. She had decided to live. All the months she grew in my body, I had been afraid I might lose her, never thinking it could also be the other way around. I wanted to be with her. But I also remembered the pain, and I didn’t want to return into my troubled body, though I knew it would be best.
“I will never be far away,” assured my all-knowing Creator. “Are you ready?”
Reluctantly I answered, “Yes.
Like through that proverbial tunnel people talk about, I slid down in a flush while the light, the beautiful bright light I so longed for, fainted until it disappeared altogether as I entered my human body. I immediately felt denseness. It was dim around me, and heaviness pressed down on me. I was scared. Breathing suddenly was hard work. Moving around was impossible. My limbs felt leaden. Uncomfortable, compressed and confused I opened my eyes. I saw Frederick, holding the baby, and a nurse standing by my bed. His warm blue eyes met mine. Such relieve to see him. I was not alone. His big warm hand covered mine and consoled me. Exhausted, I closed my eyes and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
It was morning when I wok up next. Faint light peeked through the window. Opposite from my bed was a desk with a nurse sitting behind it, studying a file. To her right slumbered Frederick on the pale blue couch. I scanned the room for my baby and found her in the clear-sided bassinet in front of my bed.
The nurse saw me stirring and came to my bed at once. She spoke friendly, but I couldn’t comprehend what she said. My mind responded to her smile, not her words. She didn’t look though as if she expected an answer. She checked the monitors and the IVs in both of my arms then returned to her desk to write down the data. Frederick woke up as well and came to my bed. I longed for his soothing voice, his touch. I wanted to feel his hand for assurance like a drowning person holds on to a plank.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’m back,” I whispered. My lips felt plump, my tongue heavy, my throat dry.
“That’s good,” he said, caressing my cheek. “You scared everyone. Are you thirsty?”
I didn’t know. Perhaps. My body felt foreign, I didn’t know what it wanted. The true colors, the pure light, the unconditional love, and the vast wisdom that was still so present in my memory seemed to hide behind a dimming veil. Everything seemed cloudy and grey.
“How’s the baby?” I inquired after I sipped apple juice from the cup Frederick opened for me.
“She’s doing fine,” Frederick said. “We fed her formula from a cup, while you had seizures.”
The nurse rolled the bassinet next to my bed so I could adore our baby sleeping peacefully through the start of the hospital routine.
Around eight o’clock Dr. Taylor, the doctor who delivered my baby and got me through the seizures, came in to check on me.
“You are awake,” she said with relief and the biggest smile on her face. I felt the warmth and softness of her hand on my cheek and her eyes radiated so much love that in that moment she was more my mother than my doctor. In her presence I felt safe, cared for, and at ease. I felt a tug on my heart when a minute later she already had to rush out again.
I watched Frederick feeding our baby from a cup, then he told me it was time for him to go home. “Scotty has been waiting in the truck all night,” he explained, referring to our dog. “The farm animals have to get fed as well.”
“No. Pleased don’t go,” I begged.
Even though I understood the necessity for him to go, I couldn’t help feeling abandoned. Perhaps not only abandoned by him. I was needy, vulnerable and confused. The heavenly experience of unlimited time and love outside of my body was still with me. Suddenly everything was limited again. I knew that Frederick loved me. I was unreasonable and yet I couldn’t hold back my tears. Did I make the wrong decision to come back? Would I’ve chosen better to stay in Heaven? I couldn’t care for my baby after all. My body didn’t respond to my will. Every single inch of my body ached. My limbs felt clumsy my functions were slow and uncontrolled. I was weak and tired and I needed my husband to take care of our baby. I also needed him to look after me.
Holding on to his hand, I sobbed until the nurse took his hand out of mine and replaced it with hers. “Shush,” she soothed. “It’s alright. He’ll be back.”
I didn’t know then that my husband drove home and called his sister in Germany. I didn’t know then that for half an hour he was on the phone, but he couldn’t bring out a single word, but only sobbed.
Meanwhile, Juanita, my lovely nurse from India, instinctively knew what I needed. She took my baby out of her crib and put her into my arms, and comforting each other we both fell asleep.
For some reason I thought everyone of the doctors and nurses tending to me knew what had happened that night. I expected questions about what it was like to have been out of my body. I expected them to smile and tell me how good it was to have me back. I was still in a world in between, having not quite arrived in my previous life yet, but was clearly detached from the beauty and bliss I’d known in Heaven. As if a veil had come down and made it impossible to access my new insights, I still felt the wisdom and all the answers as if they were a light in my soul, but my mind couldn’t translate such energy into words.
Over the next days and weeks I passed on snippets of my experiences to Frederick and he never doubted my words, but he didn’t quite understand them either. He marveled at my memory still knowing who was in the room that night, he sensed that I experienced something unusual, perhaps paranormal, but other than respecting my insights, he could make no sense out of it.
Frederick took a few photos the morning after I’d returned into my body and days later when the photos were developed (imagine a time before digital cameras), I barely recognized my body looking sickly pale and puffed up, just like a drowned corpse fetched out of the water. I was too sick and too weak to get up for two more days, and sadly wasn’t allowed to nurse my baby either. I slept as much as my baby did, preferably holding her in my arms.
On the third day I learned to walk a few steps. On the fourth day I managed to bath my baby with the help of a nurse and learned to change diapers, for the previous night I had called for a nurse to change my baby’s diapers because I wasn’t allowed to then, and the nurse with the goat face I was so afraid of the night of my seizures rushed in. She had no clue how to change diapers and while I helplessly watched her struggles from my bed, I decided I had to better pull myself together and take care of my baby myself. My body was as exhausted after changing diapers as if I had been running a marathon, but my mind was satisfied and pleased with myself. On the fifth day we were released from the hospital. By then I was skinny as if I had anorexia. My legs were too thin to carry my body, let alone a baby. A nurse helped me to the car, while Frederick carried his daughter. She made sure we knew how to transport our child safely in her car seat, handed us a prescription for my medications and then we were on our own. Exhausted from our trip to the car, I wanted nothing more than sleep, but I tried to put on my happy and stoic composure. I was a caregiver after all. On our way home, Frederick stopped at the drugstore. “Can I leave you alone for a moment?” he asked.
I nodded. “Of course.”
Afraid, I looked to my left where my beautiful baby slept in her seat. She was so tiny she almost disappeared under her seat belts. Could I comfort her in case she woke up? What would by-passers think if she cried and I not even lifted her out of her seat because I had not the strength? I felt so much love for her and even more overwhelm that I prayed out loud:
“Dear God,” I said. “I am so weak I have no idea how to take care of this little person. I ask you to take Emily back into your care, for I feel I can’t take the responsibility for her. I was wrong. Please, God, I give you my child. Make sure to look after her. Keep her safe and protected and guide her through life. Thank you, God. Amen.”
By the time Frederick returned to the car, a huge burden had lifted from my shoulders.
The hot and humid air had changed our farm into a tropical jungle in the few days I’d been away. I couldn’t believe what I saw and felt as if I’d been away on a long journey, which was on some level very true. Our Border collie, Scotty, greeted us with boisterous joy, but calmed down to gently sniff and instantly accept our baby. He walked upstairs with us into the bedroom and there he would stay for the next three weeks watching over us while Emily and I slept beside each other in our large bed.
In the morning a nurse would come to check on us and Scotty greeted her friendly, but watched her every move when she handled our baby.
Dr. Taylor, the doctor who I had bonded with during my eclampsia, the name of the illness that caused the seizures, luckily became our family doctor and I am eternally grateful for everything she did for us. Though she kiddingly blamed her grey hair on me for her being worried sick during the night of my seizures, she still thought it was a miracle that I didn’t suffer a heart attack or stroke after. Sadly, she advised us to leave it at one healthy child and not risk another pregnancy, or “I’ll put you in hospital for nine months,” she warned.
As the weeks went by, I noticed a few changes in myself that frustrated me greatly. Though I regained my strength, there was a constant mild pain in my calves, which I learned to accept perhaps as the cost for being alive. But sometimes at night or when someone touched my calves, I thought I was going to explode with pain. Suddenly I would gasp for air and panic would fill my entire being. I only got rid of this symptom when ten years later I started practicing yoga.
Previously known for my quick wit, I also realized I couldn’t talk to people easily anymore. Words seemed to disappear in the tenth of a second between having formed the sentences in my mind and giving it a voice. I lost words I wanted to say in mid sentence. Sometimes I had such big lumps in my throat, that I couldn’t bring out a word at all and I constantly thought people must think I was rather stupid.
Languages I’d previously learned I suddenly couldn’t recall anymore, my extensive knowledge of art and history, literature, philosophy and anthropology, most everything I’d studied at university had fainted if not disappeared altogether into some void space. The weird part was, that I knew the knowledge was still there, but I couldn’t find access anymore, just as if it was hidden in a stuck drawer. When I mentioned that to my doctor, she sent me to a brain specialist and our little family drove two hours to see him, waited another hour in the waiting room just to be told that there was nothing to worry about as most new mothers lost temporarily some information that wasn’t needed for their new role as mother and would only distract from bonding with their child. “It’ll all come back,” he assured me. I believed him, but I wasn’t prepared that it would take twelve years for my memory to restore itself.
Another phenomena that stuck with me from my experience in the emergency room when I watched the health team working on my body from above, was my ability to feel other people’s (even animals’) emotions. I’m not sure if all empaths feel that strongly, but ever since I have had problems to differentiate whether what I felt were my own or other people’s feelings. On the positive side, I bonded strongly not only with my infant daughter but easily with domestic and even wild animals. It became hard for people to hide secrets or emotions from me, and I even connected to people so strongly, that I could feel e.g. their symptoms of disease.
When my emotions, or as I later learned energetic frequencies, got too high, they disturbed radio, computer or TV frequencies. I still break light bulbs occasionally by just absentmindedly looking at them. There were times when my family sent me out of the room so they could watch a movie. Of course these “after effects” weren’t clear to me immediately, I had to figure all this out over the years and the process frustrated me greatly.
Since both of our families lived in Germany, we decided to continue speaking German at home so our daughter would pick up our native language before learning English. Frustrated as I was that I couldn’t articulate myself easily in German or English anymore, I decided to enroll in a creative writing course so I would at least improve my English. I started to write for children, was published in children’s magazines, and soon looked for a critique group of likeminded writers. That’s how I met Lorie.
My first impulse upon meeting her was to turn around and run, but as if invisible ties were holding me back, I couldn’t. Over time we became good friends and I learned about her life journey and her congenital heart condition. But only after she collapsed one day and was hospitalized as a result, I learned that her days were counted. Although her organs started to already deteriorate, she was put on the heart transplant list and during the winter months was required to live apart from her rural home and family to stay in downtown Toronto in case a heart became available and she needed to be at the hospital at a moment’s notice.
While she was waiting in Toronto, Lorie was writing on a book about archangels and had previously asked me whether I would be able to illustrate it. As a trained artist, I was used to say “yes” when an opportunity arose, and therefore told her, “of course.”
“But you have to meditate on each archangel first,” she requested.
I paused. “I don’t know how to meditate,” I admitted.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
So instead of grabbing a sketchbook and my art supply, I felt I wasted my time by doing nothing. We listened to guided meditations together, or quietly sat on the floor, breathed deeply and listened into the silence. It didn’t do much for me, so I prayed instead. Finally, I got the hang of it after I spent quiet time following my daily Bible study in the mornings. I learned that prayer was not only my being busy talking to God, but the pause after where I opened my mind and heart to listen to His guidance. It actually wasn’t much different from my conversations with God while e.g. gardening. Certainly I could do that with focusing on a particular archangel before starting to paint.
One day after my daily Bible reading and getting silent to listen to God’s reply, I entered a deep trance while still sitting at our kitchen table. A young woman entered the silence and though I didn’t see her, it was as if we were talking face to face. She asked me questions about Lorie and her family and I answered her as good as I could, telling her of Lorie’s struggles in life, about her two adopted young children who also faced congenital health conditions, and what kind of person Lorie was. Then a feeling of sadness and grief came over me and I remembered tears running down my cheeks while still in meditation. I felt sad for the young dancer I was certain she was, preparing herself to die. When everything was said, I woke up from my trance and wiped off my tears, stunned and confused by what had just happened. Immediately, I knew Lorie’s heart transplant was about to happen. I wanted to reach for the phone, but then it struck me that I needed to collect myself first, after all this was not a “cool phenomena” that just happened, it was a message concerning Lorie’s life or death surgery. The message was devastating for the donor and overwhelming for Lorie. Though Lorie was desperately waiting for it, it was not just good news. It meant Lorie had to brace herself for all eventualities that might be happening shortly. The friend she’d recently made, Maryann, who was also on the transplant list and who Lorie had been envious of because she was picked the other week for an available heart and then had died during the transplant surgery had kept Lorie’s emotions running high. What if Lorie would also die?
Although I had to collect myself first, I knew I had to tell Lorie of my telepathic conversation with her donor. Relieved, I found neither Lorie nor her mother surprised when I called to tell my news. I assumed the transplant surgery might be happening within the next week and told them so, and Lorie took the time to review her will and write individual letters to her husband and children.
I on the other side panicked when I thought about it. Weeks ago Lorie had asked me to be with her in the hospital when she would have surgery and I was quick to say, “of course.” Almost immediately I regretted my answer: How could I be there for her when I was famous for fainting in hospitals? But now it was too late to chicken out. A promise was a promise, so I better put my sweaty palms together and told God my dilemma.
Help came in the form of our friend and veterinarian, Allen. Since he had frequently vet students practicing in his clinic, he invited me to watch one or more surgeries on a cat or dog. He promised he would expose me to as many unpleasant yet typical smells as possible. After my “training” I not only found the insides of animals rather interesting, but I felt much more at ease for the sights and smells that likely would await me at the hospital. Lorie and her family in the meantime were anxiously waiting and trying to distract themselves as good as possible.
Eight days passed and no word from the hospital. I started doubting my vision. Did I really talk to a spirit? Where was my proof? Did my mind just play tricks on me? Who did I think I was? I got angry with God for putting such an idea into my head.
The tenth day after my vision, was the Friday before March break. Emily and I just discussed what to cook for dinner and as our treat what movie to watch after when the phone rang. Lorie’s mom informed me that a heart had become available and that it was time to go to the hospital. The surgery had been scheduled for midnight. I looked at the clock: 5:45 pm. I still needed to feed my animals in the barn, take a shower after and find a place for my disappointed daughter to stay until her dad came home. Would I make it to Toronto in time? It had just started to snow, but by the time I left Emily at a friend’s house, a big snowstorm hit our area. I faced more whiteouts the further I travelled and I asked God for help or I would miss seeing Lorie before the surgery. At a traffic light intersection a green car turned into the road ahead of me and I followed its taillights. The car sped through the snowstorm like a phantom and I hurried to follow along until we reached an almost empty Highway 401, where the car disappeared. I easily reached downtown Toronto in less than three hours time. I couldn’t believe it! That was a record time in even pleasant weather conditions. Later I remembered that Archangel Raphael, the archangel of healing and travel is associated with the color green. Coincidence? I didn’t think so.
I arrived in time to visit with Lorie and her immediate family at her side about an hour before the surgery. We prayed and said our good-byes, then two nurses picked up Lorie, ready and calm, and pushed her bed through the doors where we had no permission to follow anymore. While her family stayed in the waiting room, I took her small children to her city apartment to get them to bed. Lorie’s son was frozen with fear and we prayed until sleep came.
After 14 agonizing hours of waiting, the doctor came to inform us of a successful surgery. There were still possible dangers, but he was optimistic. Lorie wasn’t expected to wake up within the next 24 hours, so we all left for dinner and a few hours of sleep.
The second day after the surgery I was sitting next to Lorie’s bed holding her hand. Several clear bags filled with clear fluids or dark red blood transfusions hung from metal constructions above. Hoses of different sizes disappeared underneath her gown, her bruised body attached with countless cables to beeping monitors arranged behind her head. An oxygen mask covered most of her puffy face, making her chest rise up and down. The beeping sounds, the steady rhythm of oxygen flow, the distinct smells of disinfectants and body fluids made time almost non existent. Lorie had woken up a few times since her surgery if only for a brief few minutes to drift back to sleep fast and for many hours at a time. I kept talking to her about her children, the weather outside, whatever came to mind, or I just sat with her keeping time. Her mother and I were in agreement to simply stay with her, to give Lorie reason and energy enough to come back to us when the other side was temptingly calling. Suddenly, I felt energy flowing through my right arm down into the hand that held Lorie’s, then flowing further up entering her body. Lorie’s arm switched as I watched her upper body moving slightly as if shaking once, then she opened her eyes for an irritated glance. It lasted only a few seconds then she was calm again. Did her heart’s previous owner just visit? After all it had been three days after the donor’s death. Did she say good-bye and passed on? Did the Holy Spirit come to blow new life into our friend? We would never know, but the moment was most sacred.
Lorie recovered slowly and painfully and though she was hit hard again with a brain tumor later, she presently enjoys life with her husband and two teenagers.
God has called me since many more times to serve. I’ve helped various people through their physical and mental health challenges, some I helped to die peacefully, others to grieve. I learned and still learn how to put my sensibility for energies to use. Most of all I learned that we can heal through love. God’s love is the greatest power in the world, working in and through us. I’m grateful to have restored many a person’s trust and faith in God.
Our daughter Emily, a loving, kind and self-confident young lady has been guided noticeably by a stronger force than her parents could have ever been and the three of us are still very close. She told me recently that until she was about twelve years old she had a recurrent dream about me being in hospital. I was falling into a deep abyss, but even though they tried, no doctor or nurse seemed to be able to help me. Emily was mad and disappointed in the doctors and finally realized that it was up to her to get me back.
Around the time her dreams stopped, I went to NYC on a business trip. I’d scheduled in time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which felt like coming home; after all I’d once studied art back in Germany. I’d spent half a day in the museum and slowly got tired when I decided to see one last room of early portraitures before I’d leave, when a tall man walked fast across the room directly toward me. I was startled, even a little afraid of what to expect, but it turned out the gentleman had mistaken me for an art professor from Munich so he said, though he still continued talking to me. After introducing himself, he talked about art and philosophy, and while I simply listened, long lost memories flashed back to my mind as if all the stuck drawers were suddenly repaired. I simply stood there, tears streaming down my face and he looked at me compassionately, but not surprised. Finally, when I regained my composure, he asked whether he might show me his favorite artwork in the museum. I agreed and following him along I had difficulty keeping up with his pace. He showed me paintings I’d admired just hours before, but something had changed: I seemed to see beyond a veil then. For instance did I take pleasure in a painting by de Zurbaran before, but suddenly I saw a circle of angels in the background and I couldn’t understand how in the world I could have missed seeing such important detail before! When the museum closed for the day and we parted at the doors, I walked into the refreshing rain of an already dark evening sky, fumbled out my cell phone from my purse and texted Lorie in astonishment, “I just met an angel.”
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.”
Rainer Maria Rilke