I shared several of the stories of our NLEs with Father Patrick J. O’Malley in Chicago. His father and two of his brothers, Tom and John, worked for my grandfather’s company, Case Foundation Company. I met Father Pat one time in 1967 when my classmate, Ernie Smersky, and I went to visit his parish in the south side of Chicago to bear witness to the escalating tensions with the black community. We reconnected in 2011 after his brother, John, sent him my story of Vern Case. Check out The Father Pat Letters. The first thing I sent to Father Pat was the story of The Letter and these are his observations:
The story of The Letter is captivating. Carl Jung used to say that there are no coincidences. He used to call what you experienced synchronistic – I always take that to mean that some force, some power is at work in our lives in a way we can hardly imagine. I have my own name for that power, of course. Quantum physics speaks of the connection between all things. Again, I recall the words of Jesus: “The Kingdom is here!”
I think you experienced it in a very profound way.
Heaven here on earth. It’s interesting that Father Pat would invoke quantum physics, synchronicity and the interconnection-entanglement of all things that we touched on in The Light We Cannot See.
I received this letter from Father Pat soon after I sent him The Fraternity and the Rabbit Hole Letters story of our connection and correspondence with the driver of the car that accidentally struck Jimmy.
I have a friend whose daughter, 25, was killed in a car accident about 16 years ago. Whenever she sees a cardinal (the winged type!) back come the memories for her. She had lost her husband, 54, back in 1984. She’s a woman of great faith, but had a really tough time for a few years after the daughter’s accident. Her daughter Patty was full of life, living and working as a river guide in Colorado, doing what she loved to do. Anyway, things keep occurring at which time people will say, “Patty is at work here.” It must run in ‘The Fraternity!’
Recently, a great guy I work with in spiritual direction (which is what I spend a good deal of time on in my retirement) asked me ‘how do you know when you are making any headway in the spiritual life?’ A good question which I had not considered very explicitly before that moment. I came up with an answer that kind of surprised me, but the more I reflect on it, the more accurate I think it is.
When you are a beginner in the spiritual quest, things happen. And it is only on later reflection that you say, “That really was a God-moment.” As you go along, however, you begin to recognize the God-moments ever more readily. Pretty soon, you are almost anticipating them—and they occur in greater numbers than you ever realized.
Is that what is happening to you and your friends in The Fraternity? Has the tragedy of lost loved ones moved you to a different plane, with different understandings?
Is Jimmy at work?
These are not just rhetorical questions, Casey. Something is happening in your lives that, it seems from your writings, you need to continue to look at.”
In May of 2009, we attended the funeral service of Bill Driscoll, my good friend and fraternity brother (both ways), and the husband of another dear friend, Ludie, who I describe in Suffering as the funniest woman we know. The service was at the Holy Family Church in Pasadena and presided over by Monsignor Clement Connolly. He exuded warmth and wisdom. A few days later I sent the Monsignor our story of The Letter.
I have read with great care and interest your story. We both agree that mysteries are to be shared not solved, and yet they are significantly instructive. There is a depth of wisdom here which is beyond the ordinary and in some mystical providence is meant to inform the present day. The story and the letter are a gospel, good news.
A few months later I sent him The Rabbit Hole Letters story and I received this letter from the Monsignor.
There is a world beyond our knowing—in rare and sacred moments it is revealed to us. There God dwells. From that place of mystery Jimmy is ever present to us. It takes pensive moments, a convergence of unexpected miracles and then the eyes of faith to see and feel and experience the Gospel according to Jimmy. Thank you for your blessing of sharing.
When the San Diego County Medical Examiner showed up on our doorstep with the news of Jimmy’s death I experienced a profound, literal, physical and painful sensation that a piece of me was ripped out. I know that piece is with him; and a piece of him is with me. It’s that entanglement thing we began to explore. Jimmy was created by us. He was because of us. Our bond was strong and our connection with him can never be broken. I rhetorically argue—How could not a piece of us go with our child?
I was broadsided and knocked off the track I’d been travelling down the past 58 years. I was now on an entirely new path, unchartered, unknown, stretching out before me. I knew right then that my life, my family’s life, as I’d known it was over. Another life, one without Jimmy being physically present with us, had begun.
I completely understood that part of me died and went with Jimmy. The piece of my heart that went with him left a vast hole. As Tarra quickly discerned with Hilary, “When Jimmy died a part of you split. A piece of you went with him. A piece of your soul went with him.”
I’m pretty sure the same thing happens to all of us who have lost a child, a sibling, a spouse, anyone we love deeply and dearly.
I’m calling these Partial-Death Experiences or PDEs. Unlike an NDE, the part of us that dies and goes with our loved one does not come back. Initially, I was not the least bit encouraged by this. Far from it. All that I could see was darkness and all I felt was excruciating pain. I assumed my life on this new path would be only hell. This certainly could not be a good thing!
I figured there will never again be any true happiness, peace, or normalcy. We will never overcome our suffering and grief; the weight on our chest will ultimately suffocate us. As Tarra cautioned, we may even welcome our own death to be reunited with Jimmy and ease our suffering here. We argue in our minds the devaluation of our life and its relevance, purpose or meaning. Our child has died—what is the point, the purpose of us survivors to slog along in this dimension, this so-called reality, pretending (to appease others) that nothing has changed and life simply goes on. We have visited the darkest caves of this life. We don’t fear our own death. Our children have already suffered this fate. It would be hypocritical for us to speak of such trepidation.
What I could not possibly fathom early on was that the part of me that died and went with Jimmy somehow, someway, created a bridge—a portal—that keeps us connected. And the hole in my heart would become an integral part of the instrument—in Jimmy’s case a saxophone—that he can play and blow through. It was also impossible for me to comprehend or envision that his death and my partial death could become a conduit for beauty, wonder, and—yes—even joy.
Over some time, I’ve reflected more deeply upon Father Pat’s and Monsignor Connolly’s astute observations. Permit me to paraphrase.
The tragedy of lost loved ones has moved us to a different plane, with different understandings.
My fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, we now travel a different path.
Our loved ones are at work.
There is a world beyond our knowing—in rare and sacred moments it is revealed to us.
Our loved ones are with God.
They reveal themselves and their everlasting love and connection with us through pensive moments and convergences of unexpected miracles.
We must have faith and open our hearts to what our loved ones want to show and share with us.
There is heaven here on earth.
In our post on Tattoos, we featured this quote from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening:
None of us is exempt from the turmoil and pain that arises when what we want is lost. For once we pour ourselves into loving another person, it seems as if they take who we are with them when they go. In truth, they take a deep part of us, but what feeds the heart from within is endless, and everything that is living heals…In every space opened when what we want gets away, a deeper place is cleared in which the mysteries can sing. If we can only survive that pain of being emptied, we might yet know the joy of being sung through. Strangely and beautifully, each soul is a living flute being carved by the life on Earth to sound deeper and deeper song.
This is beginning to make some sense and sums up well my current thinking. It would appear the priests, mediums and shamans concur!
I close for now with Monsignor Connolly’s admonition: Mysteries are to be shared not solved.
May we all experience the joy of being sung through.
Continued sharing and healing my fellow survivors.
Priests, Mediums and Shamans is dedicated in loving memory of Father Patrick J. O’Malley born to eternal life on July 5, 2013