Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips

Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips shared this reflection on grief and suffering after reading our post HEAL-What does that even mean?

I believe that part of our very human suffering is a confusion between healing and cure. Some kinds of healing include some forms of cure-but healing through grief is the ultimate process beyond cure.
We heal as we accept and find meaning in the wounds we may always carry with us through this precious life. I’ve learned that, whenever death comes–whether suddenly and tragically, or in the fullness of time–we and our relationships can heal beyond our bodies and lifetimes, even when no “cure” is available.

Rabbi Regina is the wonderful, compassionate being who, after learning of Jimmy’s death ten years after the fact—having met Jimmy only the one time in Poland in 2005-sent us those precious photos taken of him at the Bearing Witness retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Photos we’d never seen. That story is told in  WHEN IS IT TOO LATE TO SEND A CONDOLENCE CARD?  (“Too Late?”)

The two James: James Powell and James “Jimmy” Gauntt (2005 Krakow Poland; courtesy of Peter Cunningham)

She had just read our story of THE LETTER from my father when she reached out to us. 

There is a parallel process for the healing of relationships. Even traumatic death can yield into a healing of relationships through generations:  Your son, your father and you.

Dad, Casey and Jimmy

This is super-powerful stuff. Our loved ones continue to connect, communicate and work to help us survivors—parents, siblings, friends—with our healing even after they’ve discarded their physical bodies. And we, in turn, help them with their healing—their regrets, guilt, remorse for pain they may have caused us, things said or unsaid, goals not completed and the like.

Moreover, death opens a pathway for us to heal and repair broken relationships-or strengthen good ones—with our departed loved ones across multiple generations.  That pathway is accessible from both ends of the worm hole and always available.    


THE LETTER is one example, although a pretty darned good one, of what I believe the Rabbi is talking about.  The letter from my father—or more precisely—Emily Sue Buckberry reaching out to me when she did forty years after stumbling upon the letter in Coalwood WV and getting it into my hands on Jimmy’s 25th birthday three months after he was accidentally killed—that was my first ‘crack of light.’

Anne Lamott has her 12 truths, and here is one of mine. 

My father reached through from wherever he is and grabbed me by the collar in my darkest hour and pulled me back from the cliff’s edge. 

I will never get my tiny brain around the infinite permutations of events, actions and inactions that had to take place, beginning in 1968 with me spending that unique, improbable, summer in Coalwood WV, in order for the letter to reach my mailbox on November 8, 2008.    His closing words will always send goosebumps through my body:

I’ll be around, any time you want me, I’ll be there—because I care more than you’ll ever know—my son.  All love, Dad

That letter miraculously reached my hands on the day my father knew would be one of the hardest days of my life.  He was there with me at precisely the moment I wanted—needed—him the most.  As he promised he would be.

Casey and Dad Panama 1969

Father Patrick O’Malley summed it up well in this excerpt from PRIESTS MEDIUMS AND SHAMANS PART 2:

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.

Father Patrick J. O’Malley

The miracle of The Letter was no doubt, as Father Pat liked to say, a God Moment.

I’d erected many walls to protect myself from my father, his memory and his abandonment of me and his family.  Those walls began to come down, and in their place appeared a path for me to begin to grieve and heal from his death.   BTL (before The Letter), my mother, siblings and I NEVER talked together about Dad’s suicide or divulged our respective struggles and coping mechanisms.  That topic was TABOO.   We finally opened-up with one another like we had never done before.

[For example, see One Suitcase and Impeccable Timing]. 

Healing relationships between two generations.

Jimmy’s death and my Dad showing up for me when he did was the first step to rebuilding my relationship with him; a relationship I believed was forever obliterated.   As I shared in GROVER GAUNTT JR.-THE EARLY YEARS, after I received his letter I felt a strong need to learn more about my Dad, much like Jimmy had become obsessed with him in the years before he died.

As I plunged into my father’s formative years, I began to more fully understand some of the things he confessed in The Letter. ‘A depression in his youth.’  ‘A fanatical mother he couldn’t reason with.’ My thought process has been prejudiced…
by a war in which I was in the infantry…
I discovered things about my father and his life I had never known. But then it’s hard to learn anything when you run away from the truth. I learned my father was a war hero and a natural leader of men. He loved fighting-maybe too much. I realized the things that happened to him, were done to him and that he did to others during the first 25 years of his life and, in particular, his two years in the South Pacific in World War II, no one should have to live through.

Major Kermit “Duke” Ellison (left) with Major Grover C. Gauntt Jr. at Camp Roberts CA 1943

I shared his story, some of the letters he wrote during WWII and, of course, The Letter with my extended family.  Three generations.  They in turn shared with me their remembrances of him.  We were finally talking about him—lifting him from the dark shadows of death by suicide. Back into the light.  We felt better for it.  And I know my Dad was feeling better, too.  

I began to have good dreams about him.  We talked, smiled, and hugged—instead of the creepy ones BTL where he would just show up at our house in Itasca, preoccupied with something he was working on, and never utter a word.

I can honestly say I feel closer to my father right now than at any other point in my life. 

Jimmy working on another screenplay

And the thing that blows my mind is it was Jimmy who started the mending process.  As revealed in Too Late? , three years before his death—who knows, maybe even before then—Jimmy became aware of a closeness and strong connection with his Grandfather, a man of course he had never met.   It was Jimmy who spent hours in the attic of our house, pouring through boxes of family stuff, looking for photos, letters, anything he could find about his Grandfather and his life—and death. 

Of course, he couldn’t ask me about my Dad.   TABOO. 

Jimmy uncovered and forged his own relationship with his Grandfather, even though I’d long abandoned mine.   And my Dad was doing the same with Jimmy.  They were getting to know each before Jimmy crossed over. His Grandfather was, no doubt, front and center to guide him. 

It was Jimmy who dug the tunnel for my Dad to run through, connect, and embrace me.

What my father did for me on Jimmy’s 25th birthday, Jimmy returned the favor for his sister Brittany and his brother-in-law Ryan that same day.  As shared in THE OTHER LETTER, Jimmy managed to get into Brittany’s hands the birthday card he wrote to her in 2005 for HER 25th birthday, signing off with “I love you eternally, Jimmy.”    This was an immensely powerful moment for Brittany and Ryan and so helpful with their healing.  

Brittany and Jimmy in 1987 on the dunes at Zuma Beach

Jimmy played a key role in the orchestration of events that reconnected me with my best friend from junior high and high school, George Blystone. That incredible synchronicity string is told in Want To Go For A Ride.  This triggered an avalanche of reconnections with several more kids I grew up with.   I’d had zero contact with them for over 40 years.

After my Dad’s death we literally ran out of town and I thought I’d left all of them behind.   They were my close childhood friends that are like no others and can’t be replaced.  I’d discarded them along with everything else that reminded me of my Dad.  

Now, they were back in my life.  They never abandoned me.   Of course, they knew about my Dad, and then they learned from me about Jimmy. Their friendship, love and support have been indispensable to my healing journey.

It was because of Jimmy, his death and extraordinary efforts to so dramatically bring George and me together, this came to be. 

By reconnecting me with my childhood chums George and Buddy Wheaton [See WHEATON-The Bermuda Triangle], I in turn was there for them when they suffered their own nightmares of losing children a few years later.  None of us saw that coming. 

Jimmy did.  

Yes, my old pals helped me tremendously, but we were destined to help one another.   

Buddy Casey and George at their 50th high school reunion in Chicago 2018

Jimmy has also showed up big time for his friends.    They suffered mightily.  He was one of the first to be snatched away so quickly—so dramatically.    They were supposed to be immortal.  He dashed those dreams.   Most of them were crushed and rendered mute when it came to talking about Jimmy with us or anyone.

Luke, a chum of Jimmy’s since they were in diapers, took Jimmy’s death super hard.   Four years later, as he was getting ready to take the New York Bar Exam, Jimmy planted in his dreams a Wilco song they both loved.   IMPOSSIBLE GERMANY.   Luke bolted out of bed and immediately searched for the email exchange he had with his pal back in 2007 right after the song was released.  Luke was living in Tokyo at the time and invited Jimmy to come visit him.   Jimmy was gone before they could make that happen. 

Luke reached out to us with the dream and emails.   Two months later he was in our living room with his mother, brother and lovely bride, Maiko.   We—mostly Luke—talked about Jimmy for three hours.  Lots of tears were shed.   Maiko had seemed the most emotional of everyone.   I finally asked her if she was OK.   She pointed to a place at the top of the stairs and said

Jimmy has been standing there smiling the entire evening.  He’s so happy we’re all together.

Lucas, Maiko and Casey on September 7, 2012

More recently, Jimmy made a grand entrance at the wedding of one of his closest and oldest of friends-more like a big brother.   Jimmy would have been John’s best man—I was asked to stand in—and there was no way Jimmy was going to miss an occasion this important. 

Jimmy wrote my best-man toast and got it to me via his mother’s intuition to finally peer into a file cabinet which up until then had been like her kryptonite because it was filled with so much ‘Jimmy’ memorabilia.   She found a recommendation letter Jimmy had written in 2001 for John’s application to Brown University. I had been struggling with what to put in “my” toast. The letter contained all of the things Jimmy wanted us to share about John.

Jimmy and John

Brittany read the letter—I couldn’t get through it.  Jimmy closed his toast with this:


Yeah, everyone was crying by this point.

However, Jimmy didn’t show up just to help me and his big bro. There was a bigger plan with multiple layers.  With Jimmy there usually is.   Several of the friends Jimmy was with on his “last night” were at the wedding.   Including Henry, the last person to see Jimmy alive.   Someone we had never met or spoken to.  Henry came up to me after the toasts and introduced himself.  Once I realized who he was, we locked into a hug and neither of us wanted to let go.  The other guys came up to me over the course of the evening and were finally able to say the things they couldn’t before.  

These boys, now young men, had been struggling the past nine years.  They had moved on with their lives, but they hadn’t moved past that night. 

Jimmy spoke to them through the words he had written in 2001. They knew he was there.  They could feel him.   We all could.  

Cathartic’ is pathetically inadequate to describe the consequent release of so much pent-up grief, emotion and love for their friend.  It was cleansing and healing for them, us and Jimmy.   This is all shared in  HEALING ALL AROUND

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. 

Healing Beyond Lifetimes

Our loved ones want us to survive and get through and beyond the agonizing pain of their death and that hole in our hearts.  They know we are hurting.  They want to help us with our healing and go to great lengths to make that happen.  

And we in turn can help them. 

We’ve worked with some amazing mediums and shamans and Jimmy has always come through with messages only we would understand, and usually with a big smile on his face.  The only exception was our first reading with Tarra, four months after he passed.  Jimmy expressed a great deal of remorse for putting us through hell.  He walked us through a very detailed recounting of that last night, early morning and the accident.   He felt terrible.  Jimmy was hurting, too. 


Hilary reminded us of the edict she laid down the day after Jimmy died:

We will not let Jimmy’s death take our family down.  That would make him so unhappy, and we will not make my son unhappy.

We cried, forgave and all of us made a pact to speak of that last night no more. 

Zion National Park- April 2008

You don’t need mediums or shamans to do this for you—to open the portal.   They can certainly help with the connection, but the portal is always open and accessible. 

I know many of our tribe have lost loved ones to drug overdoses, suicide, and traumatic or other sudden causes.  Some of you feel that the relationships with your children were broken, or at least not where you wanted them to be.   For others, there were things unsaid, or things said you wish could be taken back.

[By the way, I don’t believe there is a “better” way to lose a child or anyone we deeply love.  I know many of my fraternity brothers agree.]

But Rabbi Regina has a powerful message for us: Our relationships with our loved ones do not end with their deaths.  We may think there is nothing we can do-or they can do—but that simply is not the case.    I would suggest that not only are there things we can do to repair and strengthen the relationships with our loved ones—we need to do them as part of the healing process for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Ken, my fraternity-in-loss brother, recently reminded me of Chapter 21 in Tom Zuba’s Permission to Mourn- The Relationship Continues.  Here are some excerpts:

What if I told you
That you will always have a relationship

With the people you love who have died?

And what if I told you
that those relationships will either bring you peace
and comfort
and strength
and connection
and inspiration
or they will bring you pain
and loneliness
and heartache
and sorrow.

And what if I told you that the choice is yours?

You define the relationship.

You are either moving closer
to the people you love who have died,
Or you are pushing them away.
By building a wall.

It’s your job to forgive
If forgiveness is necessary.

It’s your job to say good-bye to their physical form
if that will bring you peace.
Just as it’s your job to say hello to their spirit form
in the very next breath you take…

My Dad took the first leap to repair our relationship, because I was too stubborn to do so.  Don’t wait like I did to reach out and make that connection and redefine the relationship with your loved one.  

Maybe, eventually, I would have reconnected with my Dad, but there’s no question Jimmy’s tunnel building and my father’s reach through was the door-opener and launching pad.  In a subsequent post I will go a little deeper into some of the tools we and others have found useful to repair, if necessary, and redefine your relationship with the people you love even after they’ve left their physical body.  

But first I want to pick up on some of Tom’s other sage observations in The Relationship Continues:

It’s your job to ask for signs.
And messages.
To see with new eyes.
To hear with new ears.
To open your heart and to know
without a shadow of a doubt
that yes
he is communicating with you.
That sign is from her. 

Love is eternal.

You will always have a relationship with the people you love.
Even after they leave their physical body.
Even after they die.

I know for many of us survivors the idea of our loved ones communicating with us is hard to get our heads and hearts around.  And it can be very frustrating when we feel nothing-or not enough- is coming through.  Moreover, we even question the signs and messages we do receive.  

I must be crazy.  People will think I’m making this up.  How is this even possible? 

After I shared with him several of our stories of connections with the other side, Father O’Malley observed:

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 you need to continue to look at.

Father Pat [R] and brother Tom O’Malley

‘God-moments’ are all around us. And, yes, the tragedies of lost loved ones have moved us to a different plane with different understandings, and with even enhanced access to the God-moments.

My Dad and Jimmy are not in a special category of souls.  We have not been singled out to receive messages and signs.

I have not met a single person who has lost someone they deeply love who has not experienced a God-moment. However, many express dismay with not receiving more.   May I suggest the following:

Acknowledge and Share. Acknowledge, write, talk about and otherwise share your God-moments with family and friends.  These aren’t just for you.  They are meant to be shared with others.  Our loved ones work hard to make these happen and are honored and encouraged when you give them a hug or a fanny-slap.

Ask for more. Be specific about what you want and why.  One of the easier things for them is to visit you in your dreams.  Invite them to do so.

Use your God-moments to help others.  That is the ultimate expression of gratitude to your loved ones and this will only motivate them to share more with you.  

Look for and act upon opportunities to deeply connect with others.  Your loss has put you on a different plane.  You are uniquely experienced and qualified to help others.  Unless you’ve lost a child or someone you deeply love—no matter how many degrees you may have earned—you simply cannot connect with the same level of depth, understanding and compassion.  

Your grief is more than a heavy load you carryThat bag of rocks is also filled with tools to help your fellow sufferers.   The more you connect and help others here, you will connect more deeply and often with loved ones on the other side and invite in more God-moments.

Rising Cairn by Celeste Roberge

Work on mending broken relationships with your loved ones.  They may be hesitant to come through.  It took my Dad (and me) 38 years.  Forgiveness is a powerful wall buster. When you are ready, forgive/ask for forgiveness. Remember that grief and the healing process is a two-way street. 

Put any fear to the side. It takes some grit to take those first steps into the unknown.  I’m reminded of an Eckart Tolle mantra:  I will be fearless in my life

Eckhart Tolle

I say to myself

What in the world do I have to be afraid of?   The worst thing imaginable has already happened to me.  

Don’t fear sharing your loss with others. Don’t fear sharing your God-Moments with others. Don’t fear anything. If you show no fear this will only embolden your loved ones to come through. And those here who have not left their physical bodies.

Don’t be selfish with your grief and healing. 
One of my fraternity brothers was recently reminded by his wife when he was in a Why Me God funk: “Hey, I lost him too!”   Be mindful and proactive with the suffering and needs of your spouse, your other kids, your greater family, and your loved ones’ friends and family.  ‘They lost him/her too,’ and they suffer mightily. 

As a parent or sibling, you are the keeper of keys to doors that only you can open and let others pass through to help with their healing.  They want and need to talk to you and feel connected to the one they lost, too.  Once again, the more you help others with their pain and healing, the more God-moments will be shown to you and them to further assist with this good work.  But don’t ask for Quid-Pro-Quo.  As we know, that can be troublesome.  😊

Think big.   As Rabbi Regina and Tom Zuba remind us: Death can yield into a healing of relationships through generations.  You’re not limited to one, two or even three generations.   I recently wrote a story about my 3rd Great Aunt-four generations removed-and her incredibly vibrant and amazing life.    MARY SAWYERS SWAN COOK 1839-1924.   The ‘hint’ I received on Ancestry.com that tipped me off to her tale was a God-moment.  Of course, I never met this woman, but I had a deep knowing she wanted me to tell her story and share it with our other family members. There is likely a deeper reason for her wanting me to do this. We’ll see where that goes. 

Be patient.    There’s no timetable for messages and signs to manifest and, besides, our concept of time isn’t particularly relevant or applicable to the other side. 

If you do your work, they will come

I suppose this can be summed up into one thought:  Connection.  It’s all about staying connected with those who have left their physical bodies;  repairing or removing obstacles to connection; connecting deeply with others—family, friends and strangers; and remaining very open and willing to receive messages, signs and other communications from wherever they may originate, even if it’s too hard to get your head around how that can possibly be. 

This was from our post  THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE:

Scientists in the Netherlands reported that they had conducted an experiment that they say proved one of the most fundamental claims of quantum theory — that objects separated by great distance can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior… that two previously entangled particles, even if separated by the width of the universe, could instantly interact.

Our loved ones with whom we are forever entangled may seem impossibly far away and out of reach.   They are not.

No, we can’t bring them ‘back’ into their bodies.  That particular ‘cure’ is not available.

But as Rabbi Regina observed:  We and our loved ones can heal beyond our bodies and lifetimes, even when no ‘cure’ is availableHealing through grief is the ultimate process beyond cure. 

Our loved ones remain forever connected to us, accessible to us and always ready to share a God-moment with us.  

Do your work, and they will come 


This post is dedicated in loving memory of James David Johnson (1944-2019) aka “Jim,” “Little Dago,” and “The Lawnmowerman.” May you continue to come through loud and clear for your beloved Patti-your Rabbit.

James David Johnson

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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