One of the most profound universal spiritual teachings is that we are divine at our core. The sacred soul self within us is made up of God’s essence, which is pure peace and love. When we are connected to that part of us, we feel a bliss that encompasses all of our life’s experiences, whether happy or sad, crisis or celebration. Bliss that is not ecstatic joy but instead a full embrace of the poignant beauty of life. Divine connection, once accessed, can never be lost or superseded. It is eternal, and it carries us through everything that we may face in our lives, including death. It is always in the background, like a soft comforting presence. Many years ago, I experienced my first taste of this kind of background bliss before I encountered that particular teaching. I lived its truth before I heard it articulated. This occurred at the deaths of each of my parents.
First, let me say that I am an only child who was always very close to my parents. I feared their future deaths for most of my life. I thought I would lose my mind when they died. The irony is that “losing your mind” is often the best thing that could happen. The spiritual quest I began several years prior to their deaths put me in touch with something beyond my mind. The dissolution of a solely mental framework in favor of a greater awareness was exactly what helped me through the experience of their deaths.
My mother died at the age of 81. She had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital in Illinois. I received a call in Boston in the middle of the night and flew there the next day. I spent five days sitting by her hospital bed, slowly coming to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t recover. Because my father was 86, I also needed to look out for his physical and emotional needs, convincing him to go home to rest at night. The nurses, knowing I was an only child, were exceedingly kind. Two of them stayed with me by her bedside at the very end. My mother passed away as I held her hand, telling her I loved her. Her final goodbye was a spiked heartbeat on the monitor when I said her name—then she was gone. I was alone but surrounded by love—from the nurses, my friends, my parents’ friends. Long-distance calls kept coming to the house in support of me and my dad, who was devastated without her. My partner flew to Illinois to help us both. I was grieving but somehow okay because of everyone’s kindness. Something greater was being shared: my mother’s love had merged with God’s love, and I could feel it within and all around me.
My father died nine years later. During that time, I flew back and forth to the Midwest, caring for him long-distance. Once again, I received a late-night call: he had been taken to the hospital with pneumonia. It took me two days to reach him because I was at a retreat center in western Massachusetts. He managed to stay alive until I could get there, which was the greatest gift he ever gave me. He recognized me through his oxygen mask, and we exchanged “I love you’s” as I sat holding his hand. Within five hours of my arrival, he took his last breath and passed peacefully away. In that moment, I could feel my mother’s presence, my father’s presence, and also a greater Presence that encompassed us all. It manifested itself in the loving-kindness of everyone I encountered. The waitress in the hotel restaurant sat and told me about her own father’s passing; the shuttle driver gave me a “remembrance angel.” Close friends and family called to express sympathy and love. And as my plane back to Boston lifted into the skies, I looked down and saw a rainbow corona encircling the plane’s shadow on the clouds below. I was so clearly not alone.
When my parents died, I felt great loss, but I did not feel lost…or crazy. I actually felt blessed to have been present as each of them passed. It felt like a sacred gift of love, from them and from God. I was given the chance to see through the veil and to understand that death is transition not finality. To experience at a very deep level the magnificent ways in which spirit fills our lives and surrounds us all with love in every single moment. I knew firsthand what it was like to feel grief right alongside gratitude. My heart, opened by sorrow, knew the bliss of divine connection, of presence within absence. When we think we are most alone, we are actually part of something so much greater.