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The Waiting Game
My mother is a social butterfly, an extrovert’s extrovert. It takes her nearly an hour to leave any gathering because she’s got a warm hug, a story, a joke for everyone in her goodbyes. My father was an introvert’s introvert, a man with a stutter born to a perpetually unhappy, perfectionist mother. He learned at an early age that silence was more powerful than speech. While my mother completed her lengthy social goodbye rituals, he would step outside for smokes and wait (mostly) patiently for her to finish her verbal choreography.
You would think those smokes would have killed him, since he went through at least a pack a day for the better part of 50 years, but they didn’t. Death came looking for him, not in a hood and sickle, but in the form of an aggressive melanoma. Chemotherapy was the deathblow. After the third round, he slipped quietly into a coma then slipped just as quietly through the doorway between life and death.
Three months after his funeral, I went back to visit my mother. I’d been there several days when I felt his presence in his woodworking shop. I turned to look for him and saw him sitting in the dark on the stool in the corner, slumped and looking defeated. Despite my experience seeing dead folks, I was surprised he was there. For some reason I expected my father, a fundamentalist Christian who was serious about his faith, to have had the ‘through the tunnel to the light’ kind of experience. Instead, he was perched on a stool in his shop in the dark, looking dejected and confused.
I greeted him and explained that he didn’t need to stay there, that mom was going to be ok, that he had made us strong, and that there were others waiting for him on the other side. After a few beats and without looking at me, he finally nodded and then was gone.
Because I’ve had these types of experiences throughout my life, I’ve actively sought ways to understand them. Shamanism has proven to be the most effective for me. In shamanic practice, you travel to a non-physical reality to more easily interact with Spirit. You can get help and advice this way for both mundane and spiritual matters. The technique is to park your body in a comfortable position, then shift your brain into a Theta state, most often by listening to drumming at a certain resonance and number of beats per minute.
Years after my father’s death, I took a shamanic training on what happens after one dies and how to work with that. One of the exercises in this training was to find someone who had died in the previous decade or so, preferably someone with whom we’d had relationship of some kind. I decided to go check on my dad. Assistance for my search came to me in the form of a raven and a hawk. The three of us flew upward together, around an incredibly large tree that reached miles up into the sky. About ¾ of the way up I heard Raven call out, “Got him!” and we flew in.
I found myself in what looked like a transportation hub. Changing back to my bipedal
locomotive self, I walked through it for just a few minutes when I saw my dad, sitting at the counter of what looked like a typical airport Starbucks. He was just sitting and waiting, wearing his trademark dad gear – “gimme” cap, plaid short-sleeved shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He didn’t seem depressed like he did at our last encounter, but he didn’t really seem happy either. I told him that he could move out of whatever level he was in anytime he wanted to and that all he had to do was call for help. He said he was fine where he was for now, then he ignored me and sipped his coffee. Once again, I was puzzled at his seeming reticence to “be with the Lord,” as he used to put it. Finally, I wished him well and said goodbye. He hardly seemed to notice me leaving.
Over the following weeks, this shamanic experience bubbled up in my consciousness many times. Why was dad so unwilling to move on? Answers in the shamanic world are not always instant. Sometimes it takes a bit for the pieces to fall into the right order at the right time. The pieces of this interaction didn’t fall into place until I began to write this article. Then I knew. My father hasn’t moved on because he is still doing what he’s done most of his life: he’s waiting for mom, patiently and quietly occupying himself until she is done with her goodbyes.
A soul’s journey after leaving the physical form may include this waiting game. Understanding this can help us comprehend the deeper meanings of our experiences: why people don’t move on, why some us see dead people, and why there are so many stories of hauntings.