“It’s surprising what you can hear in the silence of a relationship with someone who has passed,” Kathy Curtis writes in “Invisible Ink: The Journey Beyond Words” (2007).
Kathy kindly gave me this book (Word and Spirit’s first review copy!), which basically continues an epistolary conversation with her mother. The two had written letters back and forth for years. “There was nothing profound about what we wrote,” she says in the prologue. “We just wrote.”
Then Kathy’s mom was diagnosed at age 60 with cancer. The letters stopped as the two of them, along with the rest of the family, coped with pain, morphine, grief, palliative care and, three months later, her death.
Despite her mother’s physical absence, Kathy began to write to her again. Being accustomed to channeling her experiences into creative endeavors, she knew putting this difficult journey into words would be therapeutic — but she didn’t know how much strength she would gain from doing so. “I also didn’t know that I would begin to get a sense for what Mom’s spirit might want to say back to me,” she wrote.
The letter from Kathy to her mom details their final three months on earth together, from her mom’s cancer diagnosis to the hawk that flew with the funeral procession. Anyone who has cared for a loved one in the dying process will be able to relate to the pain, frustration, and sweetness described here. Then comes the energy shift — of the person as he or she moves to the other side, and of those left behind as they navigate life without that person. Or is their loved one still there in some way . . . but how? How would they know? Is anyone, especially a parent, ever really gone?
Kathy and her father and sisters began to inexplicably sense their mother’s presence — they’d suddenly smell her perfume, see her in a dream, or see a cardinal and just know something out of the ordinary was happening. Then a lost ring had Kathy looking up at the sky while gardening and saying, “OK, Mom, I know you can help me more now than ever — help me find the ring!” Seconds later, there it was on top of a pile of compost.
This story segues into the next part of the book, in which Kathy’s mom has her say. In our logical and linear world, it may be hard to believe that someone who has died is still present and communicating with us. That is, until experiences like these make us tune out the world’s chatter (and our own) long enough to listen.
Kathy’s mother describes witnessing her own funeral, her delight at still getting letters from her daughter, and her own feelings about her illness and passing. There is growing wisdom and perspective from this higher plane. There are references to her dancing days in high school — poodle skirt, saddle shoes and all.
Naturally, she devotes significant attention to her family’s grief, offering comfort and the assurance of her continued love and presence. “I’m glad you drove down to Indianapolis to spend Mother’s Day with Dad,” she tells Kathy. “It was nice to see you in church, especially knowing you wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for me. (I might even get some extra points for that around here. Ha!)”
Mom also firmly counsels her daughter to let go of her own expectations about how her mother’s earthly life should have been. “I know you mean well, but it’s not for you to say what purpose my life had,” she says. “There’s more to my story than you’ll ever know, and goodness knows, you’ve got enough to figure out about your own life.”
And the hawk that flew with the hearse? Birds are messengers, Mom explains. They travel between worlds: “All you have to do is pay attention and open your heart, and whatever message they have for you will find its way in.”