Pondering on What Comes Next

Visiting Claire Santa Monica in 2012.

Visiting Claire, Santa Monica, 2012.

Friendships can begin in the unlikeliest of places, perhaps as a reminder that good things can happen even in the darkest of circumstances. I’ve written before about meeting author Claire Bidwell Smith before the success of her first book, a memoir of grief about losing both her parents before she was twenty-five. She was Ken‘s and my grief counselor while he was home for hospice for what turned out to be the last eight weeks of his life.

Our friendship was forged during a time of great tumult and pressure–for me. Perhaps that makes it different from other friendships. Somehow stronger, tougher, more resilient. Without need of constant care and tending. I feel a connection to Claire that is unique; special. Ken is a part of our friendship. He is why our path’s crossed, making it innately remarkable.

Claire’s second book, After This, came out recently. It’s an exploration about different beliefs of what happens to us after we die. Like her first book, Rules of Inheritance–which I devoured in a day, it ties into a topic I’m all too well versed in: death/grief. As a psychologist and grief counselor, it’s one she’s intimately familiar with, and again, it’s the reason we came into each other’s lives.

Claire left her job with hospice and moved to Los Angeles shortly before Ken’s death in June of 2011. Since his family lives there, I try to find time to visit with her when I’m in town. I saw her and her daughters about a year ago when I was there to mark the occasion of each of my nephews’ graduations from eighth grade and high school.

Earlier in the year, I was excited to see she would be coming back to Women and Children’s First Bookstore in Andersonville to do another book reading/signing this past week. She had done so back in 2012 to promote the first book. I remember that cold Friday night in March. I wasn’t a year out from Ken’s death and still mostly keeping to myself. I was living a very different life then. I don’t think I invited anyone to join me at the reading. It was something I wanted to experience alone. But three years later found me sitting in the bookstore and sharing the experience with three friends, listening to Claire read an excerpt and talk about her book.

Part of her research in writing it was meeting with psychic mediums like John Edward and James Van Praagh. She also met with a Chicago-based medium and “intuitive consultant” named Delphina. I remember her telling me about the experience when we met for drinks just a few months after Ken died in 2011 when she delivered a message to me from him she’d held since they day she said good bye to him.

After Claire read and talked about how the idea for this book came about, she invited Delphina to speak about her process, the concept of connecting with “the other side” and about skepticism. She was a vibrant and bold character, gesturing wildly, cracking jokes and making fun of herself at every turn. She wasn’t what I expected, and her quirkiness caught me off guard.

When she asked the audience if we would grant her permission to do a reading (depending on who contacted her from the spirit world), we all agreed. But I got very nervous. My heart started pounding, and though I kept a smile on my face, one of my friends told me she could tell from the flush in my face that I was anxious.

Having so recently dealt with Ken’s death and trying to figure out grief, my life and what happened to Ken–happens to all of us–after we die, I’ve tried to build a framework that can be applied to all situations–which is difficult at best. I had a “best case scenario” with Ken. We knew he was going to die. He knew it, accepted it and led us down the path with incredible grace and humor. Nothing was left unsaid.

For all the work I’ve done to accept what was happening and to love and grieve him, I have to believe that if anything comes after this life that it’s not connected to it; that Ken isn’t floating around worrying about me or his parents or nephews. I need to believe that if there is more, then it involves exploration and adventures and creation, untethered by what has been left behind on this earth.

But what I saw Delphina do in delivering messages from the deceased to other people present at the book reading was pretty compelling in another direction. She talked to three different people in the audience for whom she received messages. Each of them nodded meaningfully as Delphina delivered the messages. There were no denials. No corrections. No skepticism.

Part of me was terrified that if there is indeed a spirit world who communicates via people like Delphina, that it would be just like Ken to put me on the spot and deliver some grand, inspiring and funny message. Or maybe that’s what I hoped: to be proved wrong with a message from him. Regardless, it didn’t happen. Maybe there was no need for a message to be sent to me; nothing left to say. We are connected in a way that is immutable, and I’ve never been encouraged to explore in a way that might challenge that.

My friends and I had some interesting discussion at dinner after the event about the topic of what comes after we die. All different opinions and perspectives and experiences. It was fascinating and fun. It’s something we have all been touched by, and something we will experience ourselves. I think talking about and listening to different ideas is the important thing.

But I’m not ready to see an “intuitive consultant” quite yet.



4 Replies to “Pondering on What Comes Next”

  1. I am glad that you know Claire, and it makes total sense that she would have been your hospice counselor, but I never put the two together until now! I met Claire in graduate school here in L.A. before she moved to Chicago, and am glad she is back in California. She is a fantastic writer and seeker. What a nice surprise to see that you two are good friends!

  2. “exploration and adventures and creation untethered…” I love that afterlife concept. I’ve been waiting over a year now for my college friend who passed to contact me. She and I spent so much of our early times together exchanging ideas about ‘the other side’. She fancied herself a gypsy- a white witch. Admittedly I’ve been disappointed, but this post gives me hope. She’s having undreamed of adventures in some other realm. Maybe she’ll bump into Ken.

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