I thought I had a strong belief system: be kind and stand up to injustice. But that ended at death. I figured: how can you have a belief, or faith, if no one knows what happens after you die? But now things were different. I was about to embark on a journey I’d never envisioned. I needed to find Dale.
The next day Joel left to go back home to Connecticut and get his construction business on track. Adam went back to his group house in Somerville. After having so many people around supporting us for so long, I now sat alone in the living room staring at the walls. That’s when it hit me—she’s really gone.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of utter loneliness and sorrow. The only word that comes to mind is profound. They say you grieve as deeply as you love, and I love Dale with all of my heart and soul. Life without her seemed incomprehensible. Pain and fear quickly filled up the emptiness inside me, overflowing into tears. She had literally saved my life when we first met, but I couldn’t save hers.
I started asking the unanswerable questions. What happened to Dale after she passed? Is she in spirit? Is she okay? Will we be reunited? Can I communicate with her in some way? I had an obsessive need to contact her, and so I talked to her all the time. I suspected this was because I wasn’t accepting her death, but I couldn’t help myself. I was searching for a place of peace to put her in my broken heart.
To make matters worse, my long-time therapist, so helpful during my divorce ten years ago, retired the same week Dale died.
That’s when I decided to try spiritual mediums. Dale had used them occasionally and liked some of the results. But it was definitely not my milieu. I first tried one who Dale used a few times, but she was pretty disappointing.
In the wake of all this distress, I had a lot of logistical nightmares to face. Putting together Dale’s memorial service was the first one. We settled on May 3, which gave me less than a week to organize it.
Adam also set up two ceremonies May 3 with his friends: a Buddhist service in the morning close to his house in Somerville and a Jewish service in the evening at Kevin and Beth’s house two doors down from me.
The day of the memorial I felt numb. I walked down to the end of the street with Dale’s children to the church where we were married, paused at the side entrance and tried to compose myself. Inside, I walked down a narrow hall to the doorway leading into the sanctuary. I vaguely remember sitting down in a front row.
Everyone said later it was a moving tribute to Dale. It began with gathering music by Yo Yo Ma, and then Tenzing beautifully rang his Tibetan bowl. Next was the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Eva Cassidy, followed by Rev. Tracy Robinson-Harris talking about Dale as a searcher in life. Poet Catherine Sasanov read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Swan.” Two of Dale’s colleagues from her ministry program, Reverends Lois Huminiak and Alice Mastrovito, drove straight through from Cleveland to praise Dale’s strong spiritual courage. Renée DeKona talked about how Dale was such a great girlfriend. Then they played Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” our favorite song. Rev. Terry Burke followed, recalling the time he arrived at our front door and paused to watch Dale and me slow dance together in the front hallway to that song…until we finally noticed him smiling back at us. Both Joel and Adam spoke off the cuff and from the heart about their love for Dale.
Then it was my turn. I took a deep breath, walked to the podium and looked up, amazed to see the church filled to the brim. I spoke briefly, simply saying that living with Dale was like living with a miracle every day. My good friend Paul Miller, who accompanied me, read this poem I wrote for my Sweetheart. I knew I’d never get through it myself.
Letting Go. Lyrics by John Swan, music written and performed by Justin and Colleen Kleya, The Grass Gypsys.
Gerry Wright, my longtime confidant, spoke last and most eloquently about Dale’s authenticity while reminding us that all things must pass.
The last song was Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” and then Tenzing closed the service, ringing his bowl three times. It was over.
On June 13, Dale’s birthday, we held a small service in our neighbors Beth and Kevin’s front yard to bury some of Dale’s ashes under their sugar maple tree. Justine and Colleen Kleya composed a wonderful melody for my poem “Letting Go” and sang it during the ceremony. Several pedestrians stopped by to listen, and when they realized it was a burial ceremony they offered their condolences with a soulful nod to us.
That was followed by our sixth anniversary on June 21, the summer solstice. We considered our anniversary the most important celebration of the year, and this one ripped my heart apart.
I spent my birthday, July 6, alone, except for a walk around Jamaica Pond with my friend Karen D’Amato, who also joined me afterward on my porch for a talk and some ice tea. This would have been a big day for Dale as it’s also Joel’s birthday, not to mention the Dalai Lama’s. “Three of my favorite people,” she’d laugh. “Someday I hope to get you all together.”
That was actually not a pipedream since Tenzing’s family is very close to the Dalai Lama and Tenzing had offered to set up an audience with him if we went with Tenzing to Dharamsala, India, next year. But there was no next year for Dale.
I had the biggest problem with her shoes, sitting right where she left them by the front entrance, and her pocketbook hanging above them on the closet doorknob. I couldn’t move them. They made me feel like Dale was still somehow in the house.
Mornings were the worst. I’d wake up and instinctively reach for Dale, forgetting she wasn’t there. Then my heart would sink.
I took to sleeping with Dale’s favorite lap blanket wrapped around a hot pack for something to hug. Sometimes, before going to sleep, I listened to a recording of an online interview she did with her friend Kay Adams while she was writing this memoir. And every night I kept a bedroom window curtain open so I could see her tree in Kevin’s front yard last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
But no matter what I did, the loneliness prevailed. I feared I would be alone the rest of my life.
Throughout this time I kept seeing mediums, ministers, doctors and therapists.
The mediums told me nothing that indicated they could really contact Dale. Most of the time it seemed like they were just fishing for information. If they came up empty, they would say it was because I was too upset for Dale to get through, and then they’d try to assure me she was okay, sometimes even saying she was sitting right next to me. I left most sessions in tears.
The therapists and ministers usually told me: “It takes time,” and I’ll eventually learn to live with the grief. I found little comfort in that.
Most doctors wanted to give me anti-depression meds, which I had tried during my divorce. I declined. They only made me more nervous and upset. When one doctor put me on the scale for the first time in nearly a year, I was shocked to find out I was twenty-five pounds underweight.
What did seem to help was the support of our friends. Each week Dale’s colleagues Lisa Biagetti and Mary Louise Pauli came over to give me Reiki. We always did the sessions in Dale’s therapy room. I felt more comfortable there, lying on the therapy table next to her collection of Tibetan bowls on one side and her giant four-foot gong on the other. Behind me, her many indigenous drums filled the far wall. A candle glowed on a modest altar, gently lighting the dim room. If her spirit was anywhere, I thought, it’d be here.
Gerry, my real spiritual mentor, visited regularly, always nailing my feet to the ground with his wisdom. He knew the difference between “The Illusion” and “The Real,” and the dangers both posed. He’d deny it, but truth is he was my Buddha warrior.
Paul and Catherine also came over often. They sat through my crying episodes with unwavering support and love. Paul, a psychologist, always had positive advice that I took to heart.
Beth and Kevin were especially helpful, inviting me over for dinner three or four times a week, or to watch sports on TV, or take walks around Jamaica Pond. They virtually adopted me.
Many mornings I enjoyed walks with Karen, who is also the principal copy editor of this memoir. She lost her first husband years ago and knew what I was going through.
Our friends Steve Quann and Diana Satin, two other editors of this memoir, also visited often, bringing their smiles, good food, and lots of love.
And I had several appointments with Dr. Donald Levy at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in Chestnut Hill. I’d met him years before when I worked as a journalist, and he impressed me with his out-of-the-box ideas. He’s the only MD I’ve met that calls himself a mystic.
Don said he could hear the anger in my voice and encouraged me to express it, but with forgiveness, for only through forgiving those who’ve hurt you will you ever get rid of the anger. I know he’s right and I keep trying, but it’s hard.
During my second appointment he patiently listened to me describe my search for Dale, and then he dropped a bomb. “You have to accept she’s gone, for both of you, because Dale needs to continue on her journey, too.”
I never thought about that. Am I holding Dale back by reaching out for her all the time? Another unanswerable question.
I tried to count my blessings in order to balance out my grief. There were so many, mostly because of Dale. I’d experienced the deepest love someone could know. My cadre of friends surrounded me with affection and support. I lived in a beautiful home decorated by my Sweetheart. I had wonderful memories so vivid they often drew me through space and time. I enjoyed financial security I’d never had before. I had three stepchildren and two grandsons I loved dearly.
Each day I found a new blessing from Dale: a card inside a book telling me “Without you my life would be impossible,” a journal with a description of the first time we made love, poems and sketches stashed away in drawers, family photos stored in boxes I’d never seen of Dale as a beautiful young woman…
Then on August 15, during a windy thunderstorm, I came home to find a tree had blown down across the street, crushing a car in the space where I’d parked a few hours earlier. The next day I found out Terry, our minister and dear friend, had died that same night, at the same time the tree had fallen. A coincidence? All I knew for sure was now I’d lost two of the most important people in my life. What kind of blessings balance out that?
One of Dale’s wishes was to have some of her ashes scattered on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, the first place she found courage after her divorce living in a big house overlooking the bay.
Joel picked me up on September 19 in Jamaica Plain and we drove to Portland to meet Adam and Rachel. As soon as we entered the city, I had a strong feeling Dale was there with us.
We stayed at Crandall’s big house on the Eastern Prom. My old friend from high school, Alice, also joined us, along with Crandall’s partner Frank.
It was a beautiful day. After lunch we strolled down to a stand of trees Dale loved close to the water. Alice held my hand for support. I needed that. This was going to be hard.
We stood among the trees for a few moments and I thanked everyone for being there. Then I took the urn and poured some of her ashes into my hand. They felt so soft. I sprinkled them around one of the trees and then passed the urn around as everyone but Alice took their turn doing the same.
When we finished the group broke up and people sat alone or in pairs on the lawn leading down to the harbor. Soon an afternoon fog rolled in off the water, enveloping the trees like a soft blanket.
Later we met up at Crandall’s house. Frank cooked a great dinner and we all chatted around the table, mostly small talk. It almost felt like a normal family dinner. Afterward, Alice left and the kids broke up, sitting alone in the house or on the patio. Before Rachel left I gave her a small jar of her mother’s ashes. I had one for each of Dale’s children.
That night as I crawled into the bed Dale and I always shared when we visited, I heard her voice in the room clearly call my name. I lay down, a little stunned, waiting for more, but that was it.
My grief counselor called it a hallucination. What else would I expect?
A few weeks later, I tracked down Dale’s therapist, Jonathan York, who had guided her through past life regressions in 2010. He kindly shared the recordings, downloading them to my computer.
When I got home I nervously opened the first file. In the beginning I could hear Jonathan putting Dale into what seemed like a hypnotic state. Her voice sounded lovely and calm, and it brought back a rush of memories. If I closed my eyes I could almost feel her next to me.
There were four life regressions, each about fifty minutes long, and one life-between-lives session that lasted almost three hours. In the regressions, she experienced life in the womb, was a female shaman in an indigenous tribe, a socialite who didn’t marry, and a factory manager who never found his real purpose.
But it was the life-between-lives session that I really wanted to hear. That was when I had my black cloud dream (see page 253). I went to bed early, turned off the light, and started playing the session. It felt magical, like Dale was actually speaking to me from her spirit.
The session began with her ascension after death. “It feels beautiful,” she says. “I’m moving past things in space, lots of illumination…lots of energy, love and peace. Beings are greeting me, welcoming me back home.”
She meets her mentor, Marona, a higher form of being that “oversees [her] soul experiences,” and takes Dale to an outdoor platform to meditate. “I walk up to the platform with shiny stones under my feet. In the center is a mandala and a fire. Around us are trees…it’s a very natural setting. I’m here to download my experiences and reintegrate my presence in this world,” she says.
Dale is then led into a council room with “about fifty beings of another energy. Marona helps me present my past life on a watery flat screen in the middle of the circle. There is a sense of awe.”
After that, Dale stands in front of a semi-circle of nine beings who are part of her soul group. They are mostly family members, some still alive, who have been challenging to deal with in her life as Dale. She greets five of them, one at a time, describing their soul natures. Despite the problems she’s had with them, Dale displays her usual love and compassion, thanking them for “the opportunity to learn life lessons that would not have happened without that trauma.”
“There’s one more soul I’m curious to possibly join us,” Jonathan says. “It’s the soul of John. And I wonder if you could beacon out there in this moment the thought of the soul of John to join us…Do you have a sense he’s coming?”
“Oh, I do.”
“And how does he approach?”
“With great warmth and generosity. He comes straight towards me. It’s energy, enveloping energy, like a hug, like a deep old relationship…I feel like he moves right through me and embraces me deeply. His energy doesn’t stand apart. It’s very different than the other energies. It’s right up front… almost merging with me…feels like a very old bond. We grew through a lot of difficult situations as souls.”
“What is the purpose of your bonding in this life?” Jonathan asks.
“Well, I had very challenging choices. I needed help…there was a complete emptiness in my life because of the distancing of family members…His coming forward has been wonderful.”
“How do you serve John and his growth?”
“It was a waking-up mechanism. He was a little bit lost himself. It was an opportunity to create something we never dreamed of.
“An intentional community?”
“I wonder now if you can spend a moment with John for a final exchange. Let me know when you’re done…”
In a few moments Dale sighs, “Yes, we’re done.”
“I wonder if Marona would humor us for a moment…and hold up a full-length mirror so that you can see your reflection as a soul…how do you see yourself?”
“I see myself as energy, almost like a flame, only soft white, with red running through it.”
Does Marona have any final words for you?”
“Yes. He/She is very loving and very optimistic things are going in the right direction…and there are more energy-hugs, and imprinting on how to return so I don’t lose track so easily.”
“I’m wondering if there’s a symbol Marona can impress on you to let you know things are going in the right direction?”
“There is. It’s the sky. The energy. The sky has always been there whenever I look up. There’s this tremendous sense of connection. But I don’t always remember to look up.”
After the recording, I lay in awe on the bed where Dale died. In the darkness I finally felt her close to me. Her compassion, humility, courage and wisdom filled the silent room, as did her beautiful voice, still whispering in my ear.
Each night before we’d go to sleep, I’d put my arms around Dale and tell her how much I loved her. She’d do the same, and say, “This is the best part of the day.”
“Goodnight Sweetheart, I’ll always love you.”
I realize now the only thing that can really heal me is love. That’s what Dale did for me. Every day. It’s the greatest gift someone can bestow.
Dusk is falling and I walk the fifty paces to the great sugar maple, crimson-and-golden-leaved with the last streaks of sunlight illuminating the lower branches.
I slide over the low rod iron fence facing Dane Street, where I once promised Dale I would bring her back from the hospital and she would never have to leave her neighborhood. Before I sit down on the bench Kevin and Beth put out for visitors, I bend down and stroke the large egg-shaped stone and the figurine I put at the base of the tree.
I sit and talk to her for a long time tonight.
“Hi Sweetie. How you doing? It’s been six months…but sometimes it feels like six days to me. I think about you all the time. Our home feels empty…I miss you so much. The silence is unbearable. I sit on the sofa, close my eyes, and listen for your voice—that lovely voice that always made me smile. Sometimes I forget…and begin to call out your name to ask what you want for dinner or if you’ve seen my glasses. Yeah, I continue to lose my glasses.
“But our friends have been great. They’re all very supportive, although I’ve got to be careful not to overtax them. They’re grieving, too. Haven’t heard a word from my family, except from my cousin, Jimmy. He knows what I’m going through and keeps inviting me down to Texas.
“I’ve been working on my music and thinking a lot about our honeymoon in Quebec, so I wrote a song about it. It’s in A minor, so it’s a little bittersweet. At the end of the song I go back alone to Rue Saint-Paul where we loved to stroll among the art galleries. It’s evening and I’m walking in the same misty rain that we did. Instinctively I reach my hand out for yours, but it’s not there. Then I look down and see your smiling face reflecting back to me from the wet cobblestones. But I’m having trouble with the lyrics. The music comes, but the words are harder. Like my grief, I feel it so deeply but can’t articulate it well. It’s almost beyond my vocabulary.
“Hey, look, the full moon is rising up over your tree. It’s beautiful. You loved the sky. Remember when we’d lay back and watch the night heavens in Freeport? Stars galore. Holding hands and falling into the universe together.
“We were so close… You were like a dream come true. Losing you…oh, God…sorry Sweetie…I cry a lot…They say it’s good...so don’t worry…
“I’m trying to find a peaceful place in my heart for you…a place you’ll always feel comfortable. But I don’t want to hold you back. Should I keep reaching out, or let you go? I don’t know what to do, or where this journey is taking me. But I don’t want to go without you. Every night I lie in bed and talk to you, hoping you hear me. I hug your favorite blanket, you know, that old beat-up green one. I can still smell your scent on it, although it’s fading.
“So… after six months of searching for you, this is all I know…you’re always in my heart and soul and in the hearts of everyone who knew you. You’re in your children and grandchildren. You’re in the earth you loved so much, this big sugar maple, and your garden that comes up every year in your honor. You’re in the sky, your symbol that things are on the right track. You’re in our apartment and in every home you helped decorate. You were in that room in Crandall’s house when you called my name. Thank you for that. You’re in the words recorded during your life-between-lives session. What a gift. When I listen to your voice I imagine being there in spirit with you, our energies entwined with sparks flying all around. You’re the wallpaper of my life. You are everywhere, except in my arms.”
After a while I get up from the bench, lean the palms of my hands on the tree, and bow my head. “Goodnight, my love. I’m just down the street.”
Walking back, I notice the windows of my study in the rear of the house are black. Dale died in that room. I pause for a moment and then continue down the sidewalk to our front steps. I walk up and open the door with the same key I’ve used for eight years. The key that used to open the doorway to the light of my life.
Inside the dark apartment I can feel Dale’s beauty around me. But I’ve lost too much weight and the fall chill stays in my bones.
I bend down and pat Smokey who’s waiting in the large front hallway, lying in a narrow shaft of light from the street lamp outside. He follows me everywhere. For the past three years he’s lived in a loving home where people came and went all the time. Now suddenly there are very few visitors. I know he misses Dale, too. He sleeps at the foot of the bed on her side and, like me, is not eating very much.
We make our way upstairs to the bedroom in the dark and I get undressed. Smokey is in his spot. I crack open a window, crawl under the covers, and take Dale’s blanket in my arms. Years of memories pass through my mind as tears of both joy and sorrow roll down my cheeks.
I feel cold in bed without her, so I pull the comforter up to my chin. Dale and I were both searchers, looking for our soulmate all our lives. What a miracle to finally find each other. Now I’m searching for her again, calling out to her beyond time and space to the soul home she described so well.
Sweetheart, I keep wondering how you’re doing. What’s it like where you are? Will I ever hear from you again? Are you waiting for me? Will we be reunited? It seems I’m on a journey into darkness, slowly feeling my way, still trying to find the mystical nexus that leads me to the light, and you.
Even though I know that when I ask the unanswerable questions I have to be satisfied that sometimes darkness is light enough.