• Blog

    To Lose a Child

    The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes. ~ Thomas Hardy

    My teenage years were ideal, filled with wonderful memories and all the usual “firsts”:  first love, first kiss, first car, first job… The little girl who fought horrifying battles in her sleep each night (more on that later) had transformed into a young lady voted “First with a Smile” by her classmates. In 1984, I graduated from college with an AAS in Secretarial Science, landed the perfect job at one of the best places to work in my community, and married my high school sweetheart, all within the same year. We had three beautiful daughters right off the bat, our family and friends were all healthy, and we settled happily into middle-class American life.

    It was November 1992 when I found out I was expecting Baby Number Four. I struggled through the holiday season with the same debilitating morning sickness that had plagued me for each of my previous pregnancies, but I knew it would only last a few months, and it was always worth it in the end.  I had just recently completed a comprehensive course to become a Certified Childbirth Educator—something I had hoped to do on the side, given my growing experience with the subject matter. I thought it would be perfect, being pregnant while teaching about pregnancy and childbirth. I could share my knowledge and my own personal expertise.

    I’d had two miscarriages, a blighted ovum (in which an amniotic sac develops, but the baby never does), and three healthy babies by that point. These pregnancies were all considered high risk, because of the hyperemesis graviderum (severe vomiting during pregnancy leading to substantial weight loss) and an increasingly severe maternal-fetal blood incompatibility, caused by rare antibodies (Duffy, Kidd, and Kell) that I had acquired, effectively pitting my blood against that of my offspring.

    In mid-March 1993, as I was experiencing my fourth baby’s first fleeting movements, there was an epidemic of Fifth Disease (also known as Parvovirus B19) going around in our local community. Fifth Disease is a common, generally mild childhood virus. My two oldest daughters were exposed to it in grade school at the time and experienced the tell-tale “slapped cheek” appearance, along with some of its other mild symptoms. Then I became exposed to it, and the faint rash spread ominously to my chest and extremities.  I thought it was just a harmless virus with mild symptoms. I thought wrong.

    At around 21 weeks of pregnancy, I noticed my baby’s movements had slowed down significantly. I brought it up at my next appointment, but my ob-gyn did not seem concerned. He said he could still hear her heart beating with the Doppler device, so my fears were dismissed. But she continued to move less and less, until around 24 weeks, when all movement seemed to have ceased altogether. For some time, I had been having recurring nightmares that my baby bump was completely gone and that I had lost the baby. Notes I jotted down from one of those nightmares follows:

    Walking alone through busy store trying to push cart, but ridiculously-pregnant stomach in way. Arms too short to reach handle. Nobody noticed or offered to help as I struggled to push cart with belly. Someone announced over the PA “pregnant lady coming through.” At the checkout monochrome strangers were staring at me. Something didn’t feel right…everything was too gray, too slow-motion, too gloomy. By time I reached register, stomach had shrunk. Had really sick feeling. Next, I was in hospital, lying on gurney, belly completely back to pre-pregnant size, even though I was supposed to give birth that day. Kept patting it and patting it, hoping to make it big again. Doctor walked in to check on my labor status.  

    Each time I had such a dream, I woke in a panic and had a sick sense of foreboding. I began calling and stopping at the doctor’s office after work almost daily, annoying them to no end, I’m sure. Every day I told them the same thing—that there was definitely something wrong. Each day someone in the doctor’s office laid the Doppler on my stomach and insisted they could hear the baby’s heartbeat, along with my own. I was just as adamant that I could only hear one heartbeat…mine. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew what a fetal heartbeat should sound like. At 26 weeks, when I began swelling from head to toe and my blood pressure soared (signs of pre-eclampsia), the doctor finally told me, “To ease your mind, we will send you over [to the hospital] for an ultrasound.”

    My husband was at work, so I hobbled over to the nearby radiology department in an adjacent building alone, bloated, uncomfortable, and nervous; and I climbed up onto the examining table so the ultrasound tech could begin her exam. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she went silent and still, as she held the Doppler over my distended abdomen. You could hear a pin drop. My heart sank, and I knew without her even saying it. There was no more smile on her face; no more idle chit-chat about her son and my husband, who were childhood friends. Instead, she grimly told me to wait there and returned a few minutes later with my doctor. It was his job to tell me, not hers. With genuine regret written all over his face, he stood at the foot of the exam table, took my swollen feet in his hands in a comforting manner and, with tears in his pale blue eyes, said he was so sorry, but the baby had died.

    The next thing I remember, I was walking towards the exit. Do you know how it feels to walk through a busy waiting area by yourself, sobbing, clearly pregnant, face and ankles grossly swollen, with all eyes upon you, as you try to process that, not only has your baby died, but now you must return in a day to labor and give birth to a dead child? Nobody else could do it for me; nor would I wish it on anyone else. The responsibility to endure such a morbid and heart-wrenching affair is an expectant mother’s alone, at least in the physical sense. So, I shored up my inner strength and prepared to do what had to be done. I had no choice but to somehow put one foot in front of the other in the days ahead, as grim as I knew they would be.

    The rest of that day is a blur. But I remember going home and collapsing in bed, sobbing. I must have called my husband. I must have swung by my parents’ house to tell them, since I had to go right past there to get home. And when my three young daughters (two, four, and six years old) arrived home that day, I must have explained the situation as best as I could. But I truly don’t remember much of that day or the next. It was all so surreal, like knowing you’re in a bad dream you can’t wake from. It felt so wrong, and I felt so guilty to be alive with my heart beating strongly, while our baby—whose waning heartbeat had been of such concern to me for weeks—was now dead inside of me. I mourned in bed, until it was time for us to head back to the hospital so that labor could be induced.

    Once induction had begun and the doctor went home, a fresh-faced nurse peaked in on us occasionally. Finally, after several hours of labor, on April 30, 1993, “Baby Julie” was born, deceased, landing in the capable, loving hands of her father, because no doctors or nurses arrived in time to assist. The young nurse to whom I was assigned returned to my bedside, silent and stunned, like an innocent deer in the headlights. She was unable to say anything for a moment or two—the frozen expression on her face is etched into my memory. Maybe it was her first experience with a stillborn. Nevertheless, she regained her composure and, from that point on, she did all she could to help ease our pain.

    Baby Julie was handed gently to me, and I remember looking from my husband to the nurse, asking over and over and over again—even though her skin was unnaturally darkened and beginning to slough off—“Are you sure she’s dead?” “Are you sure?” Nobody needed to respond. I knew the answer. The nurse sympathetically offered a Polaroid snapshot of Julie and pressed her tiny footprints carefully onto the certificate of birth—mementos that would go into a scrapbook I later created for her. Even at 26 weeks, and even with her skin clearly undergoing the unsightly process of desquamation, she was perfect. All two pounds and fourteen inches of her were otherwise perfect. I held her for the longest time, and then I was discharged, so that we could arrange for, and attend, her simple graveside service. Exhausted and with a heavy heart, we returned home, and I asked my girls to help me find a special blanket and cross.

    We went to the funeral home, where Baby Julie had been taken, and we selected a little white casket, which seemed appropriate for a pure, angelic soul. It reminded me of a medium-size picnic cooler. Then the mortician took the blanket and cross we brought with us and went into another room to prepare Baby Julie for our own private viewing. When he returned, he told us to take as long as we needed to say our prayers and goodbyes and to view her one last time. She was wrapped snuggly in a small, colorful homemade quilt made by her great-grandma, and resting across her belly was a Precious Moments ceramic cross with a baby girl on it.

    From the funeral home, a small contingent of vehicles (immediate family and the funeral director) proceeded to the cemetery, where Baby Julie was buried next to her uncle.  I remember holding my youngest daughter’s hand especially tight, as we stood at the grave site. At only two years old, it looked like she would remain the baby of the family for a while. With all the maternal hormones still rushing through my veins, I needed a baby to rock and cuddle, and she still fit the bill. I had three precious, healthy little girls who needed me, regardless of what else was happening. And I needed them, now more than ever. It would have been unspeakably hard to go home empty-handed, with no child to hold. A week or so later, we selected a marble slab with an angel etched into it to mark Baby Julie’s grave.

    Naturally, I spent a lot of time in the following days, wondering if there was something I had done to cause it. But ultimately, I learned that Baby Julie had died because of Fifth Disease, not because of anything I had done wrong. Fifth Disease is not harmful to the general population, but those who become infected during the first or second trimester can miscarry or have a stillborn child, depending on how far along they are in their pregnancy. When my diagnosis was confirmed, I wrote a long and carefully-worded letter to a local doctor who hosted the weekly “Ask the Doctor” radio show. I asked him to give a heads-up to other pregnant women in our community, especially the teachers, so they would understand the risk of exposure. I was grateful when he read it on the air, handling the topic with the appropriate amount of concern.

    Losing an infant, changed me in profound ways, good and bad. It took the heart out of any desire to teach childbirth classes. At the time, all I could think was, “If I can’t even get it right, how can I expect to teach others how to give birth?” I lost any desire to teach a class of pregnant women. I didn’t want to be the old me anymore—the me that couldn’t carry a baby to term; the me that couldn’t rescue my own child, when I knew in my gut that she was dying. I wanted that ‘me’ gone and replaced with somebody totally different. So, I cut my hair off in a choppy, poufy eighties style, lost all the baby weight and then some, and tried to pretend that this new me was perfectly fine.

    I was mistaken to think that I could run away from myself as easily as that. There would be no sweeping this under the rug. I had to face it and work my way through it. Twice, while I was out and about with my daughters after the loss, I saw people who knew I had been pregnant and, because I no longer looked pregnant, they asked when I’d had the baby. I tried to hold back tears as I told them I had lost her, but I could see how awkward and sorry it made them feel, which made me feel even worse for causing their discomfort. It was also difficult when I first returned to work, because everyone felt bad but didn’t know what to say. They couldn’t say the usual things like, “Well, she lived a full life,” or, “She was such a beautiful person, well loved by everyone,” or “She’s not suffering anymore.” None of that would have been appropriate. Only those three words we all say during times of loss—I’m so sorry—were appropriate. Those three simple words and a hug were enough. 

    I got through the difficult days following the loss by listening to music that seemed to express how I was feeling, like Michael Bolton’s “When I’m Back on My Feet Again” and “Lean on Me.” I played them over and over again. Besides my Michael Bolton music therapy, as I like to call it, I started taking my girls on day trips to fun places, trying to squeeze a different adventure in almost every weekend. I’d load them and sometimes their friends into the car, and off we’d go on a whim, to the mountains, to the beach, to random playgrounds and “magical places” we’d discovered on our travels, and to zoos, etc.  A child’s energy and happiness are contagious—and that is exactly what I needed that summer. They probably thought I was the coolest mom doing all of that for them, but it was as much for me as it was for them.

    I also did a lot of reading. A lot. Because of Baby Julie, I became interested in all things spiritual and metaphysical—substantially more so than I had at any other time in my life. I’d always been interested in these things, ever since reading Erich von Däniken’s books, like Chariots of the Gods, and several Ruth Montgomery books from the Seventies that were lying around the house when I was in grade school.  But Baby Julie’s passing led to a much deeper, more driven search about the mysteries of life and death. I was determined to understand what happens after we die? What happens to the soul of a stillborn? What did it teach me? Was it a lesson I needed to experience, or was it for someone else’s soul growth? What is the point of it all? I devoured book after book about near-death experiences, Heaven, life between lives, universal and divine energies, the Hall of Records, reincarnation, old souls, the Masters, you name it—Conversations with God, Seth Speaks, the Book of Prophecies, the Celestine Prophecy, Emmanuel’s Book; other books by Lee Carroll, Jane Roberts, Dolores Cannon, Michael Newtown, Brian Weiss,Gregg Braden, Echo Bodine, George Anderson, Edgar Cayce, and Raymond Moodie, and on and on and exhaustedly on. I began to understand that, in losing Baby Julie, we had forged a different kind of connection—not a physical mother/daughter relationship this time around—but an inseparable spiritual link. A bridge between here in the physical and there on the Other Side had been created, and it was mine to navigate, if I chose to do so. Most importantly, the loss of my baby girl was the key to my awakening.

    Dad, my protector, keeping me safe from the reindeer.

    There was something else I learned during this difficult time. There is a tenderness to the male gender that I had scarcely witnessed until I lost baby Julie. I saw sincere tears in my doctor’s eyes, my husband’s eyes, my father’s eyes, and my father-in-law’s eyes—all of the men that a girl looks to, to keep her safe from harm. But this was something they couldn’t prevent me from experiencing; and seeing how it hurt them made my heart ache for all of them. I was used to men being strong and silent and holding their emotions in check. I had never seen this vulnerable, softer, more empathetic side to the extent that I saw it then. And I needed to see it so badly; to know that they grasped the gravity of the situation—that they cared enough to not hold back and hide it, even if just that one time.

    I hope and believe that the doctor walked away from my case a more attentive professional who listened to his patients when they told him they knew something wasn’t right. I would like to think my loss made him a better doctor until his recent retirement. For everything, there is a reason… Sometimes we figure it out before the end of our time here; sometimes we won’t find the answers until our time here is over. Like Dan Fogelberg advises in “Part of the Plan,”  Await your arrival, with simple survival. And one day we’ll all understand.

    Many women have suffered the devastation of miscarriage and stillbirth. No matter what point a pregnancy ends prematurely at, there will be grief and sorrow for a child you never had a chance to know. From the moment you first learn of the desired conception, you have hopes and dreams and plans for your child’s future and your own future with them. You have visions of what your child will look like and what he or she will be like. They are the last thing you think about as you fall asleep and the first thing you think about upon waking. But all of that is stolen from you when your child is stillborn or miscarried. You may feel like you let that little soul down; like somehow you did not protect them enough. You may feel like you let your spouse and your loved ones down. For me, it wasn’t until some time later, after an intense period of soul searching, that I begin to pull myself out of that mindset and accept that it was destined; regardless of what I could have done differently. And it was not my fault.

    My mother had a dream a week before I lost Baby Julie which has brought me great comfort over the years, as I believe it was a true visitation from my grandfather, who passed away just a month before I lost Baby Julie.  In his later years, we could always find Grandpa sitting in his rocking chair in their cozy, little living room, contentedly watching his grandchildren and great grandchildren buzz around him. We (the many grandchildren) were always eager to present him with a new great-grandchild, and he’d always quietly chuckle and say, “Well, I’ll be,” as we set the latest swaddled, pink or blue bundle into his frail, thinning arms. He was a gentle man of few words, but the pride and love he had for his ever-expanding family was obvious in those kind, ancient eyes that took it all in. He always had such a tender spot for the littlest ones—a trait he passed on to my father; and my father to my brother.

    Grandpa in his younger days, proudly holding a couple of “his girls” (my two older sisters), as he called us. He was always happy to meet the new grandchildren and great grand-children.

    In Mom’s dream, which was brief but compelling, Grandpa stood out radiantly against an entirely black backdrop, looking younger and healthier than ever, as he smiled and cradled a newborn in his arms. That’s all; that was it. Short and sweet. Mom didn’t tell me about this dream until after I lost Baby Julie. I’m sure she didn’t want to frighten me. But when she finally did tell me, we both agreed that it was a visit from Grandpa showing us that he would be with Baby Julie—that he was aware she would be joining him soon, and he just wanted us to know she wouldn’t be alone.

  • Blog

    Divine Inspiration

    The Eagle and the Dove

    I woke up one night in the mid-1990s, and the words were right there in my head, as if divinely inspired. So, I sat in the dim light of the den, writing it all down as quickly and quietly as I could. Then I shuffled back to bed. It was effortless to write this little ditty I called The Eagle and the Dove, and it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time; but I truly understand it more and more with each passing year. It’s a tale about overcoming what knocks us down, frightens us, and silences us; and picking ourselves up, pushing through the fears and struggles—sometimes with a little help, sometimes alone—and discovering the lessons and the beauty that our own scares and scars, in whatever form they take, present to us.

    The Eagle and the Dove

    A small, white Dove lay silent, and a tear was in her eye.
    “Excuse me,” said the Eagle, “but why is it that you cry.”
    “Oh, I’ve been stranded here alone; and it has been so long.
    My spirit has been quieted; I cannot sing my song.
    Afraid to fly into the storm, the snow piled up on me.
    The burden on my wings made me tumble from the tree.
    And now I fear I cannot fly. I feel so very small,
    Lying on this frozen ground, beneath the trees so tall.”
    “Come with me to where I roam, and I will help you heal.”
    With that the Eagle lifted her upon his wings of steel.
    He took her far away from there to places in her dreams,
    Across the snowy countryside and crystal mountain streams.
    They saw the wonders of the world and castles in the sky
    And gently as he soared with her, she learned again to fly.
    And then he took her to a place that man was banished from,
    And suddenly she understood the reason they had come.
    “There’s beauty all around us, and beauty from within.
    And when you start believing it, the healing will begin.”

    “Your spirit is so tender, your eyes so full of love.
    You fill me with such joy and peace; I thank you, little dove.”
    “And you have taken me so high, much higher than I’ve been.
    You brought my spirit back alive, my dearest Eagle friend.”
    The Eagle saw a glimpse of Heaven in the white Dove’s eyes.
    And he, in turn, had shown her a place called Paradise.

    The End

  • Blog

    Scar(r)ed – My Blog

    Welcome to my blog, where you’ll see ponderings not included in any of my books. This is my ‘thinking’ space where I try to express insights I’ve gleaned about life. At my age, you get to do that. 😉 My blog space, Scar(r)ed, is so-named, because I hope to include personal examples here of things that have scared (or scarred) me in some way–physically, spiritually, or otherwise–over the years. I’ve learned that our heaviest, most trying times facilitate our greatest opportunities for soul growth. Nothing is wasted here in the human experience–the ‘bad’ and the ugly are as necessary as the ‘good’ and the lovely. And you can quote me on that. I hope that my esoteric ramblings will remind you to look at your own inevitable struggles in a different light. That said, if you’re still game, by all means, read on…

  • Blog

    The Lighter Side of Writing “Dark”

    Call me whatever you like; I am who I must be.  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

    I’ve never been a perfect writer. Far from it. I’ve never had legitimate training in the field. But I knew I loved the craft, and I loved being graded on essays in school. Even after my ninth-grade English teacher pointed out an embarrassing mistake I’d made in my essay about a jellyfish encounter, where I said I’d been stung by a dozen testicles, instead of tentacles, I still didn’t throw in the towel! I would write a book one day. I was sure of that. I just didn’t know when or in what genre. The answers came in 2000, when I decided to write about true local ghost stories, after stumbling upon some old newspaper articles regarding haunted places at my local museum. It was like an epiphany! Who knew that in my early thirties—with a full-time ‘traditional’ job and four children from six months old to fourteen—I would suddenly be reminded of my calling? I left the museum that day, like a hypnosis subject prompted into action by a trigger phrase.

    Writing regional non-fiction allowed me to research local history, crimes, and all things strange and unusual. I was in my glory! I had been primed from the time I was a toddler to believe in, and even experience, the unseen. It’s part of who I am. It’s why I prefer to think outside of the box, where possibilities are endless. Oh, I had doubters about that first book, believe me. Some didn’t think anyone would want to read such nonsense. This was 2000, after all. Hit shows like Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, and Supernatural had not yet been created. But for once in my life, I didn’t care what anyone else thought about the idea. I set my mind to it, and nothing could dissuade me; not even the naysayers. Especially not them. Doubters only encouraged me to prove them wrong. I would go so far as to say that the world needs more doubters, so we can fire up all the “provers.”

    I was able to demonstrate to my daughters that they could also accomplish anything they desired, no matter who told them otherwise or what stood in their way. I wanted them, while they were still young and impressionable, to see their mom kicking a** and accomplishing something many doubted I could. And I did it with gusto. Yet, while writing seemed like a perfect pastime for an introvert like me, I hadn’t considered that part of the package involved putting myself out there for public consumption, which could, at times, be intimidating, frightening, funny, surreal, and just plain bizarre.

    There was the time, for example, when my daughter’s friend was waiting on a table at a restaurant and overheard some girls discussing my Haunted Northern New York series. Then one of the girls in the same grade as my daughter told her friends that I was her real mother and that I had given her up for adoption in 1988. Wait, what? I’m pretty sure I would have remembered having two babies that year!

    There are times when you just have to bite the bullet and swallow your pride. In 2004 or 2005, I had to do just that. I was hired to speak at a large annual convention of sorority sisters in Saratoga Springs. I had done similar events, but on a smaller scale. This one was unique, however, because I was to speak before a room of 300 women in their pajamas, sipping cocktails at midnight. And I was to wear my own PJs at the podium. So, there I was, standing in the only light of an otherwise darkened room, rocking my Tweety Bird flannels my mother had given me and doing my best ghost-stories-around-the-campfire impression. With all those eyes focused on me expectantly, I read several of my scariest bedtime ghost stories through the microphone, showed some chilling ghost photographs on the screen behind me, answered questions, signed books, and called it just another day in my life.

    Writing about true crime had its lighter moments, as well; certainly not about the horrible crimes themselves–but some of the awkward moments I found myself in were rather amusing in hindsight.

    There was the time I had a very large poster created to use at a book signing for Murder & Mayhem in St. Lawrence County. It was about 36 x 48 inches in size and showed the front cover of the book, along with a quote on the back cover in huge letters that said, “You can come in now. I have killed her.” This was something an Ogdensburg man said over a hundred years ago, after murdering his wife and then inviting the constable into the house to arrest him. The poster was mounted on corrugated cardboard and was lying in the back seat of my car, which my husband had to take to work one day. As fate would have it, the one day he needed my car was the day a random roadblock was set up by State Police to check registrations, tires, etc. My husband pulled up, and a trooper came to the car, looked in the back seat, and read the poster out loud, very slowly and seriously:

    You…can…come…in…now… I…have…killed…her…

    Then he looked back at my husband, who said, “I know this looks bad, but it’s for my wife’s signing!” As policemen do so well, the officer kept a straight face and motioned for him to go on.

    Another time I was at a book signing in the Rochester area for my book, Alphabet Killer: The True Story of the Double Initial Murders, and a state police investigator was undercover, lurking behind the ends of aisles within eye-shot of me, pretending to be flipping through books. A combative and suspicious character had approached and questioned me at a previous book signing in the area, and the investigator thought it would be prudent to keep an eye on the next couple signings in case the guy showed up again. He didn’t, but a lady approached and had some information she thought might be helpful to the unsolved cases, and I inadvertently looked over toward the trooper and started pointing him out to her but stopped short when I saw him shaking his head, as if he was dealing with a newbie (indicating I wasn’t supposed to give him away).

    There’s so much more I could say about writing and the unexpected things that happen along the way, but I’ll leave any aspiring authors with this thought for now: When you believe in what you are saying, and you feel that you have a message to convey that may be useful to someone, be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone and into the limelight, if only for a moment. The more you face your fear, the less its grip on you. And before you know it, you’re confident enough to speak before an audience of 300 in your Tweety Bird pajamas or to sign books under the watchful eye of criminal investigators on a stakeout!

  • Blog

    Hello, Darkness…

    Hello, Darkness, my old friend…

    Paul Simon began writing his iconic classic hit, The Sounds of Silence, the same year I was born, which is prophetically fitting. The opening lyric foreshadowed a theme I would experience throughout my life; indeed, a theme we all experience in various ways throughout our lives:  Darkness, as a familiar presence and occasional accomplice. After all, how can we appreciate what’s good, if we never have to face what’s bad? Darkness is as necessary to the human experience as the air we breathe. I’ve been blessed with much good in my life, but it’s the not-so-good things that have taught me the most. With every rendezvous I’ve had with my “old friend,” I’ve walked away stronger, wiser, and more humbled. It’s funny how something as cruel as Darkness can bestow such honorable traits on us. But he’s dependable; I’ll give him that. I know he will always be waiting to assist—frothing at the mouth—in the painful, heartless, fearsome way that only Darkness can, when it’s time for me to understand and experience the next life lesson on my journey. Like a ruthless trainer, he will push me—spent and breathless—to my limits, as he has so many times in the past. But in the end, it’s for my own good. Because of Darkness, I am strong.

    We are all stronger, because of Darkness. It’s the most jarring moments in our lives—those dreaded events that throw us the curveballs and scare and scar us more than any other—that also provide the greatest opportunities for growth:  for gaining more spiritual wisdom, clarity, empathy, strength, forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, or whatever else our soul might hunger for; and for attaining the closer connection to the Other Side that we naturally crave. At least I do. How many times, when the going gets tough, have I thrown my head back, instinctively looking skyward, asking why, as if the answer and the solution is out there in the ethers—in Heaven, the Universe, the Other Side? We all do it. But they won’t give up the answers that readily.

    I look toward the heavens again, and I shake my head in resignation, because I know that, no matter how much I plead, beg and pray, they can’t interfere in a soul’s learning. They can’t interfere with free will. It’s the universal law, says every metaphysical book ever written. It’s like Star Trek’s prime directive. Instead, those “out there” watching over us—God, the Great Spirit, the angels, the guides, the masters, our deceased loved ones, etc.—will bear witness to our struggles, and they’ll send us “love and light” and positive energy and perhaps whisper a few words of wisdom in our ears. But then they’ll simply watch on that big screen in the sky as we step into the darkness (and out) once more.

    I imagine them sitting on the edge of their tufted white and gold wingback chairs, passing the buttered popcorn and angel-soft tissue, as they watch us work through particularly soul-sapping lessons. As we step triumphantly out of the dark and into the light again and again, ad infinitum, they’ll leap from their seats and applaud like proud parents, high fiving in raucous celebration. I appreciate that we are never ‘alone,’ per se. I do. I appreciate the hands-off support from afar. But let’s not kid ourselves. We are on our own down here in tangible, sometimes-painful ways that only those in finite physical form can truly appreciate. And we must seek the answers to the most difficult questions ourselves, in order to further our souls’ growth.  That’s an important part of our earthly task, I believe—to remember what we came here to learn or to accomplish and to recognize that the things we experience along the way may be opportunities toward that end.

    In the past few years, I’ve grown stronger. Much stronger. Sometimes this inner strength almost scares me. I find myself choosing to reflect on what can be learned in certain situations and how I will react to obstacles, rather than playing the role of the perpetual victim of painful circumstances. I’m more inclined now to simply “let it be,” as they say; let certain events, as disagreeable as they may seem at the time, play out as they will and try to understand the bigger picture and the grander scheme at hand. Everything that happens is part of a master plan for each of us. I’m certain of that. Yet, I’m also certain that I’m not the architect of anyone’s master plan but my own, and it’s not my place to interfere as if I were. The last thing I want is to interfere with another’s opportunity to grow and throw them off track, especially if they were on the brink of a breakthrough and about to learn a lesson their soul needed to experience.

    I have learned from my own difficulties that when bad things happen, there are almost always opportunities for someone (whether ourselves or those around us) to grow, to conquer, and to shine—to bring out the best in ourselves at the worst of all possible times. It’s during those times that we are challenged to find the positives within the negatives—the silver lining in the clouds of life, as it were. And it’s during such times that we are challenged to face Darkness square on, recognizing it not as some kind of punishment or just our “usual bad luck,” but rather as a sometimes-necessary partner in crime which offers an opportunity for growth or an impetus for action. As they say, He works in mysterious ways…  Later, when we are ready to reflect on the reasons and ramifications of our individual ordeals, we may find that these tribulations served a purpose, after all. We just couldn’t see it at the time.