Dealing With the Loss of a Parent
A Personal Perspective: How I developed insights about death.
Posted December 28, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- Interactions with the subconscious can lead to insights about death.
- Some people can become closer to their loved ones after death.
- Apparent encounters with a deceased loved one can occur at times.
In the first part of this blog series, I described my relationship with my father, who suffered from dementia during his last few years of life.
The Last Stage of Life
Near the end of his life, I visited my father in Phoenix, while I was still living in Syracuse. It was difficult to see him as a frail 87-year-old, after he was such a strong force in our family for my entire life. I told him that I loved him, and he told me that he loved me. I had to leave to return to Syracuse after the week-long visit, and the nurse asked me if I knew he was dying. I said that I knew, but did not think it would help if I stayed. There was no telling how long the process would take.
When I resumed my work offering hypnosis and counseling, I encountered a patient who taught me a different perspective about the dying process. Sixteen-year-old “Kyle” complained of recurrent nightmares since the age of 8. He said that he acted very violently in his dreams, and this greatly disturbed him when he awoke. He described dreaming that he was in many different battles, and most of the time found himself using various weapons to cause great bodily harm to his enemies.
I taught Kyle how to use some hypnosis techniques and suggested that he could learn how to use this state to resolve his nightmares. However, when I instructed him to complete the dreams in hypnosis, the dreams always ended up with someone dying. Either him or his enemies. The lesson he was supposed to learn, according to his subconscious, was that victory was necessary for his survival. Unexpectedly, his nightmares persisted even after this therapy.
According to Kyle’s subconscious, he had had similar violent dreams and experiences throughout multiple previous lifetimes. My approach with patients is to accept their subconscious statements at face value, and thus I suggested that I interact with his subconscious through typing to identify how Kyle might cope better in his current life. In this following transcript, Kyle’s subconscious responses are italics. At the conclusion of a description of one lifetime, Kyle’s subconscious typed:
And then I realized I was badly injured and that I was going to die.
What did you think at that point?
I worried about what will happen to my family.
Then what happened?
What was that like?
You just move on.
At that moment, I noticed that my beeper was buzzing, and my office phone had been ringing for the past few moments. I snapped out of the typed discussion and answered the phone. It was my son calling. My father had just died.
Obviously, I thought to myself, my father just moved on. I felt it was no coincidence that I was typing at the same time with Kyle about the transition after death.
My Father’s Funeral
I was one of the people who delivered a eulogy at my father’s funeral. I explained what I had learned about death as a result of my experiences with my patients.
“Death is not an end. It is a transition to another state. My father’s spirit continues to exist. My college Dean, Ernie Mort, taught me about that when a college friend died suddenly. He said that after his own father’s death, he found that he became closer to his father than he had been in real life. I have shared this philosophy with many of my patients and have found it to be correct much of the time. So, I share with you today that my father’s spirit is very much with us. And I don’t mean just in our imaginations. He exists. Now, if my father was here, he would very much disagree with me. But then, if he did disagree, it would prove my point that he is still around.”
People laughed at that moment.
That night, I dreamed that I saw my father. I thought he was in his 50s when I dreamed of him, but later, when I examined photographs, I realized he must have been in his 30s. I do not recall having had such a dream before or since. In that dream, my father talked to me about my thoughts relating to the nature of life and death. He said, “You basically have it right.”
I said, “Thanks!” and hugged him. (It is certainly possible that my subconscious was just reinforcing my belief in an afterlife during my dream, as opposed to the dream representing a true version of the afterlife.)
I told my mother about the dream, and she said she was jealous that she had not had such a dream. I told her I am sure that my father is always going to be with her.
Over the coming weeks and months, I was expecting to go through the grief process that has been well-described by many people. The process can include denial, anger, depression, and acceptance of the loss of a loved one. Except that I only experienced sadness and acceptance from the start. I suspect that the main reason for this was my growing understanding of the nature of death, transitions, and souls.
Unconscious Essential Reads
During the ritual initial seven-day mourning prescribed by Judaism, visitors come to the house of the bereaved to express their condolences. I found it oddly discomfiting that I was placed in the position of consoling the consolers, who were upset by their perceived loss of my father, while I was thinking that he is still with us.
Two years after my father’s passing, my mother went to an acupuncturist, who placed the acupuncture needles in their appropriate sites and then left the room for 30 minutes. During this time, my mother lay in the dark with her eyes closed. She said she felt someone caressing her feet while she lay there. When the acupuncturist returned, my mother asked if she had touched her after the needle placement.
“I didn’t return here. I was elsewhere for the past half hour,” she told my mother.
“Then who was it who was there?” my mother asked me when we next spoke.
“It’s obvious!” I said. “It was my father. He is with you.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Who else would it be?”