I’m a writer.
It’s how I think, how I process life and what I love to do.
Back in 2010 I started this essay, We Cook. My girlfriend had been battling multiple myeloma for a long while and was in a rough patch, so I was making her the things she loved to eat. And while I cooked, I began this essay.
And then, she survived. And I forgot about the essay.
Five years later, she died and the morning after, I remembered it. I don’t know how it came to mind after years buried but it did and I decided to finish it.I sat at my computer in the quiet before dawn and began to add copy. Suddenly, a wicker basket jumped off the shelf above my desk and into my lap.
Did we have an earthquake? Quickly, I checked to see if anything was moving. No. There was no logical explanation. The only possibility was that my friend had made it happen from the other side. It was the first of several connections she made from the other side in those first months.
As luck would have it (ha) I noticed that an anthology called Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss & Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between was still seeking essays. I sent We Cook in and it was accepted almost immediately. Two years ago, it was published. Here it is:
by Carol A. Cassara
When we don’t know what else to do, we cook.
Seasoned tri-tip roast nestled in a bed of organic broccoli slow-cooked to palate-tempting perfection. Beef for stronger blood, broccoli to repair the immune system. Dishing out hope against hope, heaping spoonfuls of guarded promise carefully plated and set on the table.
Pulling a big knife from the block I chop watermelon into sweet red cubes, dice redolent minty green leaves and section an orange. Sprinkling feta cheese over the mix I serve it up on a white plate, a life-restoring offering.
I stand over a stainless steel pot of black beans infused with onion, garlic and spices, my wooden spoon moving in slow circles to meld the flavors, my nose twitching at the aromas. She loves my black beans and will ask for them several times this week. How little it is, but it is all I can do. We are all helpless when we see death in the waiting room, biding its time.
Broad layers of pasta noodles in the casserole topped with meat, yellow and green vegetables and scarlet marinara remind me of the cooking course the two of us took outside of Rome that autumn week. We cooked two huge meals a day—and ate them—laughing the whole time, learning from Italians who had no English. We were fluent in the language of the kitchen and we speak it still, even as we watch the stopwatch tick steadily the minutes of her life, our lives.
We will speak it until the end.
How did we get here so fast? I wonder, as carrots, zucchini, onion and green beans simmer in the soup pot, my face hot in the steam, holding my tears in the corner of my eyes, blotting them before they fall. I am afraid if I let them go they won’t stop: tears for the women we once were, the women we are now, but mostly for what she’s going through, her disease picking up speed now. They can’t infuse bags of blood and platelets fast enough to keep up with it. I can’t infuse food fast enough, either.
I didn’t draw a lucky family card and longed for the kind of sister mine would never be. I was 33 when I got someone better, this sister-friend who is now dying.
Who can explain the alchemy of sisterhood, when masks drop away and souls connect? How is it that we can have it with one and not another? What will I do when she is gone?
We’ve sat together at many tables, for meals, for cocktails, pouring wine and pouring out our souls. Now, she insists on rolling her walker to the dinner table and sitting for as long as her disease will let her, even if it’s just minutes.
Through onion tears I can barely see the knife move on the cutting board. If I’m not careful I could slice my finger and I almost want to, to feel something other than gut-wrenching sorrow.
Endings have never been my strength; I’ve always kept people in my life long after the relationship had wilted around the edges. But this one stayed fresh through each stage of our lives, though we had little in common, nothing obvious, anyway.
I grab seasonings from my rack. She’s always loved her food spicy, but now it takes more than simple spices to tempt her palate. I double my usual measured spoonfuls and add oregano and seasoned pepper to the waiting stock pot, and then, hot pepper.
When we met she was a stay-at-home wife of a prosperous executive and mother of two. Divorced twice and childless, I was trying desperately to find a job in a new city, new state and new industry. Her long, graceful fingers sparkled with diamonds and gold, while my one solitaire sat in a drawer, a symbol of my failure. Her friends were all ladies who lunched and I was a woman with a briefcase and a 1980s business suit.
But we “got” each other instantly. Maybe it was because we shared Italian heritage, maybe because we were both transplanted Californians from the northeast. I can’t explain it, and really, it’s not important. What’s important is that we connected. It stuck, too. Our bond would carry us more than 30 years, through love affairs, divorces and remarriage; through new jobs and graduations; through earthquakes, dinners in Italy and wine drunk in in Napa. And through secrets, shared and unshared.
Later, it carried us through ambulance rides to the emergency room, three different wheelchairs, two walkers, stints in the intensive care unit; through chemotherapy, opportunistic infections and then, through celebrations of miraculous rallies. Now, though, in a final test, it’s carrying us through her death.
That 30-year span of friendship was unfathomable when we met, but now, as the end is foreshadowed, I’m startled at how quickly the days have passed and are still speeding by, way too fast. I want to stop time, freeze it in place, keep her with me. I can not fathom the world otherwise.
I hold on to the cutting board as if I were holding on to her life, chopping furiously, furious at the loss that is to come, each chop a No!, half pleading and half demand.
Broth is simmering on the stove, waiting for me to add the last cup of her favorite vegetables. She’ll have the soup for dinner tonight, served hot, not lukewarm. She hates her food lukewarm.
I scoop bright green florets of broccolini into the water, add seasoning and cook.
Carol A. Cassara is a writer whose essays have appeared in Skirt!, the Christian Science Monitor, Blood and Thunder literary magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, on KQED public radio, several Chicken Soup for the Soul books and other publications and anthologies.
Marilyn inspired this business, A Healing Spirit. You can read her story on the home page and you can buy the wonderful grief and healing toolkits to help support loved ones who might need a lift.
You can buy the book and read everyone else’s essays at this affiliate link.
So this is what I consider the best afterlife reading list. People who know even a little about me know that I am a believer in the afterlife, but not in a traditional sense. We all want to know, right? But we don’t want to die to find out. So we’re not dying to know and we won’t know for sure until we die.
Or almost die.
Still…there’s plenty of scientific evidence and even more anecdotal evidence. So from time to time I’m asked, ” what should I read if I want to get up to speed on the latest afterlife evidence,?”
This list contains some of my favorites. It isn’t definitive, but it certainly gives a really good overview of what’s being done by the major figures in afterlife studies. All of the titles are live links.
The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death by Gary Schwartz, PhD
The G.O.D Experiments: How Science is Discovering God in Everything, Including Us also by Gary Schwartz, PhD
Gary’s a big deal. His studies are scientifically rigorous and his results are mind-blowing. I’ve seen him many times at conferences and symposia and let me tell you, he goes over his scientific method in detail in those loooong presentations. The books aren’t quite so dense! Anything he’s written is worth reading, these are just two of them.
Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander MD
I really believe certain people are called, usually doctors, because they have that medical credibility going for them. There are at least two docs who had near-death experiences and wrote about them. Here’s one. Yes, there have been attacks on Dr. Alexander’s credibility. However, his story is worth reading.
The Last Frontier: Exploring the Afterlife and Transforming our Fear of Death by Julia Assante, PhD
I’ve seen Julia a few times, too. This is a pretty comprehensive book and one of my favorites.
The Afterlife Unveiled: What the Dead are Telling Us About Their World by Stafford Betty, PhD
Dr. Betty is a riveting speaker and his book is super-intriguing.
Wolf’s Message by Suzanne Giesemann
It’s riveting. But anything Suzanne writes is riveting because she has so much credibility. She is a former Navy Commander and aide to the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is now a medium. Yes, you read that right. I’ve seen her a few times and I love her! Anything she writes is worth reading.
A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife by Victor Zammit.
I’ve met Victor and he and his wife, Wendy, are amazing. The link takes you to a free PDF of his book. Free because he believes that strongly and wants to get the message out.
I’m Not Dead, I’m Different by Hollister Rand
Hollister has read for me many times. This is probably the easiest to read and best written of any of the books–and it’s not just about kids, actually. Even though that’s how she titles it. It’s a tremendously good overview of the afterlife and what souls are all about.
I suggest you look at the book reviews online and sample pages to see what appeals to you most. They’re all excellent; what you might like is an individual thing.
I just read this post about the best afterlife reading list again as I prepare to schedule it and I realize just how deep my own study of this subject has been and how many of these people I have seen and heard speak. And of course, I’ve read all of the books. If you have any curiosity at all, I hope you’ll pick one or two up. Be prepared to, well, just be prepared!
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS
We went to Tahoe in 2013, our last real trip together. This was the view from a gondola ride we took. I remember so much about our time together; it seems like only yesterday.
She’s been gone two and a half years (but who’s counting?) and you’d think by now I’d have my grief more in hand. None of that lingering grief.
Instead, what I had in hand was a tissue when I pulled the car over to cry. I miss the hell out of her. I miss her perspective. Her laughter. Her sidelong glance when I was talking about something crazy.
I miss watching sappy movies with her. Or just sitting talking about everything. I miss having that one person who has known me through thick and thin and I mean KNOW in capitals.
This month has been hard and I’m not sure why. Oh, I know that grief comes in waves and sometimes blindsides us. But what’s so different about this month? And I’m not the only one who feels it. I had breakfast with her son and we shared some of the same feelings. And emotion. Same with another dear friend of hers.
Grief is lingers because there was and still is deep love. You just don’t get over those deep feelings.
I know better than to try to push grief down, so, instead, I just let myself feel it. Even if it means pulling the car over. Or sitting here now with tears in my eyes.
So what did I do?
I made a memorial candle. Purple, because it was her favorite color. And blinged up, because she was a blinged up girl. I made it smell good, too. I couldn’t remember if she had a favorite candle scent so I used one of my favorites. Raw Mandarin Orange.
In the early morning hours, when it was still almost dark, I lit it. I sat on my orange sofa wrapped in the last gift she’d given me, an orange sofa throw. And I thought about her. And then, through self-hypnosis, I took myself to the afterlife where she was, and talked to her. Or, I should say, talked WITH her. Because her responses came into my head almost as if she were here physically.
I let myself feel my grief. How I missed her. I let myself cry. I let it all out in the privacy of the predawn hours.
Maybe you think that’s self-indulgent? I don’t. I know for a fact that the only way to transform any grief including lingering grief is to feel it. There’s no way around grief, there’s only the path through. Or, as Willie Nelson sings, It’s not something you get over, it’s something you get through.
How long will I feel this way? I don’t know. Maybe all my life.
Not every day, week, or month is like this. But this is how it is right now. And this is how I am dealing with it.
The image is the candle I made. If you’d like me to make you a memorial candle customized for your loved one, contact me: Carol (at) ahealingspirit.org Reasonably priced, just like everything here.
This is an audio that can help you visit your loved one and talk to them on the other side. It’s a hypnosis audio exactly like the technique I used to talk with my friend.
Or we can do a spiritual connection hypnosis either in person or via Skype.
Sometimes a thought can be so obvious, so logical, and yet so deep, that there’s not much more we can add to it.
In a world that’s constantly spinning with information, conversation, noise, finding our calm center and being silent for a while can not only improve hearing but clarify a situation.
Isn’t that the beauty of meditation? It silences the mind and allows us to see more clearly?
Baba Ram Dass is a guru and spiritual icon I’ve admired for decades and even more so in recent years as he approaches his end of life. (He’s advocated death and dying awareness for many, many years)
His spiritual practice is all about love, so you can see that it would resonate with me. If you are wondering about who he is, check out Netflix’ Going Home, a short documentary in which he poetically muses about approaching end of life. Or read any of his many inspirational books, which, themselves, help quiet the mind.
Meanwhile, I’d love for you to think about the quote I used in the graphic. And if you’d like to explore your own spirituality, talk to me about this or even this.
You’d be very surprised at what can happen when you live with a more spiritual outlook. My masseur sometimes finishes his massages with a short Reiki session. During one of those sessions I unexpectedly had a vision of one of my spirit guides and the flash of a message he had for me. It happened and then was gone– I was taken by surprise. When I tried to recapture it, to get more information and meaning, I couldn’t.
Being silent allows magical things to unfold. I’d love to help you do that. And yes, yes, this is entirely possible and very effective via Skype or Zoom. So anywhere in the world.
Love is the answer to many things, most things, maybe all things. And all questions.
The weekend that Dr. Wayne Dyer and Oliver Sacks, M.D. died I ran across the bag in the photo above. Although the two are very different personalities, it hit me that they were both all about love.
I know a little about how the two men approached death, and that was different, too. Dyer had a great curiosity and almost looked forward to it. Sacks was a little afraid.
I say more about this at an archived post from my other site and since you’ll die one day — yes, we all will and you will, too — it’s a discussion you can get a lot out of.
And if you don’t know either man, grab one of their books at the library or online and prepare to be inspired. And to see how love is always the answer.
It isn’t until we’ve suffered a great loss that we see our mortality close up and personal. Right now, we’re writing the story of our lives, but we can not grasp that it’s in disappearing ink.
And then, a loved one makes their transition and sometimes it can feel like “What happened? Where did he go? How did that happen?”
All we know is this life. One breath after another, one step after another, one life event after another. We march through without recognizing how finite this life is and how every breath, step and event will one day be memories.
This is something I struggle with every time a loved one dies.
The other day I was at a restaurant where my late friend and I had a wonderful lunch the year she died. I looked at “our” table–yes, I remember it–and I even remember where we were sitting. I can even pull up how it felt to be there with her.
What I CAN’T fathom is that she is gone. She has disappeared.
Our mortality is, arguably, the hardest reality we ever have to face. No one gets out of here alive. No one. Not even us.
But is that such a bad thing?
Sure, we’ll miss those we leave behind. But if we have a belief in something more, transition is likely to be an amazing thing. And if it’s all about love and peace? And if our lost loved ones greet us?
What’s so bad about that? It would be a refreshing change from the travails of our earth.
Here’s the thing: we’re all moving on one day and while we don’t like to think about it, making peace with that fact allows us to live our lives here more fully.
Mortality is the hardest thing we face. But face it we must one day. Why not learn to make peace with it now?