Read an Excerpt
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in August, when I was eleven years old, my sister, my brother, and I were splashing around in the three-foot-deep aboveground swimming pool in the backyard of our home on Long Island. There were only a handful of days left before the start of school, and we were trying to squeeze every last ounce of fun out of the summer. My mother came out to say she was going to see our grandparents in their home in Roslyn, about a fifty-minute drive away. For years I’d gone with her on trips to see my grandparents, and I’d always loved going. But as I got older other activities got in the way, so sometimes my mother would go by herself and leave us behind. On this beautiful summer day she knew she had no hope of getting any of us out of the pool.
“You kids have fun,” she called out to us. “I’ll be back in a few hours.” And that should have been that.
But then, all of a sudden, I panicked.
I felt it deep in my bones. Sheer, inexplicable, ice-cold panic. I shot straight up in the pool and screamed out to my mother.
“Wait!” I yelled. “I have to come with you!”
My mother laughed. “It’s okay, stay,” she said. “Enjoy yourself, it’s a beautiful day.”
But I was already paddling furiously to the edge of the pool, my brother and sister watching and wondering what was wrong with me.
“No!” I hollered. “I want to come with you! Please, please wait for me.”
“Laura, it’s okay. . . .”
“No, Mom, I have to come with you!”
My mother stopped laughing. “All right, calm down,” she said. “Come inside, get changed, I’ll wait.”
I ran inside dripping wet, threw on some clothes, dashed back out, and got in the car still half drenched, still utterly panicked. One hour later we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway, and I saw my grandfather—whom I called Pop Pop—waving at us from the back porch. Only then, when I got to see him and hug him, did the panic subside. I spent the next few hours on the porch with Pop Pop, talking, laughing, singing, and telling jokes. When it was time to go I gave him a kiss and a hug and I told him, “I love you.”
I never saw him alive again.
I didn’t know Pop Pop had been feeling weak and tired. The grown-ups would never tell me something like that. When I was with him that day he was his usual self—warm, funny, playful. He must have summoned all his strength to appear healthy to me. Three days after my visit, Pop Pop went to see his doctor. The doctor gave him the devastating news that he had leukemia.
Three weeks later, Pop Pop was gone.
When my mother sat my sister, my brother, and me on the couch and gently told us Pop Pop had passed, I felt a blitz of emotions. Shock. Confusion. Disbelief. Anger. Profound sadness. A deep, dreadful feeling of already missing him.
Worst of all, I felt a terrible, shattering sense of guilt.
The instant I learned my grandfather was gone, I understood precisely why I’d been in such a panic to see him. I had known he was going to die.
Of course, I couldn’t have really known. I didn’t even know he was sick. And yet, somehow, I did know it. Why else would I have demanded to see him?
But if I did know it, why hadn’t I articulated it—to Pop Pop, to my mother, or even to myself? I hadn’t had a clear thought or even an inkling that anything was wrong with my grandfather, and I hadn’t gone to visit him with any kind of understanding that it would be the last time I’d see him. All I had was a mysterious sense of knowing. I didn’t understand it at all, but it made me feel horribly uncomfortable, as if I were somehow complicit in Pop Pop’s passing. I felt like I had some connection to the cruel forces that had claimed his life, and that made me feel unimaginably guilty.
I started to think something must be seriously wrong with me. I’d never encountered anyone who could sense when someone was going to die, and now that it had happened to me, I couldn’t even begin to understand it. All I understood was that it was a horrible thing to know. I became convinced I wasn’t normal; I was cursed.
One week later, I had a dream.
In the dream I was all grown up and I was an actress. I was living in Australia. I was wearing a long, colorful, nineteenth-century dress, and I felt beautiful. All of a sudden I felt a staggering concern for my family—the same family I had in real life. In the dream I felt my chest seize and I collapsed to the floor. I was aware I was dying.
Yet I didn’t wake up—the dream kept going. I felt myself leave my physical body and become a free-floating consciousness, capable of observing everything around me. I saw my family gathered together around my body in the room where I’d fallen, all of them weeping. I was so upset to see them in such pain that I tried to call out to them. “Don’t worry, I am alive! Death doesn’t exist!” I said. But it was no use, because I didn’t have a voice anymore—they just couldn’t hear me. All I could do was project my thoughts to them. And then I began to drift away from them, like a helium balloon that someone let go of, and I floated way, way above them, into a darkness—a dense, peaceful darkness with beautiful, twinkling lights all around. I felt a strong feeling of calm and contentment wash over me.
And precisely at that moment, I saw an incredible sight.
I saw Pop Pop.
He was there, in the space just ahead of me, though not in his physical body but rather in spirit—a spirit that was beautifully, undeniably, entirely his. My consciousness instantly recognized his consciousness. He was a point of light, like a bright star in the dark night sky, but the light was powerful and magnetic, drawing me toward it, filling me with love. It was as if I was seeing Pop Pop’s true self—not his earthly body, but rather this greater, inner light that was truly him. I was seeing his soul energy. I understood that Pop Pop was safe, and that he was in a beautiful place filled with love. I understood he was home, and in that instant I also understood that this was the place that we all come from, the place we all belong. He had returned to the place he’d come from.
Realizing that this was Pop Pop and that he still existed in some way, I felt less sad. I felt great love, great comfort, and, in that moment of recognition, great happiness. And just before I was drawn all the way home with Pop Pop, I felt something closing around me and pulling me back.
Then I woke up.
I sat up in bed. My face was wet. I was crying. But I wasn’t sad. These were tears of joy. I was crying because I’d gotten to see Pop Pop!
I lay in bed and cried for a long time. I had been shown that dying doesn’t mean losing the people we love. I knew that Pop Pop was still present in my life. I was so thankful for my dream.
It was only years later—many years—that I gathered enough experience to understand what Pop Pop’s passing and the events surrounding it signified in my life.
What I had sensed in that swimming pool was the beginning of the voyage of Pop Pop’s soul to some other place. Because I loved him so much—because I was connected to him in such a powerful way—my soul could sense that his soul was about to go on a journey. And sensing that wasn’t a curse at all. It allowed me to spend that one, last magical afternoon with Pop Pop. If that wasn’t a gift, what is?
And the dream?
The dream convinced me of one thing—that Pop Pop wasn’t gone. He was just someplace else. But where? Where, exactly, was he?
I couldn’t answer that when I was eleven. But over time, I came to realize Pop Pop was on the Other Side
What do I mean by the Other Side?
I have this simple analogy to explain it. Think of your body as a car—new at first, then older, then really old. What happens to cars when they get really old? They get discarded.
But we, the humans, are not discarded with the cars. We move on. We keep going. We are greater than the car, and we were never defined by the car. We are defined by what we take with us once we leave the car behind. We outlast the car.
Everything in my experience tells me that we outlast our bodies. We move on. We keep going. We are bigger than our bodies. What defines us is what we take with us once we leave our bodies behind—our joys, our dreams, our loves, our consciousness.
We are not bodies with souls.
We are souls with bodies.
Our souls endure. Our consciousness endures. The energy that powers us endures. The Other Side, then, is the place our souls go when our bodies give out.
That raises a lot of questions. Is the Other Side a place? Is it a sphere? A realm? Is it material or spiritual? Is it a way station or a final destination? What does it look like? How does it feel? Is it full of golden clouds and pearly gates? Are there angels? Is God there? Is the Other Side heaven?
I came by my understanding of the Other Side slowly, and even today I’m sure I know only a small part of what there is to know about it. But we don’t need to fully envision or understand the Other Side in order to take great comfort from it. In fact, so many of us already believe our loved ones who’ve passed are still with us—in spirit, in our hearts, called back into our lives through memories. And that belief is endlessly nourishing.
The reality of what happens when our loved ones pass on, however, is infinitely more comforting than most people realize, because these departed souls are much closer than we think.
Here are the first two truths I learned through my gift:
1.Our souls endure and return to a place we call the Other Side, and
2.The Other Side is really very close.
How close? Try this—take an ordinary sheet of paper in your hand. Now hold it up in front of you, as if you’re reading from it. Notice how that sheet of paper becomes a border that neatly divides the space it inhabits. It may be sheer and flimsy, a few tiny pulp fibers strung together, but it’s still inarguably a border. In fact, as a border, it divides a great amount of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. When you hold it up in front of you, you and billions of things are on one side, and billions of other things—chairs and windows and cars and people and parks and mountains and oceans—are on the other.
And yet, from your side of the paper, you can see and hear and access the other side quite easily—in fact, some of your fingers are already there, holding the paper. The sides may be separate, but, practically speaking, they are one and the same. The other side of the paper is right there.
As you come across the term “Other Side” in this book keep that sheet of paper in mind. Ask yourself, What if the border between our earthly life and an afterlife is as thin and permeable as a single piece of paper?
What if the Other Side is right there?
The Girl in the Grocery Store
Long before the swimming pool incident, I was a strange little kid.
I was hyperactive and volatile. I had extreme reactions to ordinary things. “When Laura is happy, she is happier than any child I’ve ever seen,” my mother wrote in my baby book when I was one year old. “But when she’s sad, she is sadder than any child could ever be.”
Plenty of children are fidgety and energetic, but I had a motor inside me that was constantly churning, and I had no way to shut it off. My first week of first grade, my mother got a call from the school nurse.
“I’ll give you the good news first,” the nurse said. “We were able to stop the bleeding.”
I’d run into a ladder on the playground, cutting a bloody gash in my forehead. My mother took me to the doctor, who gave me seven stitches.
A week later I threw a nasty tantrum in my bedroom because my sister had been invited to a neighbor’s pool and I wasn’t. I knocked over the heavy, wooden bunk-bed ladder and it hit me on the back of the head. My mother took me back to the doctor, who gave me three more stitches and sat my mother down and asked her a lot of tough questions.
I was a tiny thing, undersized and stick-thin, a little blond moppet with bangs, but I could be a terror. My mother had to pin me down by an arm or a leg to get me dressed. If she let go of me for a second, I’d be gone. I constantly walked into things—doors, walls, mailboxes, parked cars. My mother would take her eyes off of me for a moment and the next thing she’d hear was a crash or a bonk. At first she’d hug me and comfort me, but after a while it became, “Oh, Laura Lynne walked into a wall again.”
I’d get upset at my older sister, Christine, and I’d stomp my feet and put my head down and charge at her like a bull. Either I’d crash into her and knock her over, or she’d jump out of the way and I’d go flying.
“Go to your room,” my mother would say to me, “and don’t come out until you can be human again.”
The worst punishment of all, though, was being told to sit still.
After I’d been particularly bad my mother would make me sit in a chair and not move. Not for an hour, or even ten minutes—my mother knew better than that. My punishment was to sit still for one minute.
And even that was way too long. I never made it.
We think of ourselves as solid, stable, physical beings. But we’re not.