Conversations with Chloe: A Mother and Daughter Dialogue across the Veil is an intimate conversation between Andrea and her daughter Chloe, that began six weeks after Chloe’s death in February, 2016.
Begun as a simple letter from a mother to a daughter to help deal with the loss, the first words of Chloe’s response, ‘Mom, you are so easy to find that it’s a joke’ jolted Andrea out of grief and onto a journey of healing, wonder and knowing that there is only life after life.
This conversation, which took place over five months, reveals truths about the afterlife, the power of apology and forgiveness, and the reality that only the physical body is discarded. The soul lives, thrives, is close by and ever loving. May this uncommon dialogue offer hope and comfort and the knowing that all is as it should be.
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Letter to Chloe
Hi, Clo. It's April 1, 2016. You would love this place. It would be your ideal spot, just beside the lake. The geese glide by, and I've been told there are beavers, but I haven't seen any yet. The ice is still jamming the banks. Things move fast around here — I mean things like water and ice. One minute, the chunks are all bunched up, jostling for position; the next minute, the lake is clear.
You would love my wood-burning stove. It's small but powerful, and it heats my whole space with a furious crackling, threatening to bust out beyond the grill. It's not difficult because my whole space consists of one room, about 400 square feet.
I never would have searched to rent in this area if I hadn't taken a leisurely drive along Lakeshore Road that wintery January day. I wouldn't have taken the leisurely drive if I hadn't been out in that neck of the woods. I wouldn't have been in that neck of the woods if I hadn't accepted an invitation to speak at the university's Faculty of Agriculture, which is out this way, on Wednesday, January 20, at 3:00 p.m. I almost backed out because it was the same day you went into palliative care at the hospital.
I did honour the commitment, and I spoke about my favourite topics: entrepreneurship, single motherhood and how to survive it all. As I left the campus, I knew it would be a long night at the hospital, so I decided to wend my way back unrushed, slowly driving the 30-kilometer speed limit along the winding road that hugs the lake for miles. It brought me peace.
It was almost 11:00 p.m. when I got back to my parents' home from the hospital, and I began searching Airbnb for somewhere to live. Not having a home of my own hadn't bothered me until now. When I'd sold my home a couple of years ago and left to experience life in another part of the country, I'd been happy to have no possessions, with nothing tethering me to anywhere. Now I realize that's not possible. Our past always calls us back. And back I came — to love and care for you.
I knew your death was close, and I felt the need to stay close to home. I wanted a place to hang my hat, a place to help me heal, a place close to loved ones and close to water. At 11:05, I found this tiny cottage on the shore of a large lake. It was 20 minutes to downtown, 20 minutes to family and friends, and 20 feet from the water's edge. The lake is four to five kilometres wide in front of the cottage and is clean, full of fish, and swimmable. The farmers' market, the pharmacy and the grocery store are just minutes away by foot; so are the train and bus into the city.
One email exchange, and it was secured for the whole summer.
The owner of the property, John, lives in the big house 30 feet away. Both homes are tucked away from the street, face the lake and are surrounded by mature trees and gardens. Years ago, John had used this cottage as his office. Imagine that kind of commute to work — 50 paces and you're there! If I had been able to envision a place to live, and if I'd had the ability to imagine such a country setting only minutes from the downtown core, I would have imagined this.
My precious 400-square-foot space contains a queen-sized bed at one end with two small night tables on either side; a simple, two-and-a-half-foot by four-foot table along a window that functions as my kitchen; a love seat; a solid-wood, round table with two wooden Windsor chairs; and the crowning glory of the place, my wood-burning stove. The "kitchen" consists of a two-burner hot plate, a toaster oven and a mini-fridge. That's it. The bathroom is literally my washroom. All washing — dishes, clothes and self — happens in there.
I love it.
The first thing I did when I arrived was remove all the blinds. John rolled his eyes, commenting that other tenants had complained of too much light in the morning. Imagine, Clo — is there such a thing as too much light?
I have no complaints.
John came for dinner the first two nights. I knocked myself out creating gourmet meals with my two little burners. The firelight and candlelight provided the rest. I struggled — successfully, I might add — to keep my hands to myself. The atmosphere was thick, heavy and dripping romantic. You've gotta understand, we've been communicating for two months non-stop — emails, texts, FaceTime, phone calls. Barriers came down so quickly. I had fallen for him long before we actually met.
He's at home now, mercifully. I glance out the window and see the firelight dancing on his ceiling. I know where he sits: always on the same sofa, in the same spot. It's nice to know he's there, yet I like being here on my own. It gives me the space to grieve in private whenever I want to. And right now, I want to.
I'm 55 years old and living in one small room. No more possessions, no job, and no Chloe. I'm on the floor, moaning. Grief takes me deeply into my body. It overwhelms, suffocates, rumbles through me like an earthquake that shakes and shakes and threatens to bring the house down. Only there's no house. There's just one human being trying to cope. Physical, sharp, real pain in the centre of my being. The grief is deeply physical. Already it's been six weeks since you've been gone.
On the other hand, here I am, 55 years old, and I can finally rest in peace. Your suffering is done. Thank God. What an ordeal for you and for all of us. It's over. You can continue, live, grow and explore. I can sit in my small studio with its magnificent, large view and begin to heal.
I feel you nearby. I just glanced out the window, and night has fallen, hard and dark. When did that happen? My new world is slow. The quick pace of outside things continues to startle me. Moments ago, I was watching the ice crowd and toss; now, only the flickering lights of the seaway are discernible. There's nowhere to go. No one needs me. It's like learning to walk again. I remember I used to do this, used to have my own life, but I'm not quite sure where this new life is going.
I remember years ago, arriving at my office — we called it the kitchen. I'd arrive really early, leave late and realize that I hadn't felt the sun on my face for even one blessed moment that day. That made me sad. It was part of the tough sacrifices of trying to raise the three of you and run a business at the same time.
Now I have time to sit with my face to the sun as spring begins to unfold in this beautiful spot. I have the time to notice how the clouds scurry across the sky, and the fact that the birdsong begins long before sunrise (the first robin sang at 4:22 this morning), and how the wind blows. A growing habit of mine is to determine the wind direction every day, and to extrapolate the coming weather. Today, it's a south-westerly breeze of about 12 knots. If it's an easterly wind, I expect stormy weather tomorrow. John, a lifelong sailor, talks about the wind a lot. I never actually thought of the wind before, except in relation to how much it would mess up my hair.
I rise early and watch the colours fill the sky long before the sunrise. When the official time of the sunrise hits, the show is already over. The bleachers are empty; the roadies are stacking the chairs, the crowd is gone and the air is silent. Not a hint of birdsong.
We have a pair of mating ducks that reside on our lawn, an elusive rabbit that seems to have taken up residence in my kayak, a muskrat that lolls around in the water camouflaging as a small log and assorted fowl and flora. We have plenty of firewood to burn. This fire is the absolute best one I ever made: loud crackle, great flame and heat. I'm tucked away from life, private, living small and yet living large at the same time. I'm up before sunrise every day, and that suits me just fine.
What defines living big? Living on purpose, living fully, not compromising, not settling. Every day, choices present themselves, and I choose. Then I honour that choice and keep going. I forgive myself because I make many less-than-stellar choices. But still, I keep choosing and dreaming big. It's like I pushed a reset button, and my life is now starting over. I'm not quite sure yet what its direction will be.
I like the idea that my new "kitchen" is just one step away from my bed. The economy of space has an aesthetic that pleases me: no waste. The freedom of frugality with no extravagance, unless you consider the sunrises and sunsets. Two glasses, two cups, two forks, two knives, two dishes — a Noah's ark of domestic simplicity.
The view from the windows was more a priority than the number of kitchen cabinets: four windows, zero cabinets. I wanted to live surrounded by beauty after so much time clocked at the hospital, as well as outside its walls, hanging out while you smoked. I needed to gaze on water and be surrounded by nature.
John mentions that he's lived here for 30 years, and he has stopped noticing the beauty. Imagine that. My daily comments about the stars, the moon and the faraway lights of the seaway that speak to me in a Morse code of adventure seem to prod him out of a learned complacency.
I've officially begun my book project. I have a smaller sideline project that also needs fulfilling. I'm in search of hugs. I can live without sex for a bit, but not without hugs. Maybe I'll enlist John.
Letter to Mom
Mom, you are so easy to find that it's a joke. Your light shines really bright. Yup, it's me, Clo. I know you're not even surprised. I know you feel me peering over your shoulder, digging my chin into you like I used to do. A weird, tender act, but a tender act nonetheless.
I really like using the word nonetheless. When can I do that? Not often enough. I want to be a part of your book. I'm excited to do this project together. I'm excited to have a voice, a real voice, a normal voice, a voice that can be calm or get excited but is never crazy.
It was exhausting being so crazy. The yelling and screaming, the fighting of the invasion in my head. Now, my head is clear. Everything is clear, and the job is finished. So this is not a job, not a chore. This is fun, right?
I can feel you really need a hug. I'm going to help you find someone great to hug you. Is it okay if it's John? That's gonna be tricky, Mom. That attraction could ignite a forest fire.
I do love the place. We're a lot alike. It's easier to see that, now that I'm not totally crazy anymore.
Mom, all I really want to say is I love you. I'm so sorry I caused you so much grief. I'm sorry I never paid you back all the money I stole. I stole lots of other stuff too, from other people; I'm sorry about that too. Could you please get to the African store on Saint Laurent Boulevard, tell them I'm sorry and pay them? That'll be just more I owe you.
John? Seriously? Sit on those hands! Sit on those hands, at least for a little while. He does have incredible hands too, doesn't he? Worked, rugged, battered a bit, in need of loving — here we go.
Letter to Clo
I hear you loud and clear. I've felt you so close every day. And you're right about John: he does have incredible hands.
I wonder if you could work with an iPad? Type the letters yourself? The touch is so light.
I'll work on that.
Boy, we did a few miles, eh, Clo? I burnt a lot of gas trying to make you happy. I burnt a lot of brain cells, a lot of dollars and time and so much energy trying to find ways to make you happy. Then I finally realized I couldn't do one blessed thing to make any difference in what you were living. I just had to do the one thing I was always meant to do from the very beginning: love you. So I did.
Clo, I'm excited! I found the spot right by the water to write my book. There's even a little platform on a huge tree that juts out over the water. Once April gets into bloom, I'm going to head out on that platform and write to you. Oops, slip of the words. I mean write the book.
What's the book going to be about? About you, about life and death and about whatever else presents itself. About how it feels to write with the water and currents and wind to guide me. About how the sound of nature heals me. About boys. About those crazy, red-winged blackbirds on their spring romance campaign.
There is so much to write. In fact, I already have boxes of scribbles, but they're just that: scribbles. This is going to be different, actually organized. I'm not sure exactly how, but I know the how will come, right?
I always said, "Andrea, just focus on the why. Know your why. The how will show up 400 times a day, in every phone call and meeting and choice that presents itself. The how is the universe unfolding my why."
So I'm not going to worry about how. Today is April 1, and I'm going to write this book. By July, it is done. I know that tense makes no sense, but I don't want to talk about it being done in the future. It is done now. Except now is going to be four months away ... whatever. As long as my heart is open, words will flow.
I know how much you love words too. Here's a new one for you: disintermediate. As in, "getting rid of the middleman." As businesses become more transparent, this is possible in some industries.
What about, "as human beings learn to communicate with the other side, we nudge away the veil of mystery and the unknown"? We can do away with intermediaries like priests and rabbis, who have no greater connection to all things of spirit than we do. Disintermediate. That's what we're doing, Clo: we're learning to disintermediate. We don't need a psychic, a séance or a healer. We simply need to be open enough to ask, to listen and to trust.
Letter to Mom
That's my kind of word — 15 letters. Anything over 12 letters is a word worth remembering — unless we're playing Scrabble. Remember when, Mom? We were great adversaries.
Because of the memorial money donated in my name, the Cedars Cancer Research Fund is going to kick-start the Pet Therapy Program. The money they collected will help people with cancer receive that special brand of love that only our animals can give us. I can do good from this side, Mom. You can't know how that helps me heal.
Remember that line from The World According to Garp? "You gotta get obsessed and stay obsessed."
Let me know how it goes with Matthew today.
Letter to Clo
Hi, Clo. Your brother was in good shape today. Even though I woke Matt up when I got there at 11:00 a.m., he was keen to shop for groceries, make lunch and enjoy it together.
I suggested that we make a raw salad that had one thing cooked in it; it could be vegetable or animal. He chose to marinate chicken breasts in a homemade honey mustard, cook them on the stove, slice them and add them to a salad. He shopped for all the ingredients, prepared everything and served us both. It was a true hit. Rather than search for conversation, we shopped, cooked and ate. Two hours together that were well spent, were productive and helped him regain a bit of power. Now he knows how to make a one-dish salad dinner. We have a date for next Friday at 11:00 a.m.
He complains that the medication makes him groggy and sleepy, but I know his diet has a lot to do with the lethargy that surrounds him. He's constantly yawning and rarely smiles. He has a lot of congestion. He eats a sugary cereal for breakfast and drinks a lot of soft drinks — poison!
You hardly ever smiled either. Both of you — brain cells ruined by drugs. The resulting mental illnesses completely short-circuited your lives. They threw a grenade in the middle of a family, ruined our precious home life, destroyed your promising futures, exhausted all caregivers and shrank your options of where and how to live.
With so few options for symptom reduction and regaining quality of life, the diagnoses for both of you were harsh: if you lose your minds, you lose everything.
Almost every day, I ask myself which came first, the drugs or the mental illnesses? Which was cause, and which was effect? I have no idea. I had never even heard the word bipolar before Matt's meltdown.
I have a harder time dealing with Matt, who's alive, than with you. I have a harder time accepting him as he is than I had with you. This accepting thing demands acceptance that all is as it should be. How can I accept that my brilliant son — who was admitted to law school, was a top student with a promising future, was an engaged and intelligent young man with every advantage given to him — is now a schizophrenic living on social welfare? That label is permanently attached to him. There is no recovery from this illness, just management. Hopefully.
It's almost too much for a mother to bear. I'm stripped down to my naked self. No expectations or desires for anything or anyone outside myself. This includes my children. How do I let go of hopes and dreams that began the moment I knew you were in my womb? Slowly and with lots of gentleness for myself.
Excerpted from "Conversations with Chloe"
Copyright © 2017 Andrea Courey.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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