Last year, I had an encounter at the cemetery that has never left me.
There have been a number of occasions when I’ve visited Abi’s memorial where I have felt a presence near me; a bit like you might feel when you think someone is behind you, but when you turn around you realise you’re alone. It either makes you shiver a bit or you shrug it off as imagined. But to me, it always feels pleasant, warming. I never thought I’d say that about being alone in a cemetery!
This particular day, I’d visited Abi alone as usual during the morning. I didn’t feel chatty, I felt depressed as though I’d woken with a large grey cloud above me. I was on the verge of tears and confused.
When I feel like this I am drawn to go and visit Abi. It seems the only thing my mood wants me to do. But when I arrived, I found I didn’t want to spend much time with her. I was out of sorts, my mind fuzzy with grief. So I found myself going back to my car to head home again, but when I sat in my seat to leave, I felt that I wasn’t ready to go.
I sat slumped and immobile. I stared out of the windscreen. My emotions were low and numb. I could just see Abi’s memorial to the right from my position, see her white stone and bright flowers. The view is open there; I looked at the sky and could see the grey clouds blowing in from my left, threatening rain.
I began to think of how desperately I wanted to see her. I stared hard ahead. I wished the ghost of her would appear, to show me she was okay. I tried to visualise her there. I felt if I willed it enough, she might appear. I imagined her sat on the bench waving happily at me, but I knew it was a forced image, a mashup of memories. As I remembered her beautiful face, I burst into sobs at the futility of this wish.
I began to beat myself up with self-pity. I didn’t know how to cope, how I could carry on without her. I was her mother, I needed her as much as she had needed me. My family needed me… my dear, dear children whose mother was so miserable. My mind was a mess as I gave in to my tears and mental anguish.
But then the sun chinked through the clouds and shone directly on my face through the car windscreen. It blinded me momentarily and I closed my eyes to the warmth. I heard the words ‘She’s ok’ quite clearly in my mind. I stilled my sobbing when I realised this wasn’t my thought – it almost interrupted me. I had a sensation that someone was with me, trying to comfort me.
I felt a flutter of excitement, I wanted to hear more, to be told again that she was okay, to know I’d not imagined it. But there was nothing. I began to cry again. Frustrated at myself for clinging to every word or sign. I felt so weak, so helpless to my grief. So I was more surprised when I heard the voice again, this time it said slowly; ‘You are strong. I made you strong,’ in an assertive yet comforting tone.
I knew then that what I was hearing was not my imagination.
I certainly didn’t feel strong at that point, my guard was well and truly down. I wasn’t trying to talk myself out of my despair. If anything, I needed to outpour. If you’ve ever faced a challenge, you may recall giving yourself a pep talk to spur yourself on. I’ve done it before a big race or when trying to run up a hill or push myself that bit further, for example. I used hypnobirthing with both my last births, so I’ve a good idea of using ‘mind over matter’. I know the strength of my inner voice. But when you feel such utter grief and despair, like your insides are being ripped out, like your very strength has been taken from you, it’s simply not possible to talk yourself out of it. You can only sort of ‘grow out’ of the mood over a period of time.
My tears now dried by the sun, my mind was clearer suddenly and I felt I didn’t have to do any more than trust the voice. I felt it would be ok; I believed she was ok. I was able to drive home and carried on my day, the grey cloud over me had lifted.
I’ve often remembered this encounter and wondered who it was. At the time I had no doubt it was God, no doubt at all. The voice felt like a father talking to his child. But, with the passing of time, I’ve doubted that it was even real. It can’t be Him! Can it? … but then the voice said ‘I made you’… why would I say that to myself? And if it was Him, why didn’t He say something more profound, biblical or poetic even? But God is real and he spoke to me in a real way.
I wrote this down as soon as I got home as I knew that in time I wouldn’t believe it had happened, and reading back it seems somewhat unreal and almost embarrassing (this silly woman thinking she’s hearing divine voices, her mind has been addled by her grief, poor thing). Yet I know it was something important and I don’t feel an urge to analyse it in great detail or try to explain it away. I’m not sharing this to get answers but to perhaps offer comfort.
I feel I know it was God who spoke to me. People who have had experiences like this often find it hard to describe, they just know. And I have this knowing too. On reflection, I feel privileged that He should do this so clearly, I know it is rare and many people wait all their lives for such an experience.
Despite the comfort I felt from this encounter, it’s not changed my moments of deep mourning for Abi. My grief is still like a seeping wound, but when the wound decides to open up fully, I try to remember this encounter. To remember that I am a strong person in mind and body, that I need to live my life going forward with grief not fumbling around in a circle of despair, that Abi is waiting for me and is being looked after, and, crucially, that I’m being looked after too.
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.