When a doctor cannot logically explain the communication he receives from his son after his tragic death, he relearns how to live life
The death of my son, Christopher, at the age of 22, changed everything I thought I knew, in ways I never expected. Beyond my grief, came a glimpse of immortality that shattered my scientific, analytic view of the world.
Chris was a brain damaged, developmentally disabled child who challenged everyone he knew with his unpredictable behavior and uncanny insights. He drowned in a shallow stream bed while walking with friends along a trail in the Berkshire Mountains. As Chris underwent resuscitation in a local E.R., my wife, Christina, and I sat silently by the phone in Manhattan, waiting for news, immobilized by fear and the feeling of being powerless.
Suddenly, the room felt supercharged with electricity, as if lightning were about to strike. Christina andI had exactly the same experience: a pure white light flooded our vision. A glowing shape, powerful and majestic, with Christopher’s face, emerged from the light. The sublime joy, limitless strength and total freedom radiating from this being exceeded anything I’ve ever known or imagined.
He was with us for a few seconds. Then he was gone and the phone was ringing to bring us news of the failed resuscitation. The flood of emotion was overwhelming and confusing. The happiness of Christopher’s spirit was exhilarating. But somehow it had no impact on our grief at losing the flesh-and-blood child. It felt as if two rivers rushing in opposite directions were sweeping over us.
We buried Chris in the Berkshires and at his graveside released twenty-two bright yellow balloons to celebrate his life.
Each balloon was attached to a short, frayed yellow ribbon, because I’d had to cut them free from a sandbag to which they were all tied. The next day we returned to New York City. We stopped at a red light near Columbus Circle, a place with some significance to Chris, because it was named after another Christopher. We were stunned when a yellow balloon with a short frayed yellow ribbon descended from the sky, hovered directly in front of our car, and then drifted away. There were five people in the car. We all saw it. To my wife and me, the balloon’s visit was even more extraordinary than the visit of Christopher’s majestic spirit four days earlier. To the children in the back seat, it was all pretty routine. Of course, this was one of the balloons we‘d released at Christopher’s grave. Of course, Chris had sent it. What could be more natural?
I could almost feel Christopher laughing. “I know you, Leo,” he seemed to be saying. “You’re such a skeptic and you’re always trying to be so logical. Given time, you’d doubt the vision of my spirit and dismiss it as a shared hallucination. Try to explain away this balloon.” I couldn’t explain away the balloon. I obsessed about it. During the months that followed, I would relive these two visits — the appearance of Christopher’s spirit and the flight of the balloon — over and over again, as if they were drugs that could help me make sense of Christopher’s tragic life and early death.
Three weeks after his funeral, I had a third visit. It took the form of a mysterious illness that lasted for six hours. I was suddenly overcome with a flu-like feeling and lay in bed, incapacitated. I felt as if Christopher was taking over my mind. I began to experience all the frustrations and disappointments he had known and I began to feel the strength and generosity of his character more deeply than ever, how he turned pain and disability into love and joy.
It was five years before my next contact with Chris. We talked about him often in the family, but there were no surprise visits and I began to wonder whether he was with us or had moved on.
Then one night I was awakened with his voice urging me, “You have to tell my story. People need to know.”
So I began working on a book about him, recently published under the name Already Here, a Doctor Discovers the Truth about Heaven. As I prepared to write, I asked Chris for guidance. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I threw out questions almost casually and waited for a response. Replies always came, usually right away, if I was alone. I would hear a voice speak directly to my mind. It was gentle but commanding and it always said much more than I expected. Writing Already Here brought me on a spiritual journey in which I came to know Christopher as my teacher.
At first Chris brought me concepts with which I could feel quite comfortable, ideas like embracing adversity and “Life is a constant overcoming of who we are, to become who we can be.” He then moved on to ideas that challenged my concept of reality at its roots: the illusory nature of space and time and the role of human consciousness in the universe. I recognized that Christopher’s revelations contained ancient wisdom that was designed to deepen my understanding.
As I attempted to transcribe these dialogues, I discovered three themes in his teaching. I call them The Gift of the Opposite, the Gift of Presence and the Gift of Timelessness. The Gift of the Opposite actually describes Christopher’s M.O. while he was still alive. He was always looking for the counterpoints or contrasting views, in ways that could be maddening or funny or full of insight. It also describes the fundamental organizing principle of our Universe: All things contain their opposite at all times, a profoundly meaningful concept that underlies ancient Chinese philosophy. The Gift of Presence describes a Zen-like way of being attentive that’s essential for recognizing the Opposite. The Gift of Timelessness is a way of entering into what mystics call The Eternal Present. Chris’s spirit called it ‘God’s Moment’.
My most important discovery was that Christopher’s teachings were not just esoteric precepts from beyond the grave.
In his short and difficult life, he had actually embodied these gifts and used them in paradoxical ways to teach others. I began to realize that the angelic being we’d seen at the moment of Christopher’s death had always been within him, shining through his awkward body and damaged brain, transforming pain into love and disappointment into joy. He showed me that each of us is so much more than we appear to be. Who we are is not limited by our physical bodies. We exist even when our bodies do not. We can be robust and full of grace even when our bodies are broken. Those of us who seem to be the least, may actually offer the most.
I gave Christopher’s book the title, Already Here, because of the last conversation I had with his spirit. I had asked Chris what it was like in Heaven. I’m not sure why it took me a year to ask that question. He answered joyfully: “It’s what I always wanted. Everyone is here. Everyone. Even you… You’re already here, you know.” I felt a chill run down my spine and I was able to grasp, in a visceral way, the true meaning of ‘God’s Moment’. An irresistible smile spread across my face and I began laughing.
We had no more dialogues after that. Chris’s last words to me were, “Now I’ve told you everything you need to know.” His visits ended, but not my homework. He never explained why he wanted me to tell his story, but in writingAlready Here,I developed my own motivation. There are many Christophers in the world, people who are challenged or challenging, who confound our assumptions and expectations. They may suffer from disabilities or illness or pain, or they may simply be outliers. Although to me Christopher seems exceptional, he told me in no uncertain terms that he was “just like everyone else.” I want people to find the Christophers in their own lives, the hidden teachers of the spirit, and I hope that Christopher’s story can help guide their journey.
You may also enjoy reading Doing Death Differently: Embracing the Home Funeral by Kelly Notaras