My daily communications with Karl elicit a challenging question:

Is our connection real?

And further:

Is this whole thing just my imagination?

Some researchers compare the experience of staying connected with a loved one to a reverse “empty-chair” exercise, developed by Fritz Perls and popular with Gestalt psychologists. In this model (useful for moderating negative emotions and restructuring relationships with our departed loved ones), an empty chair faces the client, who imagines someone (or themselves) in it, and communicates to it. Continuing the conversation, the client then sits in the empty chair, this time reversing roles.

I start to worry. Maybe my connection with Karl is little more than an “empty chair” experiment, where I speak first as myself and then role-play Karl to gain a broader perspective on an issue or to integrate a disowned part of my personality. I find the mere “psychological” explanation deeply dissatisfying.

Karl tries to allay my fears, saying in late March 2017:

I want to reiterate this to you. This is not your imagination. You are not ‘making up’ these conversations. I am here, as genuinely and palpably as I can possibly be. That is why you sense me in your high heart and your throat. I am speaking through you. So please have confidence that this is not a ‘role play’. This is our life, our sacred marriage. And we are working on it together.

Learning more about courage from Karl

As our conversations deepen, Karl and I often discuss courage. In the past, he had found some of my professional courage foolhardy, even reckless. Now he wants to alert me to potentially harmful responses to my spiritual courage:

Courage frightens some people. Not everyone will be kind and gracious now. The sight of such powerful courage is hard for some. And you will appear even more courageous in Vancouver. The light in your soul will glow as you move forward courageously.

In late April 2017, two weeks before my departure to live permanently in Canada, I am a trembling wreck. Almost every item that I handle (to sort, to pack, to discard, or recycle) has Karl’s fingerprints on it. Brisbane is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave that extends well into what should be Autumn. I am physically and emotionally exhausted.

Karl counsels: “We need to get a grip here. Can I suggest that you remember and bless every memento — with all the gratitude you can muster? And file the memory for a rainy day in Vancouver.”

That memory file must include his sentimental cards. Often they featured polar bear cubs, baby seals, penguin chicks, and other lovable animals.

On this card, he had written, “PS, now that penguin is cozy — he looks it!”

Penguin chick photo by John Conrad/CORBIS

On the subject of his sentimental cards, Karl further admonishes me:

Bless them, remember them, and file them away. Pause and breathe a bit more. And accept where you are. The important thing is to stay in your heart and stay connected to your greater guidance.