Shelley Leutschaft

The Visitation

In Internal Flight by Dr. Shelley Leutschaft

The Visitation

I was delivering a eulogy, speaking as tears welled from deep within and streamed from my eyes. My chest tight with anguish as I tried to relay to those who had gathered what a loving man my father was, how different our lives would be without him, and how deeply he will be missed. The only recollection from the prose I had written to speak that day, “For those of us who were blessed to know him, my father left footprints on our hearts.” I was dreaming of giving my father’s eulogy and was awoken from this dream only to be told of his passing.

In the early morning hours, slipping silently from physical presence, my father graduated his Earthly existence. Following a ten-year relationship with cancer, all he was meant to experience was accomplished. Lives touched, lessons acquired, moments created and shared. In one final exhalation his journey was complete, to begin anew in that exact moment.

On the day of my father’s funeral, we were honored to experience him in spirit. Traveling backroads, the procession slowly made its way to the small cemetery located on the edge of town. Approaching the cite, we noticed a prominent tree across the road from the cemetery. A humungous Maple, gnarled, weathered, and dead stood like a guard at its entrance. In it, an American Bald Eagle, perched like a sentinel. Those known well to my father noted its significance and took comfort in his presence. The Eagle, my father’s favorite bird, and the Maple, his favorite tree. Undoubtedly, dad was there with us as we gathered in his honor to place his human form in its final resting place.

In the years preceding his physical death, multiple factors came between us and the closeness we once shared as father and daughter. None of that mattered now, and in fact, it had begun to matter less and less as years lapsed prior to the dawning of this day. As I experienced life, emotional maturity and logical reasoning offered refuge and solace. I sought comfort within my human mind analyzing, defining, quantifying and qualifying our interactions based on arbitrary snippets that comprised our lives together. Immeasurable in every way other than the value I assigned the emotional threads that wove our tapestry. Still, it was what I had created and clung to in order to make sense of it all. This allowed me to accept things as they were, for what they were. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was what it was.

A time for new beginnings, spring arrived shortly after dad’s passing. In the yard of his farm stood a Mountain Ash tree. Dad lived on the farm 20 years and spent a significant amount of time pampering that poor old tree in attempts to coax one season of red-orange berries, it’s hallmark feature. To no avail, until this year. Warm temperatures returned, and the trees burst forth with life. Ample leaves covered its aging branches, more so than in the past decade, and mid-way through summer it developed berries in clumps so heavy the lower branches drooped in attempts to kiss the Earth. The tree died a few weeks later and had to be removed. I believe this was dad’s way of showing his presence and I cherish the gift.

In the days and weeks following his death, I began to experience life far beyond the human experience. Feeling as though I was coming home to myself, I accepted unquestionably that it all lay dormant within me and was now awakening. My awareness of the life force within, my soul, felt familiar and comfortable. Like greeting an old friend.

The final, and most amazing gift from spirit, presented very early in my journey. A mere two months after his passing. I was resting on my bed, lying relaxed in the space between sleep and wakefulness. Aware of the sounds and environment around me while shrouded in another plane of existence. As I slid effortlessly into the universal abyss I felt someone lay beside me, yet no one was there. And so it had begun, my life altering encounter with love as it is recognized by and known only to the soul.

The experience held me in a space of driving a familiar road. My brother and I sought fervently for signs. We were certain to discover that which we sought, if only we would drive a little further. Fraught with angst and racing the pending darkness, we pushed on. A long and lonely highway through the Canadian wilderness of Ontario, one we traveled frequently in happier times. This day was different and we both subconsciously knew the cost. In search of a rustic log cabin at lakes edge, its entrance graced with three sizeable stone fountains. Every side road brought uncontainable excitement and inevitable disillusionment when nothing we searched for was revealed. We were running out of time and road.

Fearing daylight would usurp us, the decision was made. We must turn back. Defeated and bereft, we slowed then veered to the right turning slightly onto a sloping road we would have otherwise missed. There before us was the cabin. To its right three stone fountains. Excitement overwhelmed us as we excitedly parked the old truck and jumped from its uncomfortable seats. The journey had been a long one thus far. We stretched and yawned generously before making our way together toward the door.

As we approached the cabin, the splashing fountains beckoned me to look their direction. Doing so, I marveled that somehow it was now just shortly after sunrise. The golden glow of the sun, still low in the sky, glimmered and danced across the water as steam rose from the vast liquescent space lined with trees. Turning back toward the cabin it too had changed and now resembled a great log lodge.

We proceeded up the stairs, across the grand deck, and pushed open the heavy wooden door. I looked around this unfamiliar place, focusing now on a glass display case that held candy and tourist trinkets, with a cash register atop and a glass tray of peppermint candies. The figure behind the case came slowly into focus, and we were greeted by a familiar voice. My aunt, twenty years passed, laughingly exclaimed “Well, look what the cat dragged in!” Greeting us with a warm welcome, she boldly stated, “I know who you’re here to see.” Quickly turning on her heel, she led us across a large room with vaulted ceilings, great log beams, and a wall of windows that opened into the vast Canadian wilderness.

Busy surveying the room, taking it all in, I was too distracted to notice where we were going. The room was afire with the glow of the now morning sun, people filled booths lining the edges of the room and others sat scattered at tables throughout the space. The smells wafting through the air were succulent. An inaudible din of conversation in the background set the tone and energy of the room. We stopped suddenly. My aunt moved aside. Sitting there at a small table was a petite and frail man in a familiar flannel shirt, donning an even more familiar cap.

My father stood to welcome us with a wide toothy grin and a warmhearted hug, as he always had. He exuded joy. It was literally radiating from him like a warm-toned glow. He motioned for us to sit. Greeting a passing waitress, he requested assistance. When she had time, of course. Polite and patient, that was my dad. He sat with his back to the great wall of windows. In the space between our table and the row of booths behind him waitresses moved about from table-to-table, as groups of patrons came and went.

He began by asking how the drive was and made small talk, detailing numerous accounts of our travels together along the same road so many years ago. As we shared, becoming more focused on our conversation, the rest of the room (including my brother) faded into the background. Soon it was just dad and me. Talking, laughing, reminiscing, and crying together there in that magical space. It felt so good to see him! I was giddy and unable to focus completely, at first. All I knew was how wonderful it felt to be near him once again, to hear his voice, and to have an opportunity to ‘catch up’.

I remember thinking, “This can’t be real, he’s dead.” But, it was very real. I couldn’t make up the conversations we were having. Not in a million years. He carefully and thoughtfully attended to every detail, every question, every emotion raised within me as we reviewed our lives together. Attentively, compassionately, and lovingly he showed me our life circumstances from a very different perspective, one of love, absolute acceptance, and in a space completely void of judgement. Nothing was labeled or defined, it just was. I was able to appreciate every detail, from the human condition perspective, his and mine and from a very different place outside of human existence. A space that allowed each interaction to be a vital lesson, for the energy within me, my soul.

As suddenly as it began, it was over. My brother appeared, as if from thin air. He stated it was time to leave, briefly detailing the long drive that lay ahead. Knowing he was right, dad and I pushed our chairs back from the table and arose in unison. Exchanging pleasantries of how nice it was to see each other again and how thankful we were for our time together. I said, “I love you. There is so much I want to share with you. Do you really have to go?” He responded, “I love you too, Boo” (his nickname for me since I was a little girl) and spread his arms wide.

Stepping toward him, I melted into his embrace, suddenly aware that he was transparent. Rocking back on my heels I stated, “Daddy, I don’t understand. What’s happening?” My father replied, “You will have to hug me a little harder, I can’t quite feel everything the same way from where I am now. Open your heart. Step in front of the fear.” In that moment the entire day played out in my mind’s eye, as I stood before him. A fast-forward version of the comings and goings, our telepathic conversations, the sunlight as it danced across the room casting shadows as the end of day neared. I now realized that I saw everything through my father’s image. He smiled and nodded, a knowing nod, acknowledging my new truth. He said, “There is no end. We continue beyond physical life. I am always with you.”

Everything faded, and I became more aware of my surroundings, as the veil between spirit and physical presence thinned. I smelled my father all around me and began to weep. I wept for the ache, deep within me, to have him here in the physical world. I wept for the ending of our time together in spirit. I wept too for the depth of his presence and the indescribable love I felt.

Surreal and profound. I continue to explore the depths of those moments seeking to glean even more that I had initially. My human condition is in awe of it all. A journey of complete acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and closure. If I were any kind of artist I would capture every detail while it is still fresh in my mind, fearing it will fade with time. Now, some ten years later I remember the details as vividly as the day it occurred. Forever imprinted in my conscious awareness, impressioned within my soul, I know without a doubt I am from that place and will return to love upon cessation of my physical self.