Kathy's late husband, Dr. Lee Lipsenthal, wrote a book about dying called Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day As Though it Were Your Last, published last month by Random House ($22.)
My husband Lee Lipsenthal didn't believe in coincidences. Instead, he believed in synchronicity -- what Carl Jung called the "coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer."
Whenever I'd remark on the coincidence that a patient I'd been concerned about showed up in my clinic or that a friend I'd just been thinking about called me out of the blue, Lee would smile knowingly. "Is it really a coincidence?" he'd ask. "Or is it synchronicity?"
I was always the scientist, wanting to see physical proof before believing in something that I couldn't explain logically, but Lee was always able to trust in things he couldn't prove. Not only did Lee believe in synchronicity, but he also believed in signs, past-lives, and the power of dreams.
In fact, he told me many years after we were married that before we ever met he had a dream in which he was standing at a wedding altar next to an Asian woman with long, dark hair. On the first day of medical school, as soon as I walked into the hall for orientation, he had recognized me as the woman from that dream. (Never mind, of course, that I had a boyfriend at the time and wasn't all that interested in the nervous guy from New Jersey who was my academic competition.) But he believed in that vision so powerfully that he waited patiently for me; it was a year before we kissed. And then, before beginning our third year of school, we were married.
Was Lee's dream and my attending that particular med school merely coincidental? Or were they synchronous events? I was never entirely sure. I just didn't believe the way he did.
Lee had always been intuitive; he always seemed to know things before they happened. It was an aspect of him I'd attributed to his meditation -- being tapped into something larger -- and that I'd appreciated and even embraced. But when he began to explore past life regression, I thought that my stable physician husband, the medical director of a research institute, was losing it.
I tried to understand. I read Brian Weiss's Many Lives, Many Masters, about Weiss's experience with a patient and her past-life regression. I listened as Lee patiently taught me about Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, and many other psychotherapists who have written much about spiritual crises. I learned that many people going through difficult moments in their lives had spiritual awakenings, some of which included past lives but all of which included the awareness of the "bigness" of the universe. But was I a true believer? Not exactly.
Then Lee passed away from esophageal cancer in September. My son and I wept in the car as we left the hospital. The car stereo was tuned to NPR, and the hum of freeway traffic added another layer of sound. Through the veil of our shared misery, we suddenly became aware that there was another sound emanating from my purse on the floor of the passenger side of the car.
I reached in and pulled out Lee's iPod. It had turned on spontaneously--and as most of you who own these ingenious electronic Apple devices are aware, it is not easy to accidentally turn on an iPod. The song playing was Heaven Weeps. Just a few weeks earlier, Lee had mentioned out of the blue how much he liked that quirky song. I told my son the story, and he just smiled, shook his head and said, "Oh, Dad!"
When we had been told the devastating news that the Lee's cancer had metastasized and that there were no curative options, I tearfully asked if he could send me a sign when he died. Was this it? I still wasn't sure.
It makes sense that I felt Lee then, as Jung noted that synchronicity is more likely to occur when we are in a highly charged state of emotional and mental awareness. That's why times of trauma or turbulence -- as with a death or birth -- can push us towards openness and vulnerability. We're also more likely to experience synchronicity when we are in a receptive mindful state, as is the result of meditation.
It turns out that I was not the only one who had had visits from Lee. His publisher told me how the lights in her hotel room flickered on and off when she came out to California for Lee's memorial celebration. Lee's long-time colleague was conducting a workshop in Italy in his stead, and when she turned on her computer to begin her Powerpoint presentation, a photo of Lee popped up on her computer screen. She hadn't looked at that photo in years, and it had never been her screensaver.
Could this really have been my Lee trying to tell everyone he was all right? Was he having a little fun with us from beyond?
Although I profess to be a skeptic, I am also open-minded, and I truly, desperately want to believe that there is something out there greater than all of us. I want to believe that after death our soul/spirit will continue on, that there are more journeys for us, and with each journey, more lessons for us to learn. I find myself asking -- as the Peggy Lee song goes -- "Is that all there is? Is that all there is, my friend?" I want to feel hopeful throughout my life and into death.
Lee was the love of my life, and I miss him every day. These signs have been a huge part of helping me heal. Is it wishful thinking on my part? Maybe. But I'd like to believe that Lee is letting me know that he's out there watching and waiting for me.
The thought lifts me up at times of despair and grief. Since his passing, I've been practicing meditation more, and learning to be more open and present in the moment.
After all, just in case that is Lee, I don't want to miss any of the signs as they appear.
For more information and to read an excerpt from her husband's book, please see www.enjoyeverysandwich.net