Transitions: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I spent most of my childhood in fear of death. Anytime my parents or siblings left the house, I thought for sure they would never return—swept into a dark abyss, carried away by the Grim Reaper. My mind would have a field day with scenarios almost too bizarre to mention.

I was eight years old when we found my great-aunt Libby dead on the floor of her one-bedroom apartment, not too far from our house. A feisty spinster, she worked her way up to an executive position at the telephone company. My mother checked in on her several times a week. She dragged my siblings and me along to help “clean up” as my mother prepared meals, washed clothing, and sipped tea with Libby.

Hundreds of hairpins covered her living room floor. Libby should have been declared legally blind—she typically answered the closet door when the doorbell rang. Even though I made a face every time she hugged me (squeezing me until I couldn’t breathe), I secretly longed for her tight hugs and Fig Newtons. I now know she didn’t bake them for hours before our arrival, like she would boast after welcoming us out of the closet.

On a hot, humid morning in June, my mother asked me to go with her to Aunt Libby’s. After we rang the buzzer in the foyer of the apartment building, it would usually take a few minutes for Libby to shuffle to the intercom. About five minutes passed, I sensed my mother’s anxiety.

“Why won’t she answer the door? Do you think she’s looking for us in the closet?” I asked.

My mother walked outside and tried to peek in the window of Libby’s basement apartment. I saw mom’s eyes widen and her face turned pale.

“What’s wrong? Can you see Aunt Libby? Is she okay?” I asked.

Frantically, my mother rang the buzzer to Libby’s neighbor, Joe, a maintenance man in his sixties.

“We need to get in Libby’s apartment immediately!” my mother demanded.

Without a word, Joe unlocked the door and my mother rushed in. Libby, dressed in her purple flowered housecoat, lay on her side next to her recliner. My mother tried to keep me out in the hall but I was frozen in the doorway, staring down at Aunt Libby’s lifeless body. Her face was grayish-purple and her hair was wild and frizzy (Libby’s hair was always in a neat bun, affixed with 250 bobby pins). “Is she dead?” I whispered. My mother nodded.

I could sense that my Aunt was no longer in the shell lying in front of me. I felt a light breeze gently flow across my face and my nostrils filled with the scent of her perfume. My fears melted away with the realization that I could still feel Aunt Libby and sense her hugs. All that she was and meant to me was not gone. I grinned from ear to ear as I carried this peaceful feeling in my heart all the way home.

Death came and went throughout the years—grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and beloved pets. (I must give an honorable mention for my hamster, Sunshine, who died of an apparent heart attack. I held him in the palm of my hand—performing CPR with my pinky in a desperate attempt to save his little furry life. Even then I had a knowing that he needed to leave behind his leased vehicle and continue driving that hamster wheel in heaven.)

My child-self would be so proud of me today, as I dedicate so much of my time helping people understand death and dying.

As I reflect on my trip to Boston’s Children's Hospital to help Olivia, a two-week-old baby being taken off life support, I am completely humbled to hold the light for families who feel alone in the dark. Over the years, I’ve created a unique spiritual hospice assisting thousands of families through the “death” process, helping to initiate a beautiful transition with understanding and guidance.

Olivia was born with a congenital heart defect. She was immediately placed on the heart transplant list. Two weeks after her birth, I walked into the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), machines beeped, tubes filled the room making suction noises, and ventilators hissed.

Olivia’s tiny fingers wrapped around her mom, Julie’s, pinky. Pete, Olivia’s dad, leaned over the crib, stroking her face. Tears streamed from Pete’s face onto the soft, pink bunny blanket under Olivia.

“Olivia is talking to me,” I said.

I knew I could converse with the dead, but talking to the living through what appeared to be the conscious mind, was somewhat new to me. I once helped the family of a six-year-old nonverbal boy, teaching them how to communicate with him without words. During a visit, he told me (mind to mind) that he went horseback riding in Freetown, a small rural town in Massachusetts. When I relayed this to his parents, they were flabbergasted. Dylan had taken his first horseback riding lesson in Freetown that afternoon.

“What is she saying?” Julie quietly asked.

“She said you were singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow last night when you got home.”

Julie’s mouth hung open as her eyes filled up. “I rocked my three-year-old, Cameron, to sleep singing that song. I told him that his sister was going to heaven tomorrow and we needed to pray for her.”

“Can you tell Olivia that we love her and we’ll miss her?” Pete asked.

“Pete, you can tell her that yourself. She hears you. She can feel your love. You don’t need me to translate that,” I said.

A doctor pulled back the curtain and poked her head in. “We will prepare to take Olivia off of the heart machine within the hour.”

Julie and Pete kissed Olivia all over her head, face, hands, and feet. They took turns kissing her beautiful heart shaped lips.

We gathered in a tight circle and held hands. Julie whispered to me that Pete didn’t believe in an afterlife and wasn’t sure there was a God. I secretly asked Olivia to help me find the words to ease the situation. I started to speak and it felt like someone else took over ...

Olivia will soon leave her struggling heart and body behind. Even though I can’t fully explain why her physical time here was so short, she will always be connected to you both.

We come into this world with a soul contract … how long we will be here and what we will accomplish. We teach one another lessons and, sometimes, we don’t fully understand the lesson when it is first presented. It takes time to digest and embrace the meaning of these exchanges. Her presence will be felt in undeniable ways. Her gift to you will unfold over time. She has touched many lives already and will continue to do so.

I took Pete aside and told him his deceased grandparents were in the room, along with Julie’s dad. Her dad said to tell Pete that the Canadians were here to welcome Olivia to the other side.

“I keep hearing two strange E names like Esmeralda and Eugenia,” I said, squinting.

“Oh my God, my grandmother’s name is Esdelle and my grandfather is Eugene!” exclaimed Pete.

“There’s also a yellow lab by your feet, Pete,” I laughed.

“Jeeter!” Pete yelled out looking around his legs. “That’s our yellow lab who was hit by a car a few months ago.”

The team of cardiologists entered the room. They looked at Julie and she nodded her head. They took a few minutes to remove the many tubes attached to various parts of Olivia’s tiny body. A doctor handed Olivia to Julie as she sat in the rocking chair.

I quickly left the room to wait behind the curtain. I heard Julie singing, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, through her tears. Pete said, “That’s my girl. That’s daddy’s little girl,” over and over.

Julie told me after that Pete held Olivia for her final moments. She said it felt so good to hold her without any tubes or beeping noises. It took about 15 minutes for Olivia to take her last breath. Julie said she felt such peace in the room, and Olivia looked angelic. Something by the window caught their attention. They were stunned to see a rainbow peeking out of the clouds.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops that’s where you’ll find me.

Before I left the NICU floor, Julie ran up and hugged me. She whispered in my ear, “What you just said to Pete made him believe there is a God. Thank you.”

I used to wonder why I had to be the messenger for The God Squad. I often feel like one of Charlie’s Angels—waiting to see the man talking on the outside line.

When I’m driving up to a home with someone inside who is about to pass, I sometimes freeze before I get out, praying for guidance. At times, my thoughts wander and my own fears take over... What in the world am I going to say to them? How do you look a mother in the eye and tell them not to be afraid, they will be just fine, as three young children call out, “Is my mom going to be okay? Will she get better?”

What happens when we die? Where do we go? What do we do? Is there complete darkness? I’m afraid I won’t see my children. I’m afraid I’m letting them down. I’m scared of the unknown. These are many of the most common questions and fears people share with me when they are close to passing over.

Some of these questions will be fully answered when I get there myself. For now, I trust what I’ve been told by spirit and what I have witnessed firsthand while in the presence of those leaving their body.

Find out about upcoming programs with Maureen Hancock at Kripalu.

Maureen Hancock is an internationally renowned spirit medium, teacher, holistic healer, and author of the best-selling book The Medium Next Door.

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