His body has been haunting me…
For the past few weeks I’ve been feeling my grief rising, again. This time it’s been focused on the loss of my brother’s physical presence.
I was waiting in traffic at a roundabout yesterday and it suddenly hit me, while noticing the couple sitting in the car ahead, that Christian would never physically sit in my passenger seat.
The last time I saw him, a week or so before he left for Africa in February 2003, we sat on the sofa together and I leaned against him while watching TV. He put his arm around my shoulders. I remember it so clearly because it was the first time we’d really had prolonged body contact since childhood.
When we were little, we were always playing together and fighting together, which is why I took it so badly when he disappeared to boarding school. That was the first time I lost him. Where was my partner-in-crime? Where was my play-mate? I was left alone.
I reacted in the way most children do to the sudden loss of a beloved physical presence, and I shut part of my emotional-self off — I was never going to allow anyone (including Christian) that emotionally close, ever again. My trust in all I knew was shattered.
When Christian then went missing in Africa, aged 27, I subconsciously believed that he would never return. His disappearance from my life when I was nine, was being played out all over again.
It took many years for me to finally admit to being incredibly angry with him for abandoning me, twice.
I found out Christian was dead, 15 years after he disappeared. Initially, I felt him as an energetic presence outside of my body, so I could feel him standing next to me (even though I couldn’t see him). That was such a comfort as the truth of his death, which I had been denying, did leave me reeling. But as time went by, and as we healed our relationship, Christian moved fully into the Light/Heaven and that happened naturally, as I let him go freely.
Unconditional love and trust allowed me to loosen my grip on him and, once released, his energetic trace left the physical world.
He, in Spirit, is now ageless: while I have grown older, he has ‘dissolved’ so that his essence is left. His soul-self. He’s now in my heart space — part of me. I don’t feel grief any longer on a spiritual and energetic level. I can look at photos. I can handle his things. I can listen to his music. I can see his friends. I can read his diaries. I can visit the place we grew up. He is not there anymore. He no longer exists in the past, for me, but very much NOW. He’s always around whenever we want, or need, to chat and he keeps an eye on our parents and my children.
We continue our sibling relationship and it’s better than it ever was when he was ‘alive’. We’ve grown older together, mentally and emotionally.
But… his physical presence, or the lack of it, has been haunting me. Until today.
Being a Spirit Messenger, I often experience tears. Most of the time the tears are not my tears, but channelled from someone in Spirit. But these tears were definitely MY tears as I sat talking to my most trusted friend about missing Christian’s physical presence. Why was I crying?
Spiritually, I’m sorted.
Physically, I’m not…
Why is that?
I was yearning for his physical presence. His body. His weight. His large presence. His booming laugh. The things I no longer can experience. When I speak to him now, I hear his voice, but I don’t HEAR his voice physically. Even when we do trance medium sessions (where he energetically takes over my body), I don’t experience him as a separate and physical entity.
His body has been haunting me.
The last time I felt his body next to mine was 16 years ago. We were siblings. What if we’d been in a physical relationship? Would that physical yearning be even greater? Everyone must experience this… surely?
I never saw Christian’s dead body. And I never will. Turns out he had a river burial; not by his design, but he was drugged and his body weighed and dumped into the River Niger in Mali. His body was returned to Mother Nature. He’s very happy about that, as he never wanted to sit in a graveyard with a stone memorial. He told me, once upon a time, that he thought that was a depressing way to end up.
So, he got his more interesting burial… but I didn’t get to see his dead body before his burial. And I think this is where that last grasp of grief is rooted. His physical body, to me, is still in the memory of that last ‘sofa contact’; my mind has not moved on and disassociated Christian, as he is now, from his body.
My remaining grief is clinging onto his 27-year old form; the memory of a healthy, strong body that didn’t die or decompose.
Our experience may be extreme, in that we don’t have Christian’s body for closure, but I do think that how we deal with dead bodies, in the West, disrupts the natural process of grieving.
I worked as a writer-in-residence for a large funeral firm in 2014–2015 and the only (part of a) dead body I saw was the foot of someone, peaking out from a white sheet while on a trolly, awaiting embalming. I did not lift the lid of a coffin when I had the opportunity. But there’s a huge amount of effort put into preserving bodies before a funeral. Whipping bodies to the funeral parlour as quickly as possible, for hygienic reasons and because it’s considered the ‘norm’. Embalming and/or refrigeration. Slowing the natural process of decomposition. Putting makeup on dead bodies. Doing their hair. Dressing them in their favourite clothes.
When we say goodbye to our loved ones at the crematorium or the graveside, our memory of their body is preserved. They don’t seem dead, only sleeping. Peaceful. Like they’ll wake up at any moment.
Essentially, this is what’s happened to me. My brother’s still in his 27-year old body, even though I’ve been working with Christian all year to reach closure: I know where he died, how he died, who killed him and why (and I’ve forgiven him), what happened in the lead up to his death, what happened after he’d died (unconscious of his death) and I know that future generations are free of the trauma caused by his disappearance and death.
It never mattered to me whether we found his body or not, because Christian said, “You will, by they way, never find my body — it’s in the river, long since eaten.” He was not his body any longer, he said. But…
But… it did matter. Not seeing his body die, and fail, and decompose meant part of him was energetically still in the past, and I am mentally attached to him that way. This is where my yearning to feel his physical presence came from.
As soon as I had realised this chain to the past, it was slashed and released. It was immediate.
He, truly, is not his physical body any longer. He is, instead, fully with me NOW as his soul-self. His essence. Formless, free and at peace.
Will I no longer feel the pangs of physical grief? The twist on the inside? I doubt it — even re-reading this is making my eyes well up — but I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that my experiences of grief, healing and growth following loss are helping others. So I’m writing honestly, for you. I could keep all these thoughts to myself, but what would be the point in that?
Having done a bit more digging, I’ve found out about sky and river burials in Tibet where it’s thought an act of generosity to allow nature to feed on the dead body, which then releases loved ones to be part of the universe and the circle of life. Even more extreme, is the ritual of famadihana / ‘turning the bones’ by the Merina people of Madagascar, which sees the exhumation of bodies every seven years so they can be cleaned and dressed in fresh burial shrouds. It is a festival which allows families and communities to come together to celebrate their loved ones and keep a physical contact with them past death. The Malagasy people believe that the spirit can only travel into the afterlife when the body has fully rejoined the earth and their bones have turned to dust.
Neither of these funeral rites are options in the West, obviously, but are we too ashamed of our dead bodies? Would grieving not be made easier if we could see the physical dissolve? If we could see the passing of the person’s spirit, leaving the empty casing of the physical body behind?
I guess this would be going against centuries of social convention, but it wasn’t too long ago in the UK when bodies were kept at home for family and friends to wash, dress and mourn over and then carried to the graveyard by the families, with the body wrapped in a simple sheet.
Times have changed, but does our desire to remember loved ones as they were in life actually prolong our grieving process?
It’s a difficult image, but facing the reality of the dissolving body has freed me from the last chains of grief. Christian’s body is no longer. He has left the building, as it were.
But my brother — his soul and essence — is very much alive in my heart space.
Hannah Velten is a writer and Spirit Messenger, specialising in healing and transforming grief. Hannah’s brother, Christian, went missing in 2003 during a solo expedition in West Africa. After 15 years, Hannah was the one to make contact with Christian in Spirt and they have been working together ever since to show that loss is an illusion and that love is all you need to heal and grow following loss. Their live films can be found at www.hannahvelten.online/loss-is-an-illusion