Erik Rune Medhus, my 20-year-old son, took his own life on October 6, 2009. Since that sad and tragic day, an overwhelming sense of grief and despair propelled me into a search for answers. Answers that would provide others and me with comfort and hope. Some of those answers came from the many books I bought, but many came from an unexpected source…Erik, himself. Through dreams, visitations and channeling, he describes what happens during the death process, what the afterlife is like, what he does with his time there, what it feels like to be a free soul, the nature of thought and reality, the meaning of life and the human experience, as well as other matters. If you fear your own mortality, if you grieve over the loss of a loved one, or if you yearn to know the answers to these questions and more, please join me in this journey to enlightenment.

Erik would be the first to admit that he is no Oracle of Delphi. He does not claim to be a Dalai Lama, the Great Messiah or a mountaintop guru. No, he is a flawed human being who, like many of us, has battled his own dragons both inward and outward. He has stumbled and failed time and time again. But perhaps because of his foibles, he has a deep understanding of the human experience. He knows what it’s like to be neck deep in a foxhole of misery clawing desperately in the mud to pull himself out. He also knows what it’s like to feel hopelessness, to give up, to believe that life is not worth the pain, the trouble and the setbacks. But these attributes, these trials and tribulations offer another type of wisdom. One we can relate to in the shadow of our own hardships. That said, however young, flawed and imperfect, Erik is a voice worth hearing. He is one of us.

His Life and Death

Erik was born on September 21, 1989 at 3:00 in the afternoon. He greeted the world without a whimper. Instead of howls of protest at the bright lights and cool air, he seemed content to take in his surroundings peacefully. Until he was around 12 or 13, he was such a happy boy. He loved all things manly, motorcycles, military paraphernalia, racecars, and guns. He also adored women of all sorts. Even as a four year-old, he would lavish them with admiration and affection. Erik also loved dressing up in “Pappa suits,” and in the months before his death, he would often walk around in a suit and tie for no reason at all.

Erik had his struggles, though. He suffered from learning difficulties making school an unwelcome and often overwhelming undertaking. Despite our encouragement and understanding, his academic shortfalls ravaged his self-esteem. Peers and even some thoughtless teachers called him “stupid” to his face. To make matters worse, he also suffered from Tourette’s, so his odd tics and mannerisms left him vulnerable to unkind remarks. It was during his middle school years that I began to see this happy, charming, affectionate child transform into a stranger. He slowly built a shell of toughness to protect himself from a cruel world. He wore spiked leather bracelets and long pocket chains, smiled less often and was involved in a number of fistfights at school.

Despite weekly sessions with both a therapist and a psychiatrist, Erik slid into a deep depression. He found solace in drugs and alcohol partly to give credence to that tough exterior, partly to ease the pain. As parents, we did everything we could to help him feel better about himself. As with all of our children, not a day would go by that we didn’t tell him how much we loved him and how grateful we were to have him in our lives.

After finally being diagnosed with and receiving treatment for Bipolar Disease, Erik seemed to improve somewhat. He stopped the drugs and alcohol and embarked on a career path to becoming a welder. But as happiness seemed to elude him still, he developed an insatiable appetite for material possessions to fill the empty void: a stereo system for his truck, a new welder, equipment for a new sport or hobby, or a new bike. When he ran out of money, he pawned nearly all of his other possessions for the next “fix.” He also had an intense yearning for friendships. Sadly, he was well aware of the fact that many of his “friends” answered his calls only to hang up immediately once they realized it was him. He was regarded as odd and quirky by many and, as a result, he often felt deeply lonely. I find this so ironic, because Erik was so caring toward others whether they were friends, acquaintances or strangers. He wouldn’t hesitate to give anyone the shirt off his back and often brought home troubled strays in need of a home cooked meal and a place to sleep. In all of his twenty years here on Earth, I have never heard him utter a critical or disparaging word about another person. Perhaps because of his struggles, he was one of the most compassionate, nonjudgmental people I have ever known.

Then came that horrible Tuesday, that deep chasm that tore my life into two parts, the “before” and the “after.” Erik seemed to be stable and happy that day. Those last few months, he had finally found friends he could trust, friends that loved him as he loved them. My sister, Teri, was visiting from her home in California and she, two of my daughters and I planned to go out somewhere for lunch. I asked Erik if he’d like to join us, but he declined, saying he preferred to stay home and “chill.” He asked how long we’d be gone, and I told him we’d return in no more than an hour. Five minutes into the drive I received the worst phone call of my life. Maria, our housekeeper who had helped take care of Erik since he was 16 months old, said she heard a “loud noise” and was scared. Although I had no reason to suspect anything, I instinctively knew. I asked her if it sounded like a gun and she replied, “yes.” I begged her to go upstairs to check on Erik and she did. The bloodcurdling scream I heard moments later will forever be etched in my mind–a scream that marked the beginning of a nightmare from which we would never awaken, a scream that dashed our hopes along with our sense of inviolability. It marked the beginning of our emotional collapse into a car full of hysterical sobs. We were home in a matter of minutes, minutes that seemed more like decades. I was so afraid to go upstairs and confront what I knew to be the tragic truth, but as a physician, I needed to be sure he was truly dead. What if he still had a pulse? Maybe I could administer CPR and save him. But upon seeing my son sitting in his desk chair, eyes opened and lifeless, with an obvious gunshot wound to the head, it was clear he was gone forever and could not be brought back to life. Only days later would I discover that he had pawned other possessions and asked a 21 year-old friend to purchase a handgun. In great despair, I flung myself into his lap, screaming like a wounded mother wolf mourning the loss of her cub. It felt like I was out of my body peering down upon this broken shell of a woman whose hands were bathed in the blood of her own child.

The moments and months that followed were torture. No mother should have to bury her child, much less hired a crime scene cleanup crew to pull out his carpet and scour the walls. Since that day, every chore seems overwhelming whether going out to get the mail or unloading the dishwasher. But even as early as the next morning, Erik came to comfort us in many ways, as you will see.

After Erik’s death, my entire family and I plunged into a state of numbness. We were shaken by a grief so profound each minute seemed like an eternity. Making the funeral arrangements from choosing a casket and burial plot to deciding what clothes he should wear in his perpetual sleep was an agony that clawed angrily at my heart. Every decision was gut wrenching and insurmountable. All I wanted to do was lie down in a corner and sob. I’m so grateful for the inner strength my husband, Rune, demonstrated. He too was in pain, but society mandates that the man must keep a stiff upper lip and muddle through on their own somehow. They are the silent, neglected grievers, the broken warriors who need just as much support and comfort as women.

In all the tragic turmoil, however, Erik came to provide us with comfort three times in as many days. The second night after his death, he came to my husband in an uncharacteristically vivid dream. In that dream, they were both standing near Rune’s new Ford F-350, a truck that my son drooled over with great pride. Then Erik said in joyous excitement, “I feel so wonderful! I’m so light and free. It’s an amazing feeling. Here, Pappa, feel.” And when Erik reached out to grab his father’s hands, Rune was overcome with a sense of intense euphoria unlike any sensation he’s had before. It was a feeling of joy, love, comfort, lightness and freedom that simply cannot be describe in our limited language as humans. After a few moments, Erik let go of Rune’s hands, leaned toward him and said, “This is what I felt like before.” Rune then felt the deep despair and darkness that had long tormented his son. The world felt heavy and unwelcoming. Rune knew Erik was trying to convey that he was fine, in fact happy for the first time in years. From that moment, healing for our family had begun.

Erik’s grandfather, José, had a similar experience. Let me preface this by saying that my father has never truly believed in life after death. He’s an atheist. To him, when the body dies, so does the soul. We all simply turn to dust. There is no immortality.  There is no God. There is no Heaven. Three days after my son’s death, my father called me to say that Erik had come to him in a dream. I could tell by his voice that he was quite shaken. He said Erik appeared to him as a small boy. He crawled into his lap and snuggled against his chest. My father felt, without a doubt, that Erik’s presence was real. He felt the warmth of his grandson’s small body and the love that emanated from his presence. Mind you, my father was wide-awake at the time. After a few moments, Erik looked up at his grandfather and recited a Spanish proverb that essentially translates as “things come in threes.” Dumbfounded by the encounter, my father exclaimed, “Why did this happen to me? What does it all mean? I feel so startled!” Erik’s visit challenged the very foundation of the staunch beliefs he had held for decades. As for the meaning behind the proverb, I wondered to myself if Erik was preparing my father and my mother, both in their 80s, for their own transition into the afterlife.

The third visit was to a family friend, Kelley. She has known all of my children since they were small, and our families have vacationed together several times. Erik was quite fond of Kelley, in particular. Shortly after his death, Kelley called me to recount a lucid dream she had had: “I saw Erik in a beautiful meadow sitting in a hammock with his back to me. Beside him sat a girl with long, light-brown hair.” (This may have been a former girlfriend who, 7 months earlier, suffered an accidental gunshot wound to the head by a drunken “friend” who thought he had unloaded his new revolver.) Kelley goes on to say, “People were milling around everywhere. I got the sense that everyone knew and loved each other and that they regarded Erik as some sort of celebrity. He seemed to have a movie star quality about him, like Brad Pitt. I moved closer to him and asked, ‘Why did you kill yourself, Erik? What could have possibly led you to do such a thing?’ Then he turned his head to look up at me with that charming, mischievous grin he was so famous for and began to sing a tune, ‘If you wanna be free, be free. Cuz there’s a million things to be,’ and then he calmly faced forward and hummed the rest of the song.” Kelley woke up with a start, wondering if the tune was indeed an actual song. Eager to verify her suspicions and lend meaning to the dream, she jumped out of bed, turned on her computer and typed the lyrics into the search window. The results stunned her because, although she hadn’t recalled ever hearing the tune before, it was an actual song composed and sung by Cat Stevens entitled, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.” Days after, the song appeared as a theme in a commercial for T-Mobile. Eventually, we would discover the true meaning behind that song as you will soon discover.

All of these dream visitations were of great comfort to my family and me although I wondered selfishly why he had not appeared to me, his own mother. In retrospect I believe I was too besieged by grief to open my mind and heart to him. But that would soon change.

At this point, I still had my doubts. Big doubts. After all, I’m a physician. A scientist. To me, nothing was real if it couldn’t be perceived by the senses or at least measured by an instrument that would deliver it to our senses. This included spirits, God, Heaven and other intangible things. That and being raised by two atheists made it difficult for me to answer what would become the most important question of my life. Where was my son?