Guiding your grief: Tahoe’s Kim Bateman explores how we can keep loving a person who’s no longer there (VIDEO)
April 25, 2016
‘Crossing the Owl’s Bridge’ celebration
On Wednesday, April 27, the Friends of the Truckee Library will host a literary celebration of the publication of Dr. Kim Bateman’s book, “Crossing the Owl’s Bridge: A Guide for Grieving People Who Still Love.”
Bateman will discuss how she came to write her book and what she learned in the process. Questions and answers and a book signing will follow.
Event details are as follows:
When: 5:30-7:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 27
Where: Cedar House Sport Hotel (Stella Event Room), Truckee
Cost: $30 (fundraiser for Friends of the Truckee Library)
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dr. Kim Bateman is seeing red.
Not in a figurative sense — she's not angry. Literally, Bateman is gazing at an unexplainable red glow.
It's May of 2015, last spring, and Bateman is at the bedside of her best friend, Elisabeth, who's hours away from succumbing to a 10-month battle with cancer.
"I was there alone with her for about two and a half hours before the mortuary came and took her," recalled Bateman, sitting in her office at Sierra College in Truckee, where she serves as the executive dean. "I was talking to her and, it was very shocking to me, but the room had this really weird red glow."
“When you lose the physical, it actually opens up to a relationship with something bigger
— more the mystery, or the unknown.”
— Dr. Kim Bateman
At the time, Bateman was certain her red-tinted eyesight stemmed from crying a continuous stream of tears.
But then, in the days and weeks that followed, the redness kept coming back.
"I was walking at Donner Lake with my dog," said Bateman, tears welling in her eyes. "I go there almost every day, and that summer the lichen on the rocks, all of a sudden I look down and there was this red glow on the rocks. And I was like, what is that?"
Soon after, Bateman noticed the maple tree in front of her house had turned crimson red. Ditto for the white roses at the home of Elisabeth's mother.
Bateman did not know what to make of it all, until a friend sharpened her red sightings into focus.
"I talked to somebody who said, 'Sometimes people show up in colors, and that's their way of coming to you,'" Bateman said. "And I just thought, it's just my imagination — because I really want to see her (Elisabeth) and talk to her.
"And my friend said, 'Well what else would the dead have besides your imagination to talk to you?'"
The sentiment made Bateman catch her breath.
"I was like, yeah," said Bateman, letting out a heavy sigh. "That's so true."
It was then, in the midst of grieving for her late friend, the red colors surfacing, when Bateman knew she had to finish something she'd been working on for more than a decade: a book on the grieving process.
"After she (Elisabeth) died, I was like, I just have to do this," said Bateman, a clinical psychologist who has facilitated workshops and taught courses on death and dying for 20 years. "Because I had pieces of the book, and I knew it was important, and so it was kind of my way of loving her, to work on the book."
So she did. All last summer, Bateman wrote three days a week, all day, putting the final period on her first draft in September.
Six months later, she was holding the first copy of her book, "Crossing the Owl's Bridge: A Guide for Grieving People Who Still Love."
Published by Chiron Publications, "Crossing the Owl's Bridge" is a collection of folktales and personal stories that demonstrate "how we can have imaginative responses to grieving," Bateman said.
Losing the physical
For 26 years, Bateman has been navigating the bereavement path.
On March 15, 1990, Bateman's brother, Chad Murray Bateman, 21 years old at the time, died in an avalanche while extreme skiing at Alpine Meadows.
"When that happened, everything turned upside down," said Bateman, who soon after began digging into a myriad of cultural and spiritual beliefs on death. "I went through this huge process of religions and psychics and life-after-death workshops and all that."
Searching for something she could latch on to as she sunk into the depths of grief, Bateman came across a Japanese proverb — 12 simple words — that struck her in a profound way.
My barn, having burned to the ground, I can see the moon.
"For some reason that was really cool to me," Bateman said. "Because I was thinking, that's so true. When you lose the physical, it actually opens up to a relationship with something bigger — more the mystery or the unknown."
This revelation, Bateman said, steered her to folktales.
"You know that logic is going to be suspended and you're going to be entering the world of the symbolic — folktales, over and over, set up existential questions," Bateman said.
Continuing to love
In all, there are 12 folktales and 38 personal stories woven together to make up the fabric of "Crossing the Owl's Bridge."
"I present the folktales, present some themes, and give actual stories of people who have navigated that (theme) before," said Bateman, a North Tahoe High and Sierra Nevada College graduate who went on to earn her master's in academic research from Humboldt State and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.
One such folktale in the book is titled "The Spouses."
It tells of a married man and woman, deeply in love, who make a pact to never remarry should the other one die.
As the tale goes, not long after the pact was made, the woman died.
After grieving for a few years, the man realizes he'd like to get married again and eventually finds a woman he wants to make his bride. On his way to the wedding, he decides to stop by his wife's grave to say goodbye and ask her for forgiveness.
While kneeling at her headstone, the grave opens up and his wife's spirit beckons him into the coffin for a glass of wine. He obliges. After the drink, he attempts to leave but his wife begs him to stay. Again, he obliges. This cycle continues until finally after the third drink, the man says his farewell and heads to his wedding.
But when he arrives at the church, no one is there, not even the pastor.
The man looks in the mirror and sees he's become old and gray. He had been in the grave for 30 years.
"We often do this when we're grieving someone," Bateman explained. "Do we live in relationship to the deceased and our memory of them, or does it feel like a betrayal to live in the present moment or the future? How do we negotiate that pact?"
"So that's what this book is," she continued. "About ways that you keep loving a person who's no longer there. Because when their physical body's gone, your love doesn't go away — you just have no place to put it."
Nicole Cheslock, a friend and colleague of Bateman's, said "Crossing the Owl's Bridge" is more than just a book.
"Its power comes in sharing the stories of those who have lost loved ones and helping readers create new ways of connecting with those who have passed," Cheslock said. "It's a concrete work that shows how much Kim loves her brother, her compassion and astounding aptitude for helping people work through pain."
For Bateman, "Crossing the Owl's Bridge" — available at the Bookshelf in Truckee, as well as online orders via Amazon.com — is a culmination of her experience entrenched in the grieving process, be it her own or those she's worked with.
Bateman is cognizant of the emotional spiral — shock, sadness, anger; sometimes all at once — one is dragged into after losing a loved one. What's more, she knows the unexplainable imaginative responses — like being, seemingly, visited by red colors — one may experience during the grieving process.
And for nearly three decades, Bateman's found that "we don't have a lot of instruction about how to sit with that complexity."
For that reason, Bateman has approached the topic of death and dying with an open heart and mind. And she strives to help others, those trying to find their footing on the bereavement path, do the same.
"I think we live in a world where logic and rationality are seen as the highest good," Bateman said. "And logic and rationality don't work when you're having really deep feelings.
"If someone is in deep pain, and they're in that hole, oftentimes we back up because it's scary, because we're scared of being in the holes ourselves. And I can sit in that hole. I don't mind it, because I actually trust that I will come back out."