Each day I rise in the morning. Over the past year and a half of the pandemic, far too many arise each day having to rise in the mourning, most poignantly to the reality of the loss of a loved one. Millions around the globe have died, raising the world’s grief level to profound and extraordinary heights. Yet, loss has always been integral to the human experience. I imagine I am not alone in seeking ways to continue to rise amidst the extraordinary loss of life, of ways of life, of hope.

I completed the manuscript for Rising in the Mourning: Ways to Celebrate Life nearly a decade ago, a book born of love and my dedication to honoring Josh by celebrating life. My son Josh was struck by a car on the afternoon of October 6, 2002, his heart taking its final beat the next morning, October 7. Josh began to “communicate” with me swiftly, a blessing of blessings.  I knew he was just a breath away, albeit one straddling dimensions unbeknownst to me. Because his death had shattered the wall of death, my fear of death, I was soon able to connect to him, much to my initial surprise and ongoing gratitude.  

I share with you an excerpt from Chapter 3, “Shattering the Wall of Death,”honoring Josh on the anniversary of his passing and hoping to give you new perspective on a surety that each of us will realize, death…although hopefully not too soon. In the meantime, may we each be inspired to embrace life while our heartbeat continues.

Chapter 3: Shattering the Wall of Death

~An excerpt~

The pivotal experience on the bench at the foot of my bed, seeing and feeling the Light in the darkness, had opened my consciousness to receive what would be another transformational revelation, one that would obliterate a pervasive fear and lighten my load. A transformational shift was coming.

Eulogy now completed, Caroline returned to her room for Natalie’s assistance. Dependent on Natalie for her computer and the workings of her printer, Natalie stayed awake at the side of her sister, feeling the pull of a tie that would become all the more a binding lifeline.

“Caroline, Natalie,” I called out as I entered Caroline’s room well after midnight. I had to share my revelation with them, a knowledge that had just struck my core with a clarity that had only been a perspective colored with belief until that moment. I announced, “Josh is not gone. His body was ruined so he can’t be with us here anymore. But he’s not really dead.” When a powerful epiphany consumes you, there is a knowingness that obliterates any trace of doubt and fills you with indelible clarity. So it was for me about Josh’s whereabouts. And though I did not know the particulars of where he now existed, I knew he continued to exist.

Caroline and Natalie looked at me with wide eyes, eyes that while fraught with shock and fatigue reflected a yearning for something, for anything from Mom to grasp onto. This was Mom’s view and while my assuredness that Josh was not “really dead” was truth for me; for my girls it rang only of possibility at that moment. In their youth and having seen Josh’s dead body, how could they fathom that he was still alive in another way? The reality of death was hanging heavy on their hearts, and mine too for that matter. Yet Caroline would have proof of Josh’s presence in the weeks to come.  Natalie would tuck the connection to a new version of her big brother inside her tender 11-year-old heart, a seed planted. 

For me, this moment was transformational. I knew with crystal clarity that Josh was not “gone,” that he was in a new place, a place unfamiliar to me but accessible in ways that would unfold.  Somehow, inexplicable in words yet unquestionably, the wall of death had shattered and what remained were fragments of a wall I had erected nearly 20 years earlier. There is a wall of fear of your child dying that every parent feels on some level at some time. This wall of death, the unthinkable that “couldn’t possibly happen.” That plea, “Please God, no. Keep my child safe and healthy.” Every parent feels this sensation, kept remote for some and for others it hangs on as a daily constant.

Before May 30, 1983, when Caroline was born, and add to that the preceding 9 months of a first pregnancy, the wall of birth and the wall of death had fallen away. Life had become a continuum, a flow from which I had entered this earthly existence and to which I would return at this life’s end.  From here to the hereafter. Birth and death had slipped away as partitions, leaving their trace as passages from one world to another. Years of meditation and a spiritual practice had brought me to this space, one which was both clear and comforting and gave me a sense of freedom. Removed from fear of death and its attendant bondage, I was able to see this life, and even that of others, as a period during for growth and evolution of my soul. I became less judgmental and more accepting of people and circumstances.

For some, religion brings them to this sense of knowing. Whether seeing the deceased in God’s hands, “home,” in Heaven, or in a new world of existence, there is a sense of a continuum. For others, birth and death remain partitions, finite moments with nothing before or after. In the end, no matter how you view the hereafter, having a child and the thought of losing a child create a powerful tug on your heart and a fear that is virtually inevitable.

When Caroline came into my life, the wall was resurrected.  I embarked on the road of protecting my child. Caroline was a healthy, happy baby with a sparkle in her eyes.  Life was good and a second pregnancy followed, starting well but ending sadly. After seven and a half months of carrying life in my womb, we would lose a baby boy. The wall of death stood firm. I was given a book called Death of a Dream. I do not recall if I read it in its entirety, but the title reflected my sadness and disappointment.

Yet, blessed quickly with another pregnancy, Josh would be born 15 months later, a birth that was all the more precious, a life welcomed with joy, gratitude and bliss. And while Josh was born healthy and came home doing all a new baby is supposed to do, Josh would be given the test for Near Miss SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), prescribed because Caroline had been given the diagnosis. For Caroline, only three at the time, Josh’s crib monitor and the scariness of alarms brought worry and the fear of death for she did not want to lose another baby brother.

It seemed that life for our boys was on a precipice. A new risk was soon to present itself.

Josh had severe food allergies and his overall physical well-being required vigilance. When we experienced Josh’s first anaphylactic reactions to a food, death became a threat that was all the more real. I kept my self-designed “Epi Kits” everywhere Josh would be- school, my purse, my husband Steven’s briefcase, camp, travel case, lifesavers at the ready which were used six more times over the ensuing ten years.

We lived as a family unit and did not let his allergies restrict Josh from living. We all learned from Josh, about being protective in a healthy way, about surmounting obstacles and about living fully amidst the risks of life. Josh would survive seven anaphylactic reactions with the pop of adrenaline into his bloodstream. From this risk I could protect him and he could protect himself. Another risk, unforeseen and unsuspected, would be beyond Josh’s and anyone’s else’s ability to give protection.

On October 6, 2002, a teen from Josh’s school would make an illegal U-turn in his effort to return home from the same tutoring center to which Josh was en route. This would be the catalyst for a flow of events that would end Josh’s life and change our world.

While most of me was shattered and deeply devastated, a part of me whispered, “You can connect to Josh.” I had been meditating for 30 years when Josh died and already had an inkling that there was life after death. Until now, the portal had yet to be opened.

Josh would offer a way to let me know where to find him and to tell me that he was safe.

The first time I felt Josh’s presence was a month after his death when I was visiting Caroline at college, and we felt him come to us at the same time. We were blown away. But it was real. He was there, telling us he was OK. Josh’s voice would now come from beyond words and enter through my heart.

I had received a profound gift from Josh, a gift I could now open. I knew with absolute clarity that the only way to connect to Josh now was by the shattering of the wall of death. Like a glass partition separating two spaces, this wall spontaneously shattered. I can’t explain how this occurred and words can’t describe the feeling. Yet, I know it was real; the sensation of a blockage, of a partition from life to death, from me to Josh, was gone. Unlike a real glass wall, there would be no sharp remnants, nothing to cut myself on and I would return to the continuum, which I experienced before Caroline was born, where birth and death are but markers of passage from one realm to the next. It was a profoundly liberating feeling.

In this shattering, I would come to know life again. In this continuum, I would gain freedom. In this freedom, Josh and I could continue to communicate clearly, often filling me with amazement and always delivering hope, joy, and wisdom. In this light there would be give and take, my continued nurturing of my son and my son’s wisdom imparted to me. While Josh taught me much in life, as children are always the best of teachers, in his death, Josh continued to illuminate my living days.

That this wall was shattered was a tremendous blessing, a gift. I am able to receive pearls of wisdom that Josh expresses to and through me and which I, in turn, share with others. Without a wall of separation, through the open portal of my heart come inspiration and vision. They come from the infinite reservoir of creativity and knowingness, from God, for me a higher source. Endowed with free will, I can harvest the pearls I select and express their messages through word or deed.

Yet often unexpectedly, the primal feeling of not having Josh here on earth to love and mother gives me a sense of grief, of deep sadness. Yet, I have to admit, I have found it possible to mother him anyway, to ask him if there is anything he wants me to do for him here. Writing “Rising in the Mourning,” sharing his story and his essence is one such way. I thank you for coming on the journey.

For me, the freedom inherent in relinquishing the fear of death permeates all aspects of life. To live fully and awake! To embrace life while it is mine. To embrace life in the midst of trauma and times of challenge. For millennia, humans have tried to make sense of the meaning of what we call life. What separates us from life?   What gets in the way? The wall of death. The fear of death. The promise of death. A time not known, but a time assured. Death robs us of life. And life is to be lived while it is ours. 

NOTE: Here is the link to my first post about Rising in the Mourning: Ways to Celebrate Life.


  • Nancy H. Rothstein, MBA

    As The Sleep Ambassador®, sleep expert Nancy H. Rothstein is on a quest to help people live life fully 24/7. Nancy helps people rise in the MORNING and rise in the MOURNING.

    As The Sleep Ambassador® Nancy inspires a new respect for sleep and its impact on all aspects of work, life and well-being.  Through consulting, public speaking, media engagements, and other venues, she presents strategic solutions selected to empower people to make lasting shifts to optimize their sleep quality and quantity, both for the public and for the corporate world. Nancy consults and lectures to Fortune 500 corporations and other organizations, awakening leadership to the ROI of a good night’s sleep for their workforce and providing sleep education/training initiatives for employees at all levels.   Nancy's LinkedIn Learning Course, Sleep Is Your Superpower, has engaged over 300,000 seeking to improve their sleep. Nancy is the author of My Daddy Snores; published by Scholastic, which has sold over 400,000 copies. Nancy serves or served on the NIH Sleep Disorders Research Advisory Board, the Steering Committee of Myapnea.org, the Board of the Foundation for Airway Health, the Advisory Board of the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy, the American Sleep Apnea Association, and working with other organizations that foster sleep health.   Not only does Nancy help people rise in the morning, she also helps people rise in the mourning, inspiring  people to embrace life with gratitude and joy amidst its many challenges. With grace and authenticity, Nancy's forthcoming book, "Rising in the Mourning: Ways to Celebrate Life," offers insights and guidance based on her personal experience with the passing of...and reconnection with...her son. Excerpts appear on Thrive Global.     Nancy has a B.A. from The University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.