Interview with Karen Frances McCarthy, author of Till Death Don’t Us Part: A True Story of Awakening to Love After Life

1. What is Till Death Don’t Us Part: A True Story of Awakening to Love After Life about and why did you write it?

Till Death Don’t Us Part: A True Story of Awakening to Love After Life is the story of the first year of my life after my fiancé’s sudden death. It was a year of inconsolable grief where his loss became a loss of self and a loss of reason to live. 

I was a lapsed Catholic and atheist at the time. I had no beliefs in anything other than the bricks and mortar of existence. But in the days and weeks after his death, so many inexplicable events occurred, such as electronics turning on, caresses on my face, tugs on my hair, furniture creaking, that I thought my mind was collapsing in on myself. 

What came from this was a series of serendipitous meetings, including one with a local priest, then a psychologist, and then a Spiritualist minister. They persuaded me to at least entertain the notion that my existential perspective may not be reflective of the true nature of existence. It wasn’t easy for me, but with a lot of investigation and bizarre personal experiences, I began to see that consciousness continued to exist in some form. What’s more, I began to see Johann’s mark in these events, which made me realize that this wasn’t the nebulous survival of energy but the actual survival of consciousness, personality, and memory. 

This was far more tangible than the concepts of the bardo or heaven I’d encountered in my earlier days of Zen and Catholicism. We don’t just blend back into the cosmic cauldron; personhood continued in spirit form, and love continued. 

Once I came to accept that he had survived death and was still walking with me in life, I began to have encounters with others in spirit form who wanted to contact their loved ones here. Some of those remarkable stories are in the book. Receiving information I couldn’t have known from a stranger in spirit form for a stranger in physical form confirmed absolutely that love and live goes on.  

It took me ten years to tell the story, but having met so many bereaved people who were suffering the pain of loss, and having met people who feared the fate of their loved ones because of superstition and archaic notions, I eventually accepted that this story needed to be shared. 

2. Can you talk a little about the grieving process you went through?

Grief for me brought a deep depression, a hollowing of self and a loss of purpose. Nothing made sense. Well-meaning but misguided people said things like “you’ll get over it,” or “you’ll meet someone else.” My response to this was different on any given day. One day, I’d crawl into bed and cry over this; the next day I’d want to punch them. I oscillated through the stages of grief. I was volatile. I lost control of my own emotional responses. It was a horrible place to be.

Then the was the brutal emptiness. Everything hurt. It hurt to wake up. It hurt to talk and walk. It hurt to just be. It’s easier to cover up that pain with some distraction or some drama, but I was very isolated in rural Virginia so distractions weren’t an option. I hadn’t the energy or interest in losing myself in the busyness of new projects anyway. 

All I could do was put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. That was the process of grief: no plan, no purpose, just one tiny task today that led to another one tomorrow. This helped me drop my ideal of who I thought I should be and how I thought I should respond to a crisis, and it allowed me to eventually arrive at an acceptance that revolutionized my entire perspective on what it meant to simply be. 

Letting go of how I thought I should be and how what I perceived to be the nature of the world allowed me to open up to the new reality that was unfolding before me. I had to change my ingrained perceptions and release patterns that no longer served me. Recognizing that existence was not as I’d perceived meant allowing myself exist as a different person. That is harder than it sounds. Thankfully, new people who were more aligned with my new perspective showed up on my path to help. 

3. In the book’s synopsis, you write: “Skeptical by nature and numbed by the tragedy, she spiraled into a deep state of grief about never communicating with him again … until he actually did”…What do you mean you actually communicated with him? What did he say? How did you know it was him? How did you and him communicate with each other? Can you tell us a little more about that?

He initiated contact with me. It wasn’t as simple as him saying something. You have to remember that was a confirmed atheist and skeptic. It took me a long, long time to come to terms with the survival of consciousness. Had he whispered words in my mind at that stage, at best, I would have dismissed them; at worst I would have thought I was schizophrenic. He knew me well enough to know my response. This is why the first third of the book focusses the nature of the communications. In the early days for me, these were strange events – the “signs” many people call them. Gradually, I could see his personality in those signs. I don’t want to give away the ending of the first part of the book, but his personality and his sense of humor became very apparent in the signs I was seeing and feeling around me. 

Later, after I’d awakened to the continuity of consciousness, I heard words in German, which is a language I don’t speak, so it was easy to know it was him then.

Johann’s death reawakened a mediumship faculty that I had in childhood and ignored and dismissed in my teens until it atrophied and disappeared. With this experience, I decided to develop my psychic senses and mediumship ability so that we could communicate mind-to-mind, sharing thoughts, feelings, images, sounds. This is the language of our spirit. It uses psychic senses to communicate. Now, I can communicate directly with him, and between strangers in spirit form and their loved ones in physical form. I have come far from the person I was then, and it’s because he not only to saved me at the darkest of times, he also gave me a new purpose in this life. 

4. Did this experience change your views of the afterlife? If so, how?

What I have come to understand that the afterlife is a complex state. I’m wary of trying to paint it with a single brush. After all, if someone came here and asked for a description of life in the physical dimension, that description would vary greatly depending on the teller’s circumstances, location, health, affluence, etc. 

What I’ve come to realize about the afterlife or the world of spirit form, is that we continue along, growing, learning, healing. We don’t just pop over and sprout wings or become sages. I’ve seen this growth in Johann and in others who have passed into spirit form after him.  It’s truly wonderful to experience. It makes me aspire to do better while I’m here. After all, eternity is now. We are already in it. We don’t have to wait till we die to grow, forgive, love, or learn. 

5. What advice would you have for people who are grieving the death of a loved one?

Take care of yourself first and foremost, treat yourself well and with self-compassion. Everyone seems to have an idea to help us “get over it,” but you need to do what’s right for you. We don’t get over that kind of loss. We learn to live with it. It won’t always be dark and debilitating and depressive. You will learn to live again, but the experience of that loss will become part of you as you learn to live differently. I found that people who suffered most can be the most compassionate.

Something else to remember is that we carry our loved ones with us in our heart to the end of days, but they are still holding us in their hearts too, and they can see us live our lives and they are keen to help if asked. Loneliness and abandonment can be overwhelming when we are grieving. We have a void that just cannot be comforted, but when we realized our loved ones are still near, we are reminded of how completely we are loved.

6. What advice would you have for people who like to communicate with their loved one who has died, but are skeptical or unable to?

A skeptic may never communicate because they just won’t be open to it, unless their loved one is as stubborn as mine and went about burning proverbial bushes to get my attention. 

If someone is open to continuing relationships with loved ones in physical separation, the best way is to talk to them, share thoughts with them. As them for a sign to let you know they are there or to show you an answer to a question. There are many books on this way of communicating. One of my favorites is Love Lives On by the late Professor Louis Lagrand whom I met on my journey. Some of our conversations are in the first couple of chapters of my book.  These can be anything: pennies or other objects showing up on the rug, or a table, or somewhere meaningful. People often smell something they associate with their loved one. For example, if he or she was a smoker, you might smell smoke. Or the person’s perfume. In one of the scenes in my book, I describe getting the strongest smell of cigarette smoke and could not find the source no matter how hard I tried.  

It’s important to learn to trust your intuition in these situations. A skeptic will always find a way to dismiss them, but if you ask for a sign and you’re open to it and willing to trust your intuition, it will happen in a way that will make sense to you. It was important for me to be able to see his personality in them. There’s a sequence in Chapter 2 about butterflies that shows his personality and says without a doubt, “that’s him!” 

Another way our loved ones can help us is by putting helpful people in our path. I’ve found this repeatedly. Both my parents are in spirit form now, and when I ask them for help, a helpful person shows up unexpectedly. It’s marvelous to know that they are so attuned to us, that they continue to listen and continue to help us on our path in this physical life. They can’t control us, but they can certainly influence a thought here or there to get us to pay attention at the right place and time. 

I still ask Johann for help, and I still see serendipity and synchronicities unfold when I do. That tells me without a doubt that I’m not alone and that the bonds of love and compassion endure well beyond our physical existence. The added beauty of this gift is that it removes fear and anxiety and allows us live a spontaneous, fresh, and fuller life.