When Barron Steffen receives the devastating phone call announcing his wife, renowned thought leader Dr. Seana Lowe Steffen, has died in an automobile accident, his world is turned upside down. A deeply spiritual person, Barron decides to follow the mostly Hindu tradition where a person is mourned for thirteen days after their death. On the thirteenth day, a ceremony and celebration of life is performed to honor and invoke blessings for final release from anything that may be holding that person to this physical world.
During the thirteen day journey, Barron draws on nearly forty years of study and training with gurus and meditation teachers to discover ecstatic love, save fractured relationships, and glimpse a greater arc and purpose for being alive. He discovers the most strange and wonderful thing—that hidden within the death of a loved one may also be her final gift to us.
A love story disguised as a tragedy, Barron weaves extraordinarily poignant and powerful experiences with honesty and revelations that will change lives. Along with intense pain and emotion, there is also great beauty and transcendent insight, for nothing is as it appears. The Final Gift of the Beloved is the story of one man’s sudden, astonishing brush with devastation and the Divine under the most heartbreaking of circumstances.
The Final Break of the Intensive
The meditation intensive’s last break of the day was in the late afternoon. As I got up to stretch and walk around, I turned my phone back on and noticed a visual-voicemail message from a police officer.
That’s odd, I thought, and went outside to my car to listen to it.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, I put on my headphones and played it back. A Vashon Island police officer was asking me to call him back as soon as I got the message. I could not remember ever having been called by an officer before, and to have it come from the only policeman of the small island where my wife and I lived in Washington felt both noteworthy and worrisome.
Before I made the call, to steady myself, clear my mind, and return to a calm curiosity, I took in a few deep breaths. Then, still with some trepidation, I dialed the number.
“Am I speaking to Mr. Barron Steffen of Vashon Island?”
“Yes, sir. That’s me.”
“This is Officer Travers from the Vashon Island Police. Where are you right now, Mr. Steffen?”
“I am at the Unitarian Church in Seattle, sir.”
“What are you doing there?”
“I am at a yoga and meditation retreat that’s being held here,” I replied, wondering why he would want to know that. For a brief moment, I considered sharing a more comprehensive version of the truth, but immediately abandoned the idea, having had so little success over the years in describing to others a Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive.
“How did you get there?”
“In my car.”
“What is the make and model of your car?”
“A black Chevy Volt … 2012.”
“And what’s the license plate number?”
I looked around inside the car as if I might somehow be able to see my license plate from the driver’s seat. On the dashboard control display before me was the speedometer, odometer mileage, and other shiny black and silver graphics and buttons but, of course, no license plate
number. I can’t imagine why I thought the information he was requesting might be found there. But suddenly I felt uneasy about this call and a little scared, and I was not going to get out of the car to retrieve that for him, at least not until I knew more.
On the defensive and unaccustomed to being questioned about my whereabouts and license plate number, I asked him,“Why do you need that?”
Thankfully, he moved on to another question. “Are you married?”
“What’s your wife’s name?”
“Dr. Seana Lowe Steffen.”
“And where is she?”
“Seana is in Boulder, Colorado.”
He had my full attention, now. Is this about Seana? As that thought arose, my body tensed in heightened alert amidst a widening fan of possibilities that I could not yet allow myself to consciously consider.
The officer continued his line of questioning. “What’s she doing there?”
“Seana’s been working on an environmental project for a few weeks.”
“Does she live there?”
“No, she lives here with me.” A perplexing feeling of suspense was slowing the conversation down like syrup, and a rising unease rooted me in the driver’s seat. My chest, suddenly only half filling with air, compelled me to focus even more intensely in order to analyze his intent.
“Where is she staying in Colorado?”
“With friends in Loveland.”
“Do you know where she is today?”
Something was definitely off, and I struggled to contain the anxiety now rising up like a giant snake slipping silently around my body, squeezing all the air upward and out of me. It was the randomness of his questions that disoriented and frightened me the most. What is this about? Is Seana hurt? Whatever it was, a sense of urgency verging on alarm was now tightly gripping me.
“Seana is finishing her work with the Natural Hazards Center in Boulder, Colorado, and flies back here tomorrow.”
There was silence and a pause on the other end. Then, as if he had decided something, he asked,“What time does your yoga retreat end tonight?”
“In an hour or two.”
“When do you expect you’ll be back in your home on Vashon Island?”
“I think probably by around eight tonight?”
“Okay. I am going to meet you later at your house on Vashon.”
And now dread. The possibility that I might not be told until hours from now his purpose for calling and asking so many personal questions about Seana was unbearable. I categorically had to hear his words and could wait no longer, not minutes and certainly not hours. Nothing is real in this world, not even a death that happened hours before, until someone speaks it to you.
Inside of me a clear, unwavering resolve crystallized, and with it, all manners and etiquette instantly vanished. Right now, in this present moment, he was going to tell me why he had called.
“Officer, if this involves my wife, Seana, you need to tell me right now, not tonight.”
“Yes, it does. Your wife was killed in a car accident in Colorado earlier today. She is deceased.”
In spite of all the signals and warnings, I could not possibly have been more abruptly caught off guard. His words felt concurrently impossible and extraordinarily real. It was like falling off a precipice, but there was nothing left of the world.
Through my windshield I could vaguely make out the empty parking lot before me and white clouds in a blue sky overhead. Untethered, I floated within empty, endless space awhile, drifting among the folds of its silky fabric in dreamy cognizance of total disorientation.
Rippling out in deeper and deeper tremors and cascading across my consciousness were inaudible shockwaves. Paralyzed, my initial reaction was completely internal and mute. It was all happening very slowly, as if the terrible news was being passed by word of mouth deeper and deeper inside me, but it had so very far to travel.
Thankfully, there was no one around, not that I would have noticed. In my mind’s eye, the trees and flowers outside the car appeared fuzzy and crossed up, tilting in the golden light of the afternoon sun, while inside me an irreversible chain reaction went through its invisible sequence. Trillions of connections within my brain were uncoupling, severing their relationships as fast as the uppermost edge of the sun drops below the horizon every evening at dusk.
No words approach what was happening inside me. There is so much power in words, and his were still landing far down inside me. Noiselessly, a vast inner horizon that, for as long as I could remember, had been the imperishable foundation of who I was, had simply vanished. And so had “I.”
“Are you sure?” a voice asked him.
“Yes … she is deceased,” the officer replied.
Under the circumstances, these were the kindest words he could have spoken. She is deceased left no room for doubt. No hospital-bed vigil would change this, for no change was possible at all. Though seated, I was reeling.
I wonder if it’s a norm in society that when, out of the blue, you are told your wife was killed today, no one has any expectation of how you speak or act after hearing it. And that’s a good thing. It’s not a point in time to suppress any part of the complex repercussions that have been set in motion. This moment will happen only once for both of you.
Downward, deep and wide, an uncompromising, utter finality began to vaporize all that had been so vibrantly present only seconds before. It was as if, mid-chapter, the next sentence in an engrossing book is, without warning, the very last one. It left so many unanswered questions and plot lines, all of which were now irrelevant.
In the stillness of the parking lot, sealed inside my car, there was no next thought and, as yet, no feeling. Or perhaps more accurately, I felt so very much all at once, but the feelings were so foreign to me that they had no names. For the moment, my sense of “I” drifted through my awareness as aimlessly as the sunlight that was filtering through the branches of the trees outside the parking lot in front of me.
And then, just as suddenly, “I” dropped down and back into my mind and body, obliterating everything on the path of return.
Reprinted from The Final Gift of the Beloved: Her Disappearance-13 Days. Copyright © 2020 by Barron Steffen.
Thank you, by Barron Steffen and FSB Associates
About the author
Barron Steffen is a longtime student on the spiritual path of Siddha Yoga, a big band crooner, and a widower. He has been a big wave surfer, a 1980s Italian pop singer, and an award-winning elementary school teacher. Steffen has now fully transitioned from the elementary school classroom to his company, The Yoga of Mindset, where he teaches children and adults how to use their thoughts so they’re not used by them.