Monday, July 14, 2014

A Moving Memoir of Love, Loss, Life After Death {+ Giveaway}

The Angel in My Pocket coverAuthor Sukey Forbes shares an incredible moving story in her new memoir, THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET: A Story of Love, Loss, and Life After Death. It’s her story of an unconventional path through grief after the death of her young daughter and how she was able to rediscover the joy in living. It’s also a look into the rarefied history of a prominent American family (Ralph Waldo Emerson was Sukey’s great-great-great grandfather).

Sukey joins us today to talk about her loss and her writing. To share this inspirational story, Sukey is giving away one print copy of her book. Please see the end of the post for details.

Here’s a description of THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET (Viking; On sale July 7, 2014; 9780670026319; $27.95).

        Told with unflinching honesty and hard-won wisdom, Forbes’s memoir is a powerful story of rediscovering life by discovering the afterlife, coping with the pain of loss, and recapturing the joy of living.
        When Forbes lost her six-year-old daughter Charlotte to a rare genetic disorder, life as she knew it was shattered. Even as she was devastated by her loss, Forbes knew her own life was not over, and she searched for a way to both come to terms with her daughter’s death, and find a way back to a full, meaningful life. The door to both these paths opened when Forbes found a prominent medium who helped her connect with Charlotte on the other side. With the medium’s help, Forbes found reassurance that Charlotte was not truly gone, but rather existed on a different part of the continuum of life and death. These experiences gave Forbes the comfort and peace she needed to march once more into life, aware of all it might hold in store for her. She was determined that she and her family not just survive their loss, but thrive.
        THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET details Forbes’s entire journey from despair to a state of resilience and grace. Forbes’s family traditions played a strong, if contradictory, role in how she processed her daughter’s death. As the descendant of two of New England’s oldest and most distinguished families (that includes Ralph Waldo Emerson, Forbes’s great-great-great grandfather), Forbes was raised in a rarified world of threadbare privilege that valued emotional reserve and strict self-reliance. There is also, however, a widespread belief in ghosts—especially those that haunt Naushon Island, a 6,000 acre family property off of Cape Cod that has remained largely unchanged since its purchase by her family in 1843. The Island is filled with history, artifacts, and the visible presence of departed ancestors.
        In the immediate aftermath of Charlotte’s death, the austerity of her WASP-y upbringing prevented Forbes from fully expressing her grief. She returned to Naushon for the solace of the island’s other-worldly beauty and in digging through the family archives, discovered a surprising number of her ancestors who believed in reincarnation and studied mysticism. She found further kinship with the philosophies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose son—similar to Charlotte—died at the age of six. Buoyed by the revelation that her family was as spiritually eccentric as it was stoic and reserved, Forbes became determined to break through her conditioned responses and embrace the complexities and legacy of her heritage.
        THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET is an empowering and enlightening look at one woman’s complicated and uncommon route through grief. Forbes is heir to a lost American spiritual tradition that allowed her to look optimistically at life in the face of death. Like The Still Point of the Turning World and Proof of Heaven, Forbes’s story offers hope and help to anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

Please join me in welcoming Sukey to Thoughts in Progress as she shares her story with us.

Your memoir, THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET, is the deeply personal story of losing your young daughter, Charlotte, to a rare genetic disorder. When did you begin to think about sharing your story?

Shortly after my daughter died it became clear to me that I was grieving in a different way than others. I struggled initially with a numbness that was only slightly less crippling to experience than the full brunt of sorrow. I was filled with questions about what happens when we die, where we go, how the soul does or does not continue to exist. I tried to understand grief before I allowed myself to feel it. When I finally descended into the grief I felt alienated and as though I was doing it all wrong.

I wanted to know the possibility existed to survive and even thrive after the crippling blow of losing a beloved child. I became determined to learn and grow as a woman from the grief rather than stay mired in it. Although I would never be the same I was hopeful that I could re-build strength in the broken places while also acknowledging the full weight of my sorrow.
I found no books that gave me hope that that could be my outcome. I told myself that if I emerged on the other side as I desired, I would share my story in hopes that it would give assurances to others walking through personal crisis that they too could have a similar outcome. My experience seemed relevant to me not just for the experience of grief but for any game-changing life event that knocked one flat. I took notes and wrote my way through the sorrow with an eye towards sharing it later if my story ended the way I trusted it would. It did.

By deciding to work towards discovering the gift of loss and becoming a better person, mother, and wife I felt like a heretic. Being positive seemed a betrayal to my dead daughter and that message was reinforced to me by the dearth of books that addressed thriving after such a devastating loss.

Towards the end of THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET I describe a boat ride followed by a conversation with a taxi driver. I knew the moment that I closed the door upon exiting the cab that I had made it to the other side of my grief and that was the day I sat down to pull together the story to share.

You write about how, in the aftermath of Charlotte’s death, you felt you were merely existing, but you wanted to want to live. How did you begin to find your way toward wanting to live again?

Fairly quickly I came to the stark realization that I really only had three choices for my path: I could die, I could exist, or I could live. As the mother of two living children the only choice for me was to find a way to live and the only way I knew how to start down that path was to just fake it for a while. I am a big believer in routine and studies show that habits are formed by repeating the same actions.

I’d show up at the kid’s sporting events, make conversation with my husband over dinner, and force myself to walk or spend time outside and to notice the beauty and the gift in each day. I forced myself and it was terrible, yet it also felt right on a gut level. Eventually moments of peace or hints of grace would flicker into my daily activities. I would notice a blue sky and a bird in flight. One of the children would do something silly and I would genuinely laugh without the kicked-in-the-gut guilt feeling overtaking me immediately after the laugher.

I began to be thankful for the blessings that did exist in my life. Going through the motions brought me into the daily busy-ness of living and in doing so I slowly eased back into the comfort of being there. But for quite some time, in some cases years, I was going through the motions and waiting for that spark to ignite on any front. It took time and persistence. I didn’t have any other option and I was quite clear that the only way out was through.

One way you attempted to reconnect with Charlotte was through mediums and clairvoyants. What led you down this road? How did these experiences affect how you view life and death?

48 hours after Charlotte died I received a letter from friends in San Francisco. They shared a near death experience story with me that was the very first hint of comfort that my daughter was in a good place. What happens after we physically die is still unknowable. My maternal instincts for protecting my daughter were heightened and I could not move into any form of grief until I knew where she was and that she was being well cared for. I had been comfortable with the presence of ghosts all of my life having sensed their presence regularly both in my childhood home and on Naushon Island, but before Charlotte’s death I had no interest in communicating with them other than for entertainment.

Once she died I wanted a solid validation that I was not imagining them and also that my daughter was all right. I was curious as to what other information clairvoyants and mediums might be able to give me about my daughter. After reading that letter I began seeking more information about near death experiences. I wanted as much data as possible and I then was determined to figure out a way to make sense of it all. I was desperate to gather as much information as I could rather than dismissing anything outright.

My experiences since Charlotte has died both with clairvoyants and mediums as well as my own personal experiences that defy logical explanation have led me to be clear that life and death are only points on a continuum. We do not disappear when we die. There is some other place that our loved ones go that is separate and yet close to us. They retain some of the essence of who they are such that we can recognize them. We get ourselves in trouble when we start labeling that place or state of being as ‘heaven’ but I have personally experienced my daughter since she has died on numerous occasions and I know to my marrow that she is only dead in the medically descriptive sense of the word. While she lives in my heart and in my head, experience has also proven to me that some tangible part of Charlotte clearly remains. It is with the full experience and acceptance of that experience that I am able to continue to embrace life and move forward with the full knowledge that not only will I see her again but that she is not truly gone.

You have an impressive lineage that includes the iconic Ralph Waldo Emerson. Tell us a little about your ancestors.

The Saltonstalls were one of two titled families that came over on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. One was asked to sit as a judge in the Salem Witch Trials and refused. Another was eaten by cannibals off the coast of Africa. Others went in to politics and many went into academia. The Forbes were relative newcomers in the mid-1700s. They amassed great wealth trading opium and furs during the China Trade and later became early investors in the American Railroads and Telephone. 

John Murray Forbes (my great-great-great grandfather) was a close confidante to several US Presidents. He spent time advising Lincoln, Stanton, and Grant during the Civil War and, along with Emerson, was a fervent abolitionist. While living in Washington DC for a year his son Malcolm (my great-great uncle) attended the theatre the night Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. John Murray Forbes’s eldest son William Hathaway Forbes (married to Edith Emerson) was an officer in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry during the Civil War and was captured by Colonel Mosby whom he befriended after the war.  

Naushon Island has been the locus of family since its purchase by JM Forbes in the 1840s. Many of the footpaths on the island are named for Civil War Officers. It has been maintained largely in the same state since the last of John Murray Forbes’s grandchildren built their summer homes on the island in 1910. There are no automobiles or stores and very few modern conveniences. Electricity was added first to the servants’ quarters and later to the house.

The house I live in on Naushon Island, Mansion House, was built in 1811 by the second owner of the island, James Bowdoin III. Mansion House has welcomed Presidents from Grant to Clinton along with artists from John Singer Sargent to William Morris Hunt and Thomas Hinckley, as well as a long list of Americans of significant influence on varied fronts (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Edwin Stanton, Herman Melville, Japan’s Emperor Akihito, Peter Yarrow) General Pershing wrote his war report after WWI while he was a guest at Mansion House. 

You feel a particularly strong connection to Emerson. What about his life and philosophies brought you closer to him?

Emerson wrote about experiencing God in nature. Like Emerson, in nature I feel comfort, solace, and a strong spiritual connection to thoughts larger than my own. While I do enjoy the rituals of a religious service, the times in my life that I have felt most close to God were always in the natural world rather than in a church or house of worship. I had to look no further than nature to find God, and in finding God I was reconnected with Charlotte.

“All objects are part of nature’s whole but each is particular in itself. Without the many, there could not be the one; without the one, there could not be the many”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance has always been a strong through-line in my family as well as trusting one’s innate sense of good-ness. Emerson and his ideas were not discussed at great length in our house when I was a child. We lived them as part of our family tradition. Childhood complaints about self-reliant activities such as splitting wood and mending our own clothing were met with responses from our parents of “it’s character building”.

I was initially drawn to Emerson not as ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’ but as a family member who shared the loss a child from a high fever at the same age as Charlotte. His reaction to his son Waldo and first wife’s death instilled in me a greater sense of kinship with him as family. There is a distinct separation of RWE my great-great-great grandfather and RWE the Great Transcendentalist. Emerson’s last words “That boy. That beautiful boy” were curious and telling to me. It is my belief that his long dead son Waldo appeared before him as he lay dying. This final statement from the lips of this great thinker and philosopher lured me further along my path to explore the afterlife and our connection to it.

All of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s direct descendants are members of the Forbes family. His daughter Edith married a Forbes and I descend directly from this line. His son Edward did not marry a Forbes but both of his children did. Thus Emerson’s daughter and all of his grandchildren married into the Forbes family. RWE was referred to as ‘Grampa Moo Moo’ because he lived near cows in the country. Grandfather Forbes was referred to as ‘Grandpa Tick Tick’ because he wore a large pocket watch. Emerson had a very high regard for JM Forbes and they were close friends aside from parent-in-laws.
Ralph Waldo Emerson composed his poem ‘Waldheinsamkeit’ while visiting his daughter and grandchildren on Naushon Island. It is written in the guest books on the island in his own highly illegible ink handwriting.

Emerson’s wife, Lidian Jackson Emerson, had clairvoyant abilities. She also was addicted to morphine later in life. A strong woman in her own right, she kept a journal containing many of the ideas that were the seeds of Emerson’s Transcendentalism. He married Lidian after an extensive inquisition by her with a promise she would be an equal in their marriage. She was marginalized over time as other intellectual companions took her place in his library.

How does your family history intersect with your story of loss?

Early in THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET, I discuss genealogy and the important role it plays in both sides of my family. The Forbes Family Tree is lovingly maintained on four walls of a barn on Naushon Island and each of the 500+ descendants of John Murray Forbes has their own card on the wall with color coded ribbons linking relatives above, below, and to the side. In the center of the barn are photographs of each family member. We lovingly refer to this as a family wreath as there are numerous overlaps (my mother’s sister, a Saltonstall, married my father’s first cousin, a Forbes. Their offspring are first cousins on the Saltonstall side and second cousins on the Forbes side).

The family tree has always given me a sense of great pride in belonging to a group. I know the face of each of my cousins on my branch of the family going back to 1850. My great-great uncle Don died of a ruptured appendix on Naushon Island at the age of 17. I know his face well from his sepia photograph on the barn wall and remember him through stories. When Charlotte died I found comfort in knowing that she was a recorded part of our family. She existed in the barn on the walls. Her nametag and her photograph would always be there and many generations hence she will continue to be remembered.

You reflect on the way you were brought up in relation to your own parenting style and the process of grieving. What have you done differently as a parent? How did your upbringing help or hinder your grieving?


Going back to my ancestors, most of them came from Scotland and England. They were strong believers in holding their emotions at bay while they marched boldly forward. As early settlers of the Boston area, they brought their powerful determination, and unlimited perseverance to the task of making the best of it, whatever “it” was. When I was catapulted into grief this expectation to keep marching forward helped to keep me going as I knew no other way. It also, rather profoundly, held me back. Extreme emotion in any direction was met with a withering raised eyebrow of disapproval and it was quite clear that the expectation was one of complete self-control. I was equally terrified at the thought of losing control emotionally as I was of not feeling anything at all.

I learned how to move through the world by watching my parents and elder relatives. A good sail, a walk down a familiar path, a dig in the garden were all activities that were pursued with the closest thing to religious fervor I could see in my family. In times of emotional challenge and strain I was taught to walk it off and/or go commune with nature. Nature was a safety net, even in all of her untamed wildness.

As a parent I have worked to allow more true freedom of emotional expression in my children and within the family. We are very demonstrative and regularly speak of our full range of feelings. There is more tenderness in our day to day interactions.

What were some of the ways you remembered Charlotte and honored her memory?

We established ‘The Charlotte Saltonstall Memorial Fund’ in her memory. The fund mission statement is “Through the eyes of a child, making the world a better place”. Each year we decide as a family where we should make contributions from this fund. Our decisions are made as if we were Charlotte at the age she would be now. It is our way of spending a bit of time reflecting on how she might have grown and what sort of organizations might be of interest to her.

In our home we painted a mural on the ceiling of the night sky exactly as it was (according to the USGS) over Palo Alto, California on December 23, 1997 when she was born. Very faintly we connected the constellations of each of our birth dates.

Each year on the anniversary of her death (some call this an ‘angel day’) we dress in full pink. Many members of our community and family join in this tradition and August 18th is now a bittersweet sea of pink for our family.

What do you hope readers will take from your book?

Hope. Resilience. It is my deepest wish that this story will inspire others who have been leveled by loss or pain to first find the courage to feel the pain and then the courage to let it work its way through them before they let it go. There is an added humanity and richness to life that is our gift if we allow ourselves the space to live and learn from our experiences. One can never fill the gaping holes in our hearts that loss creates. They will stay black and they will stay painful. But the compensation for that hole is that our hearts can grow in capacity. There will be more room for life. There is room for grief while also being filled with life. None of our loved ones would want the legacy of what they left behind to be that of a destroyed life and unrelenting sorrow. We honor our loved ones by living life fully and carrying them inside of us. They honor us by staying nearby. I know Charlotte would want nothing less.

Sukey, thanks so much for visiting and sharing this look at Charlotte and how you deal with her loss. It is inspiring.

For more on Sukey and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


This giveaway is for one print copy of THE ANGEL IN MY POCKET. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end Monday, July 21. 

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Sukey Forbes’ Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by today to learn of Sukey’s story. Have you ever had any dealings with clairvoyants and/or mediums?

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Losing anyone we love to death is a hard. Losing a child...that has to be one of the hardest loses to face. I know what it's like to lose a baby hours old (that was crushing) but I can't imagine losing a child the age of your daughter. I know the devastation my sister went through when she lost her son. I understand what you mean when you say laughter and normal seems almost heretical. Like a betrayal. I don't think you ever "get over it" it's always there.

    Glad you found peace in writing this memoir.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  2. As a mother, the thought of losing a child is unimaginable. I can't truly understand the grief you went through. I'm so glad you found the courage to get through. Sounds like a fantastic book.

  3. Losing anyone is terrible and I can't even imagine the pain of losing a child.
    Die, exist, or live - those really are the only choices, aren't there? Glad you chose to live.

  4. Sukey, thanks again for visiting and sharing your story with us. I hope the peace you've found continues to give you comfort as your book inspires others.

    Hi, all. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  5. I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm glad you found your peace. There is most certainly a life beyond this one.

  6. Mason - Thanks for hosting Sukey.

    Sukey - Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I'm glad you've found a way to make meaning in your life.

  7. sounds like a very inspirational book

  8. Sukey, first of all, I am so so sorry for your loss. And thank you for having the courage to share your healing journey through loss and grief.
    Mason, you sure do find some wonderful books and authors to highlight. Bless you.

  9. When we can share our grief experience and processes, it's such a great help to others. Thanks for doing this Sukey.

  10. Sukey--I'm so sorry for your loss. And I admire you so much. I know someone who lost a child and...well, really shut down for years. It was clearly incredibly difficult for you to choose the path you did, but so generous of you to do so.

    I'm also very interested that family traditions played such a tremendous role in how you responded. I can see how that would influence you....interesting that you were able to see and identify that contradictory pulling at you.

  11. So sorry for Sukey's loss - can't imagine anything so difficult *hugs*
    The book sounds fascinating - good luck with it

  12. What a heartbreaking post today. I admire Sukey for her courage and ability to continue. What a wonderful book. Best wishes. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  13. Sukey, I am so sorry for your loss. Mason, thank you for sharing about Sukey's book.

  14. This is a fascinating interview! I find the clairvoyant aspects quite intriguing. I'm very sorry for the loss of your daughter. I can't even imagine how difficult that must've been for you, but I'm glad you are moving on, and doing something that can help others cope with similar loss.

  15. This is such a personal story I think it may be somewhat difficult to read. Nonetheless, the lessons and insights will obviously be of great value to anyone regardless of their circumstances. Thank you Sukey for your bravery in writing this book. I'd love to win a copy.

  16. This was an amazing interview. Sukey, I'm so sorry for your loss. But I'm equally inspired by your path afterward. My mother's father's family was one of those entwined New England families.

    Thanks, Mason.

  17. What a brilliant read, I read this earlier this month and it will stay with me forever, these stories are truly inspirational. I then found Darcy Macarro's Finding Vern, is the book site. A similar read as it she has lost her soul mate and a heart wrenching yet inspiring story of life after death. So many great reads like these out there! Great interview as well! Read these books, they will change you forever!!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.