Today is the anniversary of the last day that Denise Pannell spoke with her oldest son, Nate. Nate died as a result of bleeding from an arteriovenous malformation, a congenital disorder of blood vessels in the brain. He was 13. In honor of him and his wonderful family, I want to share two excerpts from my upcoming book, Little Voices. Without Nate, Denise, John, and Jack, I wouldn't be here today.
* * As I was preparing this post, Nate came in to share more timely messages with Denise, John, and Jack. I reached out to Denise and we were both in tears. He knew exactly what to share and when to share it. I'll never stop being amazed by how all of this works. He is helping his family (and others like me) from the other side, and in this moment, I'm at a loss for words to express my gratitude. Only tears and love. ....
Excerpt from Chapter 2
During a break that day, I sat down at my computer and opened up Facebook. Surfing the feed helped me feel grounded in reality and connected to my friends and family who weren’t living in LA. Sitting at my desk in the kitchen while I scarfed down a sandwich, I perused the feed, laughing at jokes and fawning over baby photos until I landed on a post about a memorial celebration. I was immediately drawn to the photos of a young boy named Nate Pannell, who had passed away in the town I grew up in—Defiance, Ohio. He was the son of two fellow Defiance High School alumni a bit older than me. I knew of them but didn’t know them well. Staring at the photo of Nate, I heard what I thought was his voice. It rang in my head. I was terrified at first. Was this real? I wasn’t sure if I was really talking to him, or if my mind was making it all up. After all, I’d never experienced anything like this while surfing Facebook.
Staring at his photo, I could see him in my mind’s eye, and chills ran up and down my body. I noticed the chills were predominantly on the left side of my body and made note of that, too. I had no idea what it meant, but it stood out.
I suspended disbelief long enough to hear Nate talk about his family and share specific messages he wanted me to share with them. That part terrified me, but I continued listening while I reached for a pen and paper to write down what he was saying. In between his messages, I asked him, in my mind, if he had more to share. He would either say yes and continue or no and then plead with me to reach out to his parents....
After he spoke, I sat frozen in my chair, thinking about what just happened. The last thing I wanted to do was reach out to grieving parents, who may or may not receive my guidance well. Their family had been through so much already. What if I was wrong and none of it was real? What if they saw me as someone trying to somehow take advantage of their situation? I didn’t know how I’d react if someone reached out to me this way. Finally, I rose from my chair, knowing I needed time to think about all of it, and beelined it for our bedroom. Sitting on the edge of the bed with my notes in hand, I knew I had a choice to make. For now, it was to hide what had happened and go about life as normal. Normal was easier.
I opened the drawer of my bedside table and stuffed the messages inside. I knew I needed time, so I waited to be filled with courage and knowledge that what Nate asked me to do was the right thing.
The courage came two days later when I least expected it. I wasn’t even thinking about Nate until, out of the blue, peace came over me. Still terrified to take the next step, I obsessed over what it would mean to try. Even if they slammed the door in my face. Even if I was going to be the laughingstock of my hometown after word got around. I gently pulled my notes out of the drawer and crafted a quick introductory message to his mom, Denise. I nervously hit the send button, hoping that I was doing the right thing. And it was indeed the right thing. Denise responded kindly, which started a back-and-forth exchange that led to a phone call and, later, an in-person meeting in Defiance when I was home visiting my parents.
About four years after I shared Nate’s messages with his family, I asked Nate’s father, John, if he wouldn’t mind writing what the experience was like for them. By that time, I was running a nonprofit that helped grieving parents and thought a testimonial about his experience would be helpful for other parents.
John agreed, and about a week later, he shared his account of their experience with me via email. As I read the letter, I slowly sat back in my chair, astonished by what John wrote:
“Almost four years ago, I was just surviving being a bereaved parent of a child who has passed away. It was a daily struggle getting through a day without a total meltdown and the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in the role of a grieving parent. It was in the midst of one of my many meltdowns that I remember my wife coming upstairs, in tears, telling me she got a message from Nate, our son who had passed away at the age of 13 from an AVM. I tried to listen to what she was telling me, but it seemed Greek to me because I couldn’t get past my own doubt. She tells me that she got an email from this lady in California about how strange it may seem, but she thinks she has a message for us from our son. If we were willing, we could give her a call.
Denise called her and they spoke for almost an hour. Denise was trying to relay the information from the four pages of notes she took while Kiersten talked. The only comfort this brought to me was that for the first time since Nate’s death, I had seen tears of joy versus tears of sorrow. Denise and Kiersten kept in contact, but I kept my distance. One day, I remember Denise telling me that Kiersten was going to be in the area and wanted to meet with us.
Out of obligation to Denise, growing skepticism, and just a dash of curiosity, I agreed to meet with Kiersten. My anxiety level that day was extremely high. I remember when Kiersten sat down with us at our dining room table. It was my wife, our younger son, Jack, my wife’s aunt Sally, Kiersten, and myself. There was a lot of small talk, and I listened intently trying to find what the catch was. Over the next three and a half hours, what I got were answers, hope, and explanations. I had questions on authenticity as to who Kiersten was and what her motives were. I found Kiersten to be one of the most genuine people I have had the pleasure of meeting. She spoke from the heart. She relayed to us information as it was interpreted by her. What I found was she spoke with a gift. Her heart was pure. Her interpretation spot-on. She offered validation that was unquestionably accurate. She gave us peace knowing that our son was fine. Kiersten taught me events that occur are not just coincidences.
Kiersten opened up a form of communication between my son and me that allowed me to go from being a grieving parent just existing to being a bereaved parent who is allowed to live. She has helped us by being a conduit for question-and-answer sessions, she has taught us what it means to look for the hidden meaning; most importantly, she gave us our youngest son back. You see, until that time, there wasn’t much communication between him, his mother, and me. I know a large amount of time that first night meeting Kiersten, she spent talking with Jack. I have never asked either one what exactly was said, but whatever it was made a difference in that young man’s life.
Meeting Kiersten and being open to her gift has not taken away the fact that we lost our oldest son. That is something we live with every day. Having Kiersten reaching out to us, opening herself up to us, putting it all out there, all for us, and never asking for anything in return, has given us peace.
Kiersten, I know that my statement doesn’t even start to do justice to what you have given us.
Up until then, I had no idea the impact the messages and visit made on his entire family. I knew they greatly appreciated that I reached out to them, but I didn’t fully grasp how much it shaped the course of their lives.
With tears streaming down my cheeks, I read about the healing that Nate had facilitated by sharing messages with me. Of course, I knew what the whole experience did for me, and I’m eternally grateful. Nate and his beautiful family helped me understand that what I was experiencing wasn’t just my imagination. It was very real and very important for all of us. I just had to have the courage to trust.
(Three years later …during one of the darkest times in my life when Scott and I were separated and I was struggling to understand why I couldn’t manage to leave an abusive relationship with Tony…)
Excerpt from Chapter 14
…By the end of 2016, I was more isolated than I’d ever been in my life. Tony made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of many of my nearest and dearest, for one reason or another. I found myself hiding the fact that I was meeting up with friends when he was on the road. While I was still occasionally helping friends from an intuitive and Reiki space, the lack of kids in spirit coming to me for help was even more pronounced.
Deep down, I knew it had a lot to do with my relationship with him, but I really didn’t want to acknowledge that part. Thankfully, not everyone in spirit had abandoned me: Carrie, Jason, and Nate were chiming in more and more. Jason was coming through quite a bit as a guide, telling me that I knew the answer to the question I was asking. He also said he knew it was something I had to come to on my own, in my own time. Lastly, he warned me about the drug I was addicted to: Tony. As someone who knew the pain of childhood sexual abuse and subsequently battled lifelong addiction, he knew the subject well. Nate came through, on the anniversary of his death, with a message for his mom, as well as a message for me:
Kiers, pull yourself up by the bootstraps! You can do this. He’s not right for you and you know it.
Every now and then, I’ll feel Nate around me, even though I know he’s here more often than I notice him. I wish so much for his wonderful family that he was still here in body rather than spirit, but I’m also eternally grateful for his guidance and support. Without Nate and the other kids in spirit guiding me, I don’t know that I’d be alive today.
To Nate, Denise, John, and Nicholas (Jack)…thank you. To quote John, I know "thank you” doesn’t even start to do justice to what you have given me.
* Read more about Nate here: Nathanial Pannell Life Story & Time Line - Memorial