When Karen Johnson’s 27 year old son died of a, heroin overdose, she started believing in, life after death, when her son showed up in his human form waving at her at the airport. In her book “Living Grieving” Karen shares how communicating with her son in the, afterlife, helped her live with her, grief, and start her work as a, shaman, helping survivors and spirits deal with, life after death.
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Karen V Johnson’s fast paced professional career as a Federal Judge came to an abrupt halt when she lost her 27-year-old son, Ben to a, heroin overdose. Rather than grieve in a way that made people around her comfortable, she did the unexpected. She quit her lifetime appointment career, sold her house with all her belongings, and went on a 2 ½ year journey around the world finding a spiritual and healing practice along the way.
Karen didn’t think she could ever find her way out of despair, but she found a process that works and shares her journey of transformation with others so they can heal too. Her work is structured around, shamanic, practices, mindfulness, and the journey of the Four winds Medicine Wheel. Karen blends her personal story with meaningful experiences, offering exercises related to each of the four practices of becoming unstuck, becoming lighter, awakening, and creating a new life.
Ben’s Life After Death
Myrna: Can you share with the listeners your, grief, journey and the death of your son from a, heroin overdose. It’s a powerful story.
Karen: Ben, my son was 27 years old and he was struggling as many young men are trying to find himself trying to decide if he’s going to try to start a business go back to school, many things. And so, I was going on a vacation to South Korea for a week and I thought to myself, when I get back, we’re going to have the big conversation. I don’t care how uncomfortable it is. And so I went to South Korea, and one day in the afternoon, I just wasn’t feeling well. and into the evening and then all of a sudden, I get this call, and they hang up.
I just had this feeling of dread. And so, I called the number and the detective answers and I say, you just called me I am Karen Johnson. He said, yes. where are you? And I said, I’m in South Korea. And he said, I have some bad news for you. I’m sorry, your son is dead from a, heroin overdose. Ben had gone to a party with them some other young guys, and they got drunk and they decided, hey, we’re going to try, heroin, in all their 27-year-old wisdom. My son was 6′ 8, 260 pounds and they gave him too much.
And he died almost instantly. He and I were very close and it just rocked my world. They say that the death of a child and an unexpected death are two worst ones to survive. So, when you have an unexpected death of a child, you’re in a bad place. But that’s the bad part of it. The other side of it is you know, it’s always the blessing and the curse. The Yin and the Yang. So, the other side of it was so the next morning, I couldn’t even get out of South Korea.
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Life after death: Seeing Ben in his human form
Believing in, life after death, started for me at the airport trying to return to the States. It was nighttime when I got the call, so sitting in the airport in South Korea, the next morning I see my son Ben in front of me, just like he is in life. And he’s smiling, his big old grin and then he fades away. So, I desperately frantically call my ex-husband, his father and say, you gotta check. I think he’s alive. I think he’s in that refrigerator and he’s trying to get out. I think he’s alive. You gotta go check. And so, they go check and call me back and very kindly say, no, I’m sorry he’s gone. And so that for me was a doorway.
Death. is always a doorway, it was the doorway into believing in, life after death. And it’s something that I did not believe in before. I didn’t have much of a spiritual practice. I would have said something like alive is alive, dead is dead. And so, my son Benjamin, woke me up to life on the other side, or, life after death, and he continues to do so to this day.
Myrna: That is one of the reasons I wanted to speak to you. I am wearing a sweater right now, but I’m getting chills. You said that was the first time that Ben appeared to you in his human form. The other times you said he was flapping around so I assume he appeared as a bird. I follow Sadhguru and he talks a lot about, life after death. And he said, whenever you die suddenly, from like, suicide, or a bullet or maybe like a, heroin overdose, or something, then your, spirit, can’t seem to find peace. So, do you think that is why Ben stuck around after his, death?
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Grief is a painful experience
Karen: Yeah, after Ben passed, I was in a state. My, grief, was so profound, I was so distraught that my bedroom was upstairs, I couldn’t get up the steps. So, I would be on the steps and I would be crying and screaming for Ben until I threw up. I was throwing up blood. I was truly a mess and I could feel him around me. I knew that he was around me just frantic. I couldn’t hear what he was saying although I could sense him. I couldn’t hear him so I did what my logical mind would never have done before I googled, mediums. To be exact, mediums, in Fairfax County, Virginia and this whole page popped up.
And so, one person’s picture looked a little bit larger than the others. And I thought, well, I’ll take that one. It turns out this is a way, spirit, has been guiding me now to buy a house and to do many things. Something looks different. And that’s how, spirit, communicates because we don’t always hear the words. We can’t always translate what, spirits, are saying. And so, I went to a, medium, about three weeks after he passed and I said, look he came in right behind me. He’s standing over there in the corner.
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Seeking out a Medium to communicate with spirit
Can you tell me what he’s saying? I can’t hear him. And so, we had a wonderful session. And she told me things that really resonated because it sounded like him. Something like Mom, it was a boneheaded move, and things like that. That just sounded like him. And so, after it was all finished, he said, you know, you might have some abilities yourself because most of my clients have no idea that their loved one is right there in the room with them and there is, life after death. So that was sort of the intro for me to begin studying, life after death, and, spirituality.
Myrna: Yeah, I think you said that you were Clair-sentience. I like what the, medium, said, spirits, are around us all the time, but a lot of us can’t feel them. I heard that one of the reasons that we can’t communicate with, spirits, is because when you die, your energy is at a higher frequency, and, spirits, has to lower their frequency in order for us to sense them or communicate with them and most of them don’t know how to do that. Is that true?
Karen: That’s my experience. It’s sort of like when you go to a Buddhist temple or you go into the Catholic Church or any church, they’re singing, there’s smoke, there’s prayer. It’s all a way of changing the vibration and the energy.
Life after death: spirits need to transition
I think Ben’s energy couldn’t dissipate until he was able to reassure me, because my being frantic, that he was okay. I think you stay stuck and in trauma, it prevents, spirits, from fully moving on and doing what they need to do on the other side. Yeah, because they are watching us, they’re seeing how you are dealing with, grief, and people say well if they go to heaven or nirvana or wherever you think that place is, how can they come back. But it’s not prison. So, they’re allowed to come back and forth easily and sometimes they’re a little stuck in between worlds, and they need help.
Myrna: Does Ben still come back and forth?
Karen: Oh, yeah. So, you know, I became a, shaman. I do, shamanic healing, part of, shamanic healing, is helping people to die and helping, spirits, to crossover in the other world. I help, spirits, transition to, life after death. And so, I helped Ben to cross over and he comes back and forth. I’ll call him if I have a young person who’s committed, suicide, or sudden death or something. Sometimes, suicides, get a little stuck because there’s so much bad talk about, suicide, that they’re going to hell and all this kind of stuff. And so, they’re afraid to cross over and the, after life.
They don’t know what to be, so I can call Ben and he’ll say, hey, man, come with me. I’ll show you the ropes. I’ll show you it’s beautiful on the other side, you have nothing to fear and then they’re able to cross over to the, after life, peacefully. So, we would kind of work together.
We had a lot of grief during the pandemic
Myrna: People have lost a lot of people over the, pandemic, and I’ve had some interviews on the show with wife’s losing spouses. I’ve actually never had one with a mother losing a son. But the, grief, is profound. So, what kind of solace can we have? Should we be scared when we feel our loved one’s presence? What kind of advice you can give on that?
Karen: Yeah, so I think sometimes people say, I’d love to see my loved one but it I find it scary at the same time. I really don’t want them appearing. So, if you have that kind of dynamic going on, I think they don’t want to appear. A lot of times we’re scared of our loved ones after they die. I don’t think before I saw Ben, that I would have said I wanted him to show up, but he just kind of showed up. So, I think a lot of that goes on and it just depends how they show themselves to you.
Myrna: You went to the, medium, three weeks after Ben died. Did you find that your, grief, started to settle down after you could communicate with him? I know you’re still grieving seven years after his death, but did the intensity subside?
Karen: The intensity of my, grief, somewhat subsided.
Shamanism Helps survivors deal with grief
Myrna: You said that, shamanism, allowed you to move through your, grief, on your healing journey. So, tell us what, shamanism, is.
Karen: About nine months after Ben passed, I had been in the spiritual world and learning things and growing and I had gone to an evolutionary astrologer who said, hey, I had another woman who had a reading like yours that became a, shaman. I went to Mr. Google and searched for, shaman, and Mr. Google said, try the Four Winds. I contacted their office and three weeks later I’m on a plane to Joshua Tree California.
I got there and I just loved it. That was the beginning of the, south direction, of the, medicine wheel. The, south direction, of the, medicine wheel, is where you learn to shed your past, the way that a serpent sheds its skin. So, we’re looking at all our old wounds and things that are bothering us in trouble. These are ways of thinking and being all those things and we’re learning how to work with that how to let it go. A process called elimination. So that’s the first feeling medicine that we learned in the south direction.
Myrna: Okay, so they teach you how to shed your skin and how does, shamanism, do that? Do you do it by meditation? Do you do it by coaching?
Shamanism works with luminous energy to help with grief
Karen: The, shaman, work is working with the, luminous energy field, and we have a, luminous energy field, because when someone’s alive it’s vibrant, and when someone’s gone, it’s just not there. We have this field of energy around us. And so, what we do as, shamans, is learn to work with this, luminous energy field. And by the way, shamanism, is not a religious practice. We have, shamans, that are priests and rabbis, all sorts of people trained in using, energy medicine, to help people and so we do it by process called elimination.
Then we have what we call, medicine stones, and we use our, medicine stones, to help people heal the heart, we blow into our own wounds. And we work with them in different ways to energize these, medicine stones, and then other people can blow their wounds into the stones and then we use a process where we allow them to breathe in, breathe out. You know, the breath is a metaphor for, shamanic, work. So, we’re breathing in newness and freshness and breathing out staleness and old ways.
So, we’re allowing them to breathe and release with a, medicine stone, on one of their, chakras. And then at the end of this process, we open to coaching. If you look at the pictures of the Christ and saints and the Buddha, all have this halo around them. So, we reach up into our Halo and open it up. And then we bring this divine light down into the person’s, chakra.
So, they’ve released heaviness, and we’re replacing it with divine light. And it’s profoundly healing so that’s how, shamans, work with energy.
Shamanic directions for healing grief
Myrna: Can you take us through the other three, shamanic, directions?
Karen: So, the, south direction, and then we moved to the, west direction. The West has to do with death and dying and, fear of death. Most of us are really afraid of, death, and dying, ours and people that we love. And so, we work with that and sometimes people have energies and entities that we learn to extract and take out in the west.
And then in the, north direction, we move to, hummingbird medicine. The West medicine is, Jaguar medicine, Jaguar who fearlessly calls whatever is dead and dying in the jungle and so we want to be like the Jaguar impeccable and calling whatever’s dead and dying within us. Then we move to, hummingbird medicine, and hummingbird teach us stillness in motion. It’s little wings are flapping and it’s still.
Myrna: And it’s always singing right?
Shamanic practice and directions
Karen: Looking for food and looking for The Sweetest Nectar. Hummingbirds feast on nectar. They don’t go to the dung heap. They don’t go there. They go to the nectar of life. Right? So that’s that metaphor for drinking only from the sweetest nectar of life. So, hummingbird medicine, and then we end up with, Eagle medicine Eagle.
Eagles fly high. So you know Eagles have been the standard for the United States somebody that that flies high. It’s the only bird that flies over all the storms of life always looking for clearing and it has to do with destiny. So these direction in, Eagle medicine, has to do with finding your highest destiny, flying high being able to fly high over obstacles.
Myrna: That’s beautiful. I love it. What are some, mindfulness, tips that can help us with, grief and loss?
Karen: When I talked about my book is the journey of the bereaved and the journey of, grief, is through transition, resurrection and rebirth and that’s the same process our loved ones go through. So their transition is from their physical form to the spiritual one. They resurrect on the other side. After a while they’re either reborn or maybe recycled into a new life or reborn into their after life.
Grief is a journey of transformation
And so the, grief, this is our special journey because we go through transformation from having this person to not having this person. And then after a while, if if we can move some of this energy we can have this opportunity to resurrect to look around and say, Okay, so now what next? And then finally to get to the rebirth part where we actually use the energy of, grief, to create a new life out of the ashes of the old one which seems like a really unbelievable thing.
But when you think about other big events in life, like parenthood, and marriage, we know they have transformative energy. We know that life is never the same, life is gonna end with, grief. In our culture we want to avoid, death, because we associate it with sadness and despair. And so people that are grieving are often told, it’s time to move on. It’s time to get over it. Let’s not talk about that.
So oftentimes, people become even more stuck in their, grief, because they become isolated and alone and they know that will make people uncomfortable. What I’d like people to know is that, grief, is a journey. It’s not a one time thing and it has no time frame and your journey is going to be different than anybody else’s.
Never say to a grieving person, it’s time to move on. It’s time to just just let them be. Let them be, and allow them to go on this journey. So that they can use these practices.
Alchemizing the energy of grief
The, south direction, helps people shed their, grief. Each each direction has four practices associated what mindfulness things that people have heard in other contexts. So we talk about non judgement. So one of the practice non judgement who are you judging and who’s judging you? And when I ask people to approach these practices in a very ceremonial way, because we want to get out of our every day, reptilian brains.
Indigenous, alchemy, means native or inherent desire for, transformation. And I think we as humans are really hardwired for, transformation, and change. And when we keep ourselves stuck in, grief, that energy stays stuck in our body and it can make us sick. Years later, we can come up with big illnesses because we have so much unresolved, grief.
So what I like to suggest for people is to really work with these practices, each one they’re 16. And so if you really deeply do the work and take it to spirit there can be profound change that will enable you then to go to a party, have fun, maybe go on a date or whatever you choose, but we have to do a little spiritual work first.
Myrna: Tell us about your book “Living Grieving using energy medicine, alchemize grief and loss.” Why did you write it? I know you wanted to share the story of your son.
Karen: So I wrote the book after I went on my spiritual journey and beginning shamanism. I ended up selling my home and all my possessions and I went on two and a half year trip around the world, trying to understand, grief and loss. It just seems so incomprehensible to me. It’s like this big elephant and how do you deal with this?
And and so I really thought at the beginning, I would just be writing a blog. You can find the book “Living Grieving” on Amazon. I do, shamanic, work I help people with, death, and dying people that are in the process of dying or people that have passed on. I also help widows and other people who are the survivors, I call us the survivors. And the book is really written for the survivors.