And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language
Of the living.
T S Eliot: Little Gidding.
The thought of death, particularly our own, is something which frightens many of us. We prefer not to think about it, or even to use the word, preferring euphemisms such as 'passed away,''passed over', 'depart this life'. 'take one's last sleep', and so on. It is the finality of death, and a fear of the loss of self we know and are familiar with, that is so threatening.
All major world religions in their traditions affirm that at death some essential part, or essence, of our being continues.
This is not the contemporary secular view. Despite that, there is reliable and increasing evidence that supports the religious view. There are many authenticated cases of people who have died making contact with loved ones left behind.
This book tells of some of these extraordinary, direct and spontaneous visits and messages to grieving loved ones from those who have died. The bereaved share what these experiences have been like. They say how their lives have been affected and how their perspectives have changed, not least their un- derstanding of the world and of God. In a secular and death- denying culture these stories almost beggar belie£
Yet during the time of bereavement, the unexpected appearance or presence of a loved one who has died can be a heart-stopping shock for a person in the midst of grie£ It can also be a trigger moment. The silence of death is broken. Life is changed. The bereaved person is impelled into seeing life from a different perspective.
Jane told the story of her mother and was adamant that she came to her when she was struggling and under great duress at one time in her life. She walked into her bedroom and, as she bent down to put some things in a drawer, I absolutely froze and I thought 'Who is in this room with me?' and I felt a presence. I literally stayed where I was and my mind was going, 'Who is this?'
And then I felt the presence of my mother. It really shocked me because up until that time I had had no experiences like that. I just knew that presence was my mother. I said, 'I'm all right Mum.' And the moment I said that I couldn't feel the presence any longer. It was gone. I thought a lot about it over the time after that and it did give me a lot of comfort. It
was brief, small, but I'm as sure today as I was then that that was my mum.
Kathy did not doubt her experience of her mother who had died two years earlier:
I went to bed about nine thirty. I put out the light and was lying in bed ready to go to sleep. My eyes seemed to travel to the end and over to the left of the bed. I saw as clear as day my mother standing there. She was laughing quietly and was very young looking. She
was apparently very happy. She was wearing the pink brunch coat she wore before retiring. I think she came because she wanted me to know that she was happy and that everything was all right. And you know, after that, everything was all right.
Tom, who had never seen a vision before, was astonished when he saw his brother-in-law, Frank, after he had died from cancer:
Some weeks after the cremation of my brother-in-law, the family was interring his ashes. As my sister-in-law, Teresa, was placing the urn into the ground I looked up and was startled to see a vision of Frank standing above the grassy bank. Frank was looking down on us,
his face was so serene and was surrounded by light. He looked completely himself with his usual denim jeans and check shirt. He stayed for a while and then disappeared. Frank was such a fine generous man. He had expressed his opinion there was no life after death. I believe this vision was given to us to share and to console his wife, Teresa, who is a very religious person.
What can we make of these stories? If they had been shared with you what would have been your reaction? You may have been skeptical or just uncomfortable; or you may have been fascinated that someone had been in direct contact with a spirit being from the afterlife.
A number of books have been written that have reported these extraordinary happenings. Such happenings are described as experiences that occur when a person is contacted directly and spontaneously by a deceased family member or friend. Many people still remain sceptical about these experiences. Some believe they are grief-induced hallucinations that will go away when the bereaved person recovers from the pain of their loss. They cannot acknowledge that such events can happen. Others, who do not believe there is anything
after death, simply dismiss the stories.
Family and close friends are the most likely to report having these visits. They spend a lot of time thinking about their experiences. They do not talk about the visits easily as they do not want others to think they are 'crazy' or over- whelmed by grief The bereaved often feel they are not handling life well at the time because of their grief and this adds to the struggle to understand their extraordinary encounters.
If such communications are brought up in conversation, the response of friends or co-workers, and even family members, is more often less than enthusiastic. Little support is extended to the bereaved and they are enmeshed in the task of trying to understand what has happened.
Over a period of thirty years I received a communication from four members of my family who had died. The ! one from my brother in 1996 created the momentum to i explore why no one chooses to speak of such occurrences.
These experiences had not been imaginary and yet they had not been shared with any but a few close family mem- bers. It was important to try to understand them. Were these visits from the deceased common happenings in people's lives? Why did no one talk about them? What forms did they take? Did they happen in every culture? Why did afterlife visits happen to some people and not to others? Finally, how could others be found who had also experienced a communication from a loved one? Within my own circle of friends at that time no one was sharing such stories.
Further investigation showed that a little over a decade ago research studies into these direct and spontaneous communications from the deceased to their grieving loved ones began to appear in the popular press. The stories told of amazing appearances of the deceased, of verbal and tel- epathic messages from them, feeling their touch in a hug, smelling their perfume, experiencing their presence, and being with them in vivid dreams. The first of these studies, Hello from Heaven was published in 1995. It was followed by After-Death Communication in 1997. Films and TV programs began to be made dealing with this subject and there was a growing fascination with the different forms of communication that the dead used to contact their grieving loved ones. Although similar experiences had been reported earlier, they had not entered the mainstream of public wareness so clearly. Many people remained sceptical about after-life visitations.
More exploration uncovered numerous books and articles that had been written in the last one hundred and twenty years about survival after death and contact with the dead. \Although experiences of contact with the dead had been commonly accepted in Western culture up to the eighteenth century, Darwin's theory of evolution in The Origin of Species (1859) had shaken belief in an afterlife and held creationist views up to question. This was so despite the fact there were stories going back thousands of years linking this life and the afterlifeand providing records of Communications with those who had died. Every culture holds beliefs and tells its stories about death and the afterlife and what happens to the human soul.
Unexplained paranormal phenomena began to be discussed openly in England in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were reports of apparitions, death- bed visions, and other contacts with the dead. A group of eminent scientists and scholars who were deeply interested in these phenomena began to explore them. They realized the reports needed to be investigated in a systematic way. They founded the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) for this purpose. Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett Sigmund Freud, Carl ]ung, William ]ames and Arthur Conan Doyle were among the many eminent members of the SPR.
A large number of the founding members of the SPR began a serious study of the paranormal within the context of the scientific paradigm. This scientific paradigm arose out of a scientific revolution in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was followed by the philosophjcal revolution of the Enlightenment. Both these revolutions gave rise to a new world-view or 'paradigm', one based on the pragmatic appraisal of scientific evidence rather than on theology or su- perstition. The belief was that objective 'facts' could be obtained through direct observation and experimentation. The scientific method meant that knowledge could be obtained uncontaminated by human subjectivity in a material world. The members of the SPR, many of whom were eminent scientists, wanted to prove the survival of the human soul by the methods of science. This was difficult as the members of the SPR were dealing with a non-material reality, the human soul Their meticulous research produced a large body of evi- dence suggestive of human survival after death. In particular, a famous research project involving seventeen thousand respondents from England, Europe and the United States, 'Report on the Census of Hallucinations', was conducted by Henry Sidgwick's Committee. It was published in the Proceedings of the SPR in 18944 and provided, for them, clear evidence for spontaneous paranormal contact between living persons and those who had died. Sceptical scientists and con- verts entered into contentious debates. Philosophy, religion and science had discussed the survival of life, of the soul, for a long time, and these studies, they hoped, would give some answers.
The assumption that death is final is shared by people in Western society. And that it is as Shakespeare: in Hamlet, 'The undiscover'd country from whose bo traveller returns.. .' Yet there have always been stories of peo pIe who returned to tell about realms unknown.
Plato (427-347 BCE), in Greece, told the story of; soldier of Er who was thought to be dead but returned and told about his experiences.
" He was slain in battle and ten days afterwards, whilethe bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on tJ i twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pyre, he
returned to life and told them what he had seen in
Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43) wrote an essay entitled 'On Divination' which told comrades who were travelling together. When they reached: a town one of them went to an inn, the other stayed friend. During the night the latter dreamed that his travel ling companion appeared to him and said:
'The innkeeper has murdered me, flung my body in cart ...'Please be at the gate early in the morning before the cart can leave town.' Stirred to the depths of his being by this dream, he confronted at dawn the rustic who was driving the cart. The wretch took to his heels. His friend then recovered the body and reported the murder to the proper officials. The innkeeper was duly punished..
In Christian history, 'otherworld' stories abound. When St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) died it was recorded there was -the noise of a happy and joyful crowd, who, presumably, had come to fetch her. There has been a long tradition of appearances of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in different parts of the world. Nevertheless, there had not been many published reports of ordinary people returning to bring messages from the other world.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, researchers in England, USA, Iceland and Japan in the fields of sociology, psychology and medicine began to document reports of many widowed people who claimed they had had contact with a deceased spouse. People working with the bereaved in general began to write about reports of after-death contact and its effect on grief and mourning. These stories remained largely unknown.
Then, in the 1990s, several studies of communications from the deceased were published and reached the shelves in bookshops. However, many questions had not been fully answered. What was it like to receive communications and visits from deceased loved ones? And what difference, if any, did they make? Why were they not spoken about by religious ministers and teachers? Traditionally, world religions unite in affirming that at death some essential part of our identity continues. Yet in many churches the topic was avoided. Scep- tics still questioned the accounts.
In addition, the prevailing scientific world-view chal- lenges belief in an afterlife. This view holds that when the heart stops beating and the brain ceases to function, the per- son's personality is no more and the individual ceases to exist. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross when she was still sceptical about life after death, recognized she could talk and touch someone one day and the next morning they were not there. Their body was there, but it was like touching a piece of wood. Something was missing -life itself. As she tried to come up with a definition of death, she asked herself in what form did life leave, and where, if anywhere, did it go?
The experiences of ordinary sane people who are griev- ing, and who report contacts with deceased loved ones, challenge the scientific and medical understanding of death. These people also look largely in vain for support from their church and its ministers, or from their family and friends.
My interest in these communications from the deceased' led to formal research into the topic. Informal conversations with friends about the project led to some raised eyebrows and also to some surprising revelations of experiences. The central questions in the research were:
What were the experiences of ordinary people? What was it like to have these human experiences?
Participants in the study came through a number of different avenues. Advertisements in two newspapers asking for I volunteers proved disappointing when only three people re- sponded. A friend who conducted courses on Grief and Loss told the participants about the study. In courses I conducted for teachers, they were also told about the research. Bereaved people in these groups who had had encounters with deceased loved ones offered to share stories. One person led to another by word of mouth. Soon there were over thirty volunteers. The criterion for inclusion was that the experience was one where the person was contacted directly and spontaneously by a deceased family member or friend. Participants were offered confidentiality and pseudonyms were used in the stories.
Another reported form of communication with the deceased occurs when a person consults a spiritual medium to act as a channel of communication between themselves and the deceased person. Because this type of communication is not a direct and spontaneous contact between the bereaved person and their deceased loved one it was not included as part of the research investigation. Some of the participants did choose to meet with a medium following their own ex periences and these meetings are referred to in the stories.
However these communications do not carry the same certainty a direct contact with a deceased person does.
The method used for the research meant that a smaller group was chosen for the primary investigation. Many experiences were shared and all generously expressed a willingness to allow their stories into the public arena. Since then others have also shared their stories and some of these have been included.
Stories of successive visits and communications from deceased loved ones -spouses, parents, children and friends are at the heart of this book - -over months and years are the heart of this book. Extraor- dinary experiences happened to ordinary people in the eve- ryday circumstances of their lives while they were grieving the death of a loved one. They were initially disoriented and astonished when they received direct, spontaneous visits and messages from the deceased person. The experiences occurred mostly in the first weeks or months of the bereaved person's grief Sometimes visits happened again years later at a time when the bereaved person needed help or comfort. Some people received visits from spouses, some from parents, others received messages from siblings, children or friends.
The stories throughout this book are grouped to show characteristic features of these visits from deceased loved ones.