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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Ghosts of Christmas Past: After Death Communications


 By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

"1 in 6 people experience some type of ADC (After Death Communication) during their lives, making the study of ADC experiences seem all that much more important by sheer numerical volume.”

It’s Christmas time again. It’s a time to celebrate our lives, to spend precious time with our family and loved ones and to count our many blessings. But for many of us, it is also a time for remorse. It is a time for remembering and perhaps mourning our loved ones now departed. It’s no wonder Charles Dickens wrote of ghosts at Christmas. He knew of course that the antithesis of happiness is loss. The holiday celebration of lights is designed to keep the dark at bay. But while it is held back at this the darkest time of year, it’s never truly banished.

But this Christmas you might wish to recall the gift you may have gotten earlier, the small one from your departed loved one. The gift reminding you that darkness is simply another beginning. A reminder that they’re missing you and waiting, somewhere out in the night.

It was at my father’s funeral that a long-time friend gave me what turned out to be a truly touching present. an used, somewhat dog-eared, book about After Death Experiences. Having been in the paranormal field for a couple of years, I’ve greedily read and spoken to anyone I could that might feed me information about the paranormal. But this book about After Death Communications (ADC’s) was truly different from the paranormal researcher’s point of view, because it wasn’t written from a paranormal investigator’s point of view.
 
I can admit that I had never heard the term ADC used before in the paranormal field. I was rather astounded therefore to find that this is a field of study being undertaken by a rogue few in the field of grief counseling who are using the emerging evidence, not to prove or disprove the after death experience, but to use the ADC to help the grieving cope with the hard work of building a new life after loss.

The American Branch of the Society of Pyschical Research, in the 1880’s, dedicated quite a bit of time to studying what they labeled “Crisis Apparitions.” One of the founding fathers of the ASPR, Edward Gurney, wrote a two volume set on Crisis Apparitions, entitled Phantasms of the Living. F.W.H. Meyer’s author of the classic book Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death felt that Crisis Apparitions, apparitions of the deceased that occurred 12 hours before or after bodily death, were the release of the human consciousness.
 
Other of his associates thought that telepathy or ESP was involved, the living being invoked to have a telepathic experience with the dying because of the crisis. But what about an experience among the living and the dead that occur weeks, months or sometimes years after death? These are much harder to explain. Skeptics quite obviously believe them to be imaginary constructs. There are reported occurrences, however, where ADC’s have been witnessed or experienced by more than one person at the same time, making fabrication or imaginations harder to explain.

Louis LaGrand in Messages and Miracles was one of the first to research and write on the subject of ADC’s which encompasses Crisis Apparitions, but also experiences that occur quite some time after death - sometimes several years after death. These experiences range from strong evidence such as the sighting of a full body apparition, to rather weaker evidence of interpreting a “sign.” What makes this subject significant is the great number of people who claim to have had an experience. LaGrand cites one study that suggests 1 in 6 people experience some type of ADC during their lives, making the study of ADC’s seem all that much more important by sheer numerical volume. 
 
Spirit Visitation in Dreams

 The most often reported ADC was the dream visitation, where the grieving party dreamt of the deceased. The ADC dream is usually unlike dreams people normally report. For example, the ADC dream is usually extremely vivid in the recall. While everyone dreams, few of us can recall in any detail what we dreamt. Adversely, the ADC is usually relatable by the dreamer, often down to what the participants were wearing in the dream and what was said. The author suggests that the dream state is a natural landscape for the ADC experience, speculating that in sleep a dreamer is more conducive to psi phenomenon (ESP) as the mind is being directed by the unconscious.
 
Symbolism as Communication

 Experiences involving symbols are a common occurrence. The person will report an experience, often with nature, that doesn’t seem to fit with the normal. For example a certain flower will grow in a garden. The flower happens to be the favorite of the deceased, and hadn’t been planted there on purpose. In other cases something will suddenly start to work that hadn’t worked before. In my father’s case, his favorite clock worked once for twelve hours and never worked again. Clocks and music boxes are favorites. More markedly they will often work for a short while and then never run again. The symbolic experience is interpreted as being a sign from the deceased. 
 
Through the Nose to the Heart
Olfactory experiences, when people report smelling an odor distinct to the deceased are also reported. It should be pointed out that our sense of smell is actually based in our reptilian brain stems, the most ancient and primitive portion of our brains. The sense of smell evokes instant and deep-seated emotions, often under the radar of our conscious minds. Take the painter I met in Beaufort, South Carolina who told me the story about her ADC that occurred to her when she was alone. Sitting in a chair in her living room suddenly she began to smell her grandmother’s perfume. Her grandmother had of course been dead for quite a few years at the time, but she was distinctly smelling her grandmother‘s scent in the room. The ordeal unnerved the painter so much that she literally fled the house, though she admitted that Grandmother was probably only paying a visit. The woman also told me that her sister had reported a similar experience where she too had smelled the deceased’s perfume.
 
Why the Departed Visit

The why of ADC is variable as well. Some seem to occur to help with the grieving process. It may be Dad stopping by to tell Mom he’s ok. According to other accounts, ADC’s seem to happen to appease the desires of the departed, like Grandma stopping by to see the new baby. Still others happen during a crisis moment in the life of the living, where the departed makes an appearance in order to be of assistance - as in the story below. In other words, the experiences, their time table and the messages behind them are extremely unpredictable and individual. These experiences are different from the traditional haunting in the fact that they occur once or perhaps a couple of times, but then stop.

 Bill a troubled youth was doing poorly at school and strung out on drugs. At one point he decided to commit suicide. At the time he was living with his mother and grandfather. Bill’s grandmother had died a couple of years earlier. On the day Bill decided to end his own life he reports that he went down in his grandparent’s basement where he intended to hang himself from a rafter. He started to string up the rope, when he looked at the basement steps. There on the steps was his grandmother motioning to him. Using hand gestures, (Bill didn’t report actually hearing her say anything to him) she indicated that he shouldn’t do this. He took the rope down.

Recalling the stories I had collected over the years from family, friends and acquaintances I started to realize that, actually the vast majority of “ghost stories” I had gathered were actually ADC’s. They’re simple and rather homespun in the telling, and I’m guessing most families have their own share of strange stories. It’s the time my Dad knew the phone call was to tell us that Grandmother had died. Or the time my husband reports feeling very down and just knowing suddenly that his departed sister was with him. A former student recalled the morning after her father’s funeral, waking up on the couch in the family room and seeing her dad making up the fire - just as he had always done. They are what they are, stories, unverifiable for the most part., intriguing but not reliable. Indeed, many, if not most, are based merely on gut feelings. 
 
The Value of ADC's

The value of the ADC is that it is personally gratifying to the person left behind. Directly after the ADC most people report feeling relieved, happy…even euphoric. For many, ADC experiences can literally shorten the grieving process and make loss easier. The ADC is often the springboard into a new relationship between the living and the dead. According to Alexandra Kennedy, Psychotherapist, in her book Your Loved One Lives on Within You, many people develop an internal relationship with their departed loved ones. Kennedy reports that “’many people are surprised to discover the deceased takes for granted that the relationship [with the living] is ongoing (LaGrand, 1999).’” That is a powerful force in the coping process.

“The pivotal factor in structuring the ongoing relationship is the imagination. Reaching the presence within demands a commitment to express deep feelings, to listen, be open and to use dreams as a springboard to inner communication. Developing the inner relationship is not difficult to manage and often results in the belief that direct contact has been made (LaGrand, 1999).”

While there is no evidence that contact has occurred, those who have made a practice of internal, imaginative communication feel the new relationship is, “real [my emphasis] and comforting.” At the very least, LaGrange admits, “internal communications ‘attests to the fact that our loved one lives on within us (LaGrand, 1999).’”
 
Paranormal Investigation and the ADC; Where Ideas Collide

 Paranormal investigators who are in the field because they’re skeptical should tread lightly in the area of ADC’s. For those thirsting for scientific evidence, the ADC can seem the worst of the “touchy-fee lies.” However, the real value of the ADC experience is not in the advancement of the paranormal field, but rather in the good it does for the grieving. To be specific, you may interpret the dream your mom had about your dad as a fabrication of her unconscious mind under duress. Criticizing her dream, however, is to undo all the potential good it did her in the dreaming. In the case of ADC’s, the significance lies not in the verifying, but in the fact that those who experienced it believe it, and very often the believing is a delicate construct which will not stand up to scrutiny.

I had my own ADC a couple of months after my father died. We were a close family and the separation for all of us was excruciating. It had been a particularly grim day, but no grimmer than others I had had in the recent past. I dreamt that night of my father, but it was vivid. If I’d dreamt of my father since his death I have no recollection. But this dream was clear as if we were two people sitting in a room together. My father was showing me his new stereo system in the dream.
 
My father had custom built stereos and television systems as a career, so it was just like him to be showing off a new system. And the fact that I got the receiver stuck on the Cubs game fit as well. Dad had been an avid baseball fan, though I personally have no interest in the sport. I woke up feeling better than I had in many months…euphoric even…as if Dad had actually come for a visit. I couldn’t wait to share my experience with my loved ones.

My husband took a different approach. He made a joke of it, after which I felt both devastated and embarrassed. Luckily, having read fairly heavily in the area I was able to recognize the experience for what it was, and to explain to my husband that his criticism was out of place.

So, do I really think my father had returned from the grave to visit me in my dreams? I don’t know. Did I feel like he was there visiting me in my dreams? Yes, and it had made me feel happier than I had in a long time. Did it make our separation easier to bear? Unequivocally, yes. Whether it was a construct of my unconscious or an actual visit from my father, the pain was lessened by the experience and in the consequent memory of the event…after I told my husband not to steal my thunder. And therein lays the real value of the ADC. Thank you for your last gift, Dad.

Resources
La Grand, Louis Messages and Miracles: Extraordinary Experiences of the Bereaved.
Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul Minnesota. 1999.

Other Readings in the Area of ADC’s
Devers, Edie. Goodbye Again
Guggenheim, Bill, Judy. Hello From Heaven
Kastenbaum, Patricia Romanski-. Is There Life After Death: A Scholarly Approach
Kennedy, Alexandra Your Loved One Lives On Within You
Martin, Joel Love Beyond Life
Morse, Melvin. Parting Visions

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