No One Has to Be Alone

Navigating the challenging transitions of illness, death, and bereavement

Death Is Not a Dial Tone

Communication from the deceased provides comfort to the bereaved

In my last post, I mentioned that there is a body of research about the continuing presence of deceased loved ones, termed After Death Communication (ADC). The consensus of the literature is that the different forms of communication and contact are profoundly comforting and reassuring to the bereaved.

ADCs include intuiting the presence of the deceased, awareness of a touch, smelling a scent, hearing a voice, having a vivid dream, and/or seeing the deceased. It is estimated that over fifty million people have had such an experience, but many are hesitant to share these reconnections for fear of judgment and misunderstanding. Statistics can be a powerful source of confirmation, but individuals who have experienced the dream that is beyond vivid, or have heard the comfort of words from their deceased loved are convinced that their experience was real and not a hallucination. The sense of peace and comfort from these spontaneous connections happen at any time during or after death, and have been reported immediately or years after a death. 

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The more we openly discuss and share these experiences, the more we will come to accept the extraordinary as ordinary and normal. As with the subject of death, when we bring it out of the closet and into the light, we remove the stigma, myths, and fears surrounding the subject. We open ourselves to lessons that enhance our ability to live in the world. It is important to explore the phenomenon primarily because when discussed, it allows our grief to be expressed in healthy ways and transformed. We come to find new meaning in our loss, and gain comfort in a different, but on-going, relationship with the deceased.

The messages may be unique and the meaning is personal, but there is general consensus that the over-arching purpose of the message is to comfort and reassure. Many report that the “take-away” message was that there is a grander meaning to life beyond what we know when we are alive. The interpretation that their loved ones continue to be with them in spirit, and that they will one day be reunited is a powerful remedy to the feelings of hopelessness and abandon in grief. The verbal or non-verbal communications are received to mean “I’m okay”; “I’m with you”; “I love you”; “Everything is fine”; and “I will see you again”.

ADCs are the single-most important intervention that relieves the suffering of grief. The literature and my own research with the bereaved whose children, parents, spouses, siblings, and friends have died concludes that these communications must be shared, validated, and utilized in grief work. The ADC experience can change the painful intensity and duration of one’s grief into a softer acceptance of change. In other words, the communication from the deceased and its meaning to the bereaved transforms suffering into healing.

Louis LaGrand, Ph.D. suggests that the experience helps the bereaved accept the loss and re-invest in life. His book Love Lives On: Learning from Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved compiles evidence of how the communication can change one’s perspective and grieving process. Bill Guggenheim & Judy Guggenheim share their seven years of research with more than 2,000 people in Hello from Heaven. The stories shared are broad, diverse, and reach across age, gender, and ethnicity.

These experiences and the stories shared are a valuable, instructive guidance that can help us all cope with the painful physical and emotional reactions to the separation from loved ones. The profound change in one’s fear of death, anguish from separation, and ability to re-invest in their life needs to be part of our discussions about death, dying, and grief. To be open to different experiences can enrich our lives, and guide us through the universal experience of losing a loved one.

Pick up that figurative phone when you sense your loved one trying to contact you. Pay attention, stay open to the extraordinary, and honor your experience. Let me know if you have received contact from a deceased love one, and how it has affected your grief. 

Lani Leary, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist specializing in end-of-life issues, bereavement, and trauma.

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