The experiences of grief can be so unsettling that many who mourn express concern that they are losing their minds. The bereaved are bombarded with unusual thought, experiences and emotions. Typically, all these experiences are in the realm of normalcy however, some individuals feel that they are a sign of psychopathology. These experiences are referred to as After-Death Communications (ADC). ADC as defined by Guggenheim and Guggenheim (l995) is a “spiritual experience that occurs when someone is contacted directly and spontaneously by a family member or friend who has died.” They identify twelve main categories of experiences.
In a review of research on ADCs, Streit-Horn (2011) found that these events occur with people of all nationalities, ethnicities, religious affiliations, income and educational levels. Those who report these experiences are typically free of mental illness. Widows and widowers are especially likely to report these with women more likely than men.
Common as these events are, people are still reluctant to talk about them for fear that others will think they have lost their minds. Actually, questioning your sanity is typical of the sane person who has these experiences. It can often take years and a lot of courage for someone to open up to others about these experiences. When they do, it is often prefaced with, “I know you are going to think I’ve lost my mind but…” Mourners are aware these events are out of the ordinary and that some people will dismiss them as simply delusions and hallucinations of a grieving mind. Those who dismiss, minimize or trivialize the experience often do not realize how important these experiences are for the bereaved. For some, they provide hope and are viewed as spiritual signs. The experience is a link with their loved one that can help sustain them through the darkest times.
After her son’s death, A. began to find coins everywhere she went. The dates on the coins were the dates of significant events in her son’s life, i.e. birth, diagnosis, surgery and death. She believed that these were truly signs from him and that he was still with her. The positive impact on her grief was immeasurable. (Personal communication with client).
The ADC serves to provide an ongoing connection to the deceased and suggests to those who are living that death is not final. They have also been known to decrease the fear of dying for those left behind. It is not unusual for those who have these experiences to develop an increased interest in spirituality as well as the exploration of existential issues about God and the Universe. Regardless of the source of these experiences, the positive impact remains the same. Most people describe them as healing and affirming. There are positive benefits in just being able to share this information with others. They serve as a source of comfort, consolation, strength, and can also play a large role in reducing the pain of grief.
Guggenheim, Bill and Guggenheim, Judy (l995). Hello From Heaven. New York, New York: Bantam Books.
Streit-Horn, J (2011). A systematic review of research on after-death communication (ADC) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of North Texas: Denton, Texas.