Have You Heard From Your Dead Loved Ones?
For some, after-death communication can offer comfort during grief
One night, not long after her husband’s sudden death in March 2016, Kim Sheridan’s grief and despair peaked. The Southern California resident begged him for a sign, some kind of communication. Soon after, the tiny boy and girl clothespin doll wall art decorating their bathroom tumbled to the ground. It was, Sheridan said, an inside joke with her husband that only she would understand.
She had no doubt that it was him, good-humoredly answering her need. Sheridan has had many other moments of sensing his presence, as have people close to her, including dreams of him which remain as clear in her memory as the night she had them.
Those brief visits from her husband likely saved her, Sheridan said.
“I was a mess. Words can’t describe the loss of a soul mate. I can’t believe I am still here and functional. I truly believe if it weren’t for staying connected, and the ADCs (After-Death Communication), I wouldn’t still be here,” she said. “Because for a lot of people, knowing there’s something more is the difference between getting through this and not.”
Chances are, someone has told you he or she got a sign from a deceased loved one or felt the person's presence — perhaps a scent of perfume or pipe, or the lights mysteriously flickered at just the right moment. Maybe you’ve had some of these experiences yourself. These feelings of contact are often reassuring and hopeful, but remain somewhat difficult to talk about openly. They are, however, more common than you might think.
A Comforting Presence
After-Death Communication (ADC) is the clinical phrase for a visit from a deceased loved one. One in three people experience an ADC, with 75 percent of those experiences occuring in the year after a loved one passes, according to licensed professional counselor Janice Miner Holden, chair of the department of counseling and higher education at the University of North Texas in Denton.
ADCs take a wide range of forms. For some people, after-death communication is merely the sense that the loved one is present. Other people may see, hear, smell, or have a tactile sensation related to the person. Sheridan, for example, reported the sensation of her husband sitting heavily at her feet as she was lying in bed. Others may have had visitation dreams in which the loved one appeared.
Almost universally, after-death communication brings with it “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, patience and self-control. In fact, some of the additional benefits of ADCs are reduced blame and anger, reduced detachment and reduced disorganization,” said Holden, who added she has also experienced visitations from deceased relatives.
Holden argues that ADCs can help heal grief, although a minority of people who have them either ignore them or experience distress because of them. “An ADC is not a sign of mental illness,” she stressed.
Helping the Grieving Process
“ADCs have been recognized as accelerating the grieving process,” explained Al Botkin, who developed a process called "induced after-death communication" (iADC), which uses EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)techniques to facilitate an ADC in the counselor’s office. EMDR is a specialized technique using specific guided eye movements to reduce trauma symptoms.
According to Botkin, even in situations where a client might have experienced abuse at the hands of the deceased relative, the iADC brings feelings of love and forgiveness. He cautions that the iADC process is best done after the client has made it through the first six months of grieving.
Sheridan has had spontaneous ADCs, and tried the iADC procedure as well. Her iADCs helped further heal her grief and gave her a light-filled vision and the sensation of her husband’s presence.
Even though the iADC process happens in a counselor’s office, Holden stressed that all ADCs are spontaneous. All the iADC procedure does is create a moment when the contact is more possible, she said.
Open to Experiencing Contact
Ira Pastor, 49, has had several spontaneous ADCs with his mother, who died at age 87 of pneumonia. Pastor, from Philadelphia, reports that “multiple members of our family have smelled a rare fragrance she used to wear, wafting lightly in our home. There have been multiple visits to members of our family within dreams, giving lucid grandmotherly advice on current matters.”
Members of the family have noticed other signs which they attribute to her presence, such as favorite birds roosting near their home and a television appearing to turn on spontaneously while family visited her favorite vacation spot.
“These experiences have been nothing but positive,” he said. “In a grieving context, they haven’t made the loss harder, they’ve made it easier. They’ve made us more spiritual, even people like me who come out of a materialist background.”
Pastor describes his faith as Reformed Judaism, with significant interest in worldwide wisdom traditions. But as someone who worked in the regenerative medicine field within the biotech industry most of his adult life, he leans more towards a scientific framework and was at first skeptical. Now he feels that his exploration of science, especially quantum physics, allows him to be more open to the possibility of after-death contact.
Talking About ADCs
Even though ADCs are not uncommon, many people remain dismissive.
At first, Holden recommends being selective about who you choose to talk to about an ADC. Try to pick people who have open minds, and whose religious beliefs don’t argue against after-death communication, she says.
Sheridan is more blunt. “Why would anyone tell you that an experience you find healing, when you are in devastating grief, isn’t real?” she said. “You don’t need people like that in your life.”
Even if people do not dismiss the event openly, you still might feel awkward talking about it. Botkin points out that in the face of skepticism, you have choices about what you want to say.
“Proof is a mathematical concept. I take a neutral stance. What I do know for sure is these experiences are very healing,” Botkin said.
Botkin also suggests that if you are listening to a friend or relative share an experience of an ADC, try to put your own skepticism on hold. ADCs are precious and meaningful experiences for the people who have them.
If you have not experienced after-death communication, but would like to, you can either find a therapist trained in iADC or invite your deceased loved one to visit in your dreams.
Holden said the process of inviting someone into your dreams is called “dream incubation.” She recommends spending a few moments before sleep thinking of the person in a welcoming way; you might have to do this several nights in a row.
According to Botkin, visitation dreams are noticeably different than other types of dreams, often seeming more real and remaining clear in memory for much longer.