Lisa Smartt shares an excerpt about after-death communication from her book Words at the Threshold. Dedicated to the memory of Adam Duhan.
Do not cry too long,
let that laughter of your love illuminate the skies,
for I will always hear you
— Automatic writing inspired by my father
When I first set out to do final-words research, I had no intention of writing about or researching afterlife communication; however, since people of all walks of life shared their stories of compelling synchronicities with me, it became clear to me that any discussion of words at the threshold would be incomplete without at least a brief look at these accounts. The ones I’ve included here reflect only a small portion of the stories shared with me. In fact, many more people experienced some kind of communication after death than I had ever imagined.
Bill and Judy Guggenheim’s After-Death Communication Project, which was founded in 1988, reported having received thousands of accounts of after-death communication. Julia Assante, in her book The Last Frontier, writes, “The percentage of people re- porting contact with the dead in surveys ranges anywhere from 42to 72 percent. Widows having contact with their deceased hus- bands can go as high as 92 percent. If the surveys had included children and deathbed encounters, which are extremely common, the percentages would have been even heftier. A whopping 75per- cent of parents who lost a child had an encounter within a year of the child’s death. But a sad 75 percent of all those who had encounters reported not mentioning them to anyone for fear of ridicule.”
We saw in the previous chapter, for example, that while hospice nurse Judy Warren was accurate enough for doctors to rely on her prognoses for her dying patients, she did not tell the physicians that her knowledge of when patients were going to die had anything to do with telepathic messages from those patients. This certainly would have reduced the credibility she had cultivated over her three-decade nursing career.
However, many people — from psychiatrists to teachers to plumbers to accountants — shared accounts with me of their com- munications with the dying and the dead. The following is based on information from an assistant professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences, whose “telepathic” encounters changed his thinking about the survival of consciousness.
When he was an undergraduate student in chemistry, he was naturally a skeptic and expected things to be proven to him with facts. However, his thinking changed during the time he worked in a morgue. The young academic described how, when he was working with the dead, he had the distinct feeling that people were standing in the room looking at him. It was as if the unseen were speaking with him telepathically, and the message was always the same. “The spirits of the dead were checking in on their bodies to make sure everything was okay,” he told me. It was then that he came to believe that consciousness survives: “Everything else in nature and life gets recycled. Why not consciousness?”
After working at the mortuary, the young man got a job deliv- ering pizzas. One night he was sent to a nondescript building with no signs. When he walked in, he was struck with the feeling that many people had died there — but they were “generic or blank people.” There were no faces or other specific details in the images he saw in this mind. He had the sense that they were like babies or almost babies.
“Is this an abortion clinic?” he asked someone working there. Yes, the person replied, it was.
He received information in nonverbal ways. In the case of the abortion clinic, the information came to him as both images and the feelings of the faceless. While the scientist’s account is remark- able, especially since it comes from a born skeptic, it is by no means unique.
Participants shared with me a wide range of communications from the dying and the dead. Among these are accounts of peo- ple’s premonitions of dying. In my interviews, I heard several stories demonstrating that people who will soon die often seem to have precognitive awareness of their impending deaths.
Premonitions of Death
Sarah Brightwood, whose seventeen-year-old daughter died tragically in a car accident, found a beautiful poem left behind on her teenager’s desk. Her daughter wrote it on February 4, 2015, three days before she died. It was penned the day she left to spend two days with her boyfriend. The car accident occurred as she was driv- ing back home. In Sarah’s experience, these were Emily’s last words:
Where I Belong
I am hardly overwhelmed
By the dark of the Morning Or the glow of the Night. Whether it is the Sun or the Moon Whispering their sweet rhapsody Into the majestic heavens
I find infinite quiet
In each wild moment Knowing that I have a place Here below the gleaming stars And undulating clouds. With my feet in the earth And my arms outstretched Embracing the Sky —
Sarah wrote me in an email, “There was another amazing thing that Emily left behind. I didn’t notice until a few days after Emily’s death that she had assembled these words on the fridge”:
come spend infinite time away
Her daughter’s final words, indeed, seemed to express a gentle and wise awareness of the events that were to unfold in the days ahead. My father, too, seemed to have a premonition of his death. He appeared in hundreds of photos over the decades, but one stands out as the most memorable. Six weeks before he died, and before there was any indication that death was near, he was vacationing with my mother in Mexico. A friend had joined them, and on one sunny day, with camera in hand, she turned to my father and said, “Morty, here’s a pen, write something on your palm that reveals a little about you.” In big black letters he wrote “visitor,” and then he laughed and said, “I am just visiting the planet!”
Dreams Warning Us of Death
Dreams often let us know when the death of someone we love is approaching, and they can also warn us of our own risk of dying. The following account shares a dream that does both.
Tom dreamed that the atmospheric dome around the earth collapsed, and he reached up his arms to prevent its fall and keep all those on earth from suffocating. That night a good friend of his, Florence, entered the hospital for the last time, gasping for breath as she died. At the time, he attributed the dream to her death that evening.
Later in the year, Tom began having trouble with his own respiratory system. He recalled his dream of the collapsing dome and its precognitive quality in relation to Florence. He felt the image was also a warning to him. After convincing doctors to take his concerns seriously, they discovered that one of his arteries was completely blocked and deformed. “I know that the only reason that I am alive to share this tale,” he told friends in a Facebook post, “is because I recognized the importance of the dream.”
He Said Good-Bye in My Dream
Dreams offer us not only insight but also a forum for those we love who are dying, or have recently died, to communicate with us. So- phia Diamond shared this story about her father, one that is typical of others I heard:
He came to me in a dream and said, “I gotta go now, gotta go. I have no choice. I gotta go.” I saw him drift by me, like he was leaving somewhere. A few days after I awoke from this vision dream, my father passed away. I did tell him prior to his dying: “If you die and leave me, may you send me a rainbow and let me know if there is ‘another side.’ ” And, yes, after his funeral, I had a huge rainbow in my backyard.
Rainbows appear in the accounts of several people I spoke with — during, before, or after death. The rationalist’s explanation, of course, is that these things occur naturally and then we ascribe meaning to them, especially out of our pain and grief. This may be true in some cases, but there are so many of these stories that simple coincidence does not seem to explain them all. Synchronicities abound in life, especially in the days and weeks right after someone dies.
Christine Zagelow had this synchronistic dream about her brother, Mick, the night after his death:
Mick came to me in a dream. He was in brown leather mo- torcycle gear and standing next to the movie actor James Dean, who also rode motorcycles. The next morning, two of Mick’s motorcycle buddies came into the house and wanted to know if Mick came to me in a dream. They gave each other the high five, because Mick had told them he would come to me in a dream to show them he made it [to the “other side”], and that he would find James Dean when he got there.
The Beloved Is Beaming and Healthy
Terri Segal, a marriage and family therapist, shared this dream with me about her brother, which she also published in the Journal for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies in 2015:
After Duffy’s passing, I started experiencing extraordinary things. The first, just two days after he passed, was a dream visitation in which Duffy appeared beaming and healthy and a bit younger. He called me by his nickname for me, T. In a small room I walked towards him, acknowledging how happy I was to see him. He smiled big and called out “Hey T!” As I got closer, he faded out slowly. I asked him to stay but he kept disappearing and then I woke up. There was a vividness to his voice, a clarity to his presence. He directly spoke to me. After that, many synchronicities started to happen.
It’s Not Time to Check Out
My mother shared this dream about my father six weeks after he died. She believes it was a message from him, reassuring her that she still had time before dying. “Your dad and I were traveling, as we often did. He went into the hotel, but I could not get into the room. And then I realized I was supposed to check out of the hotel, but I did not have the key. I then heard your father say, ‘You have plenty of time before checking out, but when your time comes, I have the key.’ ”
Although she had never before believed in after-death com- munication, she felt a strong connection to him and profound re- assurance. She laughed and said, “The message was clear: It’s not checkout time yet for me!”
These “visitation” dreams from loved ones often have qualities very different from those of our regular dreams. The distinguishing qualities include colors that are much brighter, deeper, and richer than in waking dreams. People report the same thing about the quality of colors during a near-death experience. Often, the beloved is not only seen in the dream but is also, in some way, deeply felt — people even describe feeling touched in some way. Sometimes, there is synesthesia in the dream, a heightening and blending of the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses. For example,
Tricia, who had had a near-death experience, described this phenomenon: “I was sitting next to a magical stream. The stream was made of rippling waves of brilliant color. The stream flowed with enchanted sound. If you could hear the stream for even a second, you would probably never feel afraid or angry.” Feeling sounds, hearing images and, tasting rhythms are all examples of synesthesia. The ability to experience such a synthesis is described both by poets and by people in mystical or altered states — and is often a marker of visitation and precognitive dreams.
Raymond Moody reported that in near-death experiences, when people encounter their deceased beloveds in the “afterlife,” the latter often appear as they did in the prime of their lives. This is often the case in dreams as well.
Finally, in dreams, the beloveds convey very clear messages. Unlike our ordinary dreams, which can be chaotic and unclear, visitation dreams often carry clear and specific messages, as in the two described above.
He Bargained for Fifteen More Years
Bella Mckenzie, an elementary school teacher, shared a story about her father’s “premonition” about dying. He was a strict father and rarely showed much affection. He also was not a very spiritual man. And when Bella was seven years old, her father had a heart attack, leaving him dead for almost six minutes. At that time, he did not share what happened to him during those 360seconds. But he was a changed man. “He was more loving in every way,” Bella explained, “and family became the center of his life.”
When Bella was a teenager, her father told the family what had happened that day he died: He had gone through a tunnel, seen a bright light, and communicated telepathically with a wise, loving presence. In the conversation, her father had bargained with the voice, which he felt was that of God.
He had pleaded with God for fifteen more years, because he had seven children to raise. God agreed, he told his family, on one condition: the man had to live more spiritually and lovingly in the years to come. Bella’s father had agreed.
He counted off the years until the August before the comple- tion of his fifteen years. “That September he died. Could it be that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t think so,” Bella told me. “I believe strongly that my dad had an encounter with God — and that his premonition was based on some kind of real encounter when he died and then came back.”
I Had a Feeling
Not only do our loved ones have premonitions about their own dying, but also family members and friends can feel something is wrong. They may experience symptoms, such as an anxiety attack, or problems breathing, only to find out later that someone they loved had just died. The following story illustrates this.
Mark was visiting with his friend Pete, who lived about seven miles from Mark’s parents’ home. Mark was suddenly overcome by anxiety, and he told Pete that he had to head back home to see his family. He had no idea why, but he drove extremely quickly. At the same time, his sister called Pete’s to tell him that Mark should come home immediately. Minutes later, as Mark approached the house, the anxiety lifted. As he turned the corner, he saw an am- bulance in the driveway and his father lying there. A short time later at the hospital, his father was pronounced dead. “It was as if my father had called me or got me to come, like he summoned me for help.”
Under the Skin
Terri Segal, whose dream of her brother Duffy was described above, began to experience powerful surges of energy after his death. Like Mark, she felt a connection to her beloved at the time of his death and afterward that was primarily kinesthetic, felt in her body.
Duffy left this world on July 24, 2014. I can say I knew that morning at a “just under the skin” level that he was gone. I had just gotten into bed when I suddenly felt a thud or more like a shove against my back. It registered just below consciousness as I thought, “That is strange,” and went to sleep. It turns out that the moment I felt the shove was just around the time he passed.
On a September night I had my first “energy experience.” Two months after Duffy passed, I came home one night after work heartsick and tired. I lay on my bed with my arms out and palms up. I was crying and wondering, How do I go on? How do I accept this? I spontaneously asked if he would like to visit me. I said, “Duffy I love you and miss you; I am so sorry I could not save you. Can you forgive me and would you please visit with me?” I was given an answer.
Within seconds, a sensation of rolling energy came into my right palm. I felt several minutes of waves of energy, pulsing, circling, stroking my palm and forearm. It seemed he was sending gentle, playful and strong energy to show me that he still exists in a different form. The thought came to me: “I am not gone, only existing on a different level and I will always be in your heart, loving you and connected to you, sister.”
“It’s you, Duffy, I can feel you!” I asked if it was really him. I asked for him to squeeze my hand. I felt a spark on my fingertips and a pressure all around my forearm and hand.
Now, I am a rational woman, a professional. Still, this was a stretch for even my level of openness and curiosity. I briefly thought to myself: Am I having a hallucination, some form of grief psychosis?
Amazingly, I have felt the presence of this energy every day now, at least twice a day, since September 2014. Every day I ask for him to visit. Every day I have felt this energy, with slight variations, but always most strongly on my right arm and palm. I keep asking for these experiences and writing about them.
Doorbells, Alarms, and Lightbulbs
Among the most common of synchronicities are those related to electricity. I received many accounts of people who have received messages at the time of someone’s death, or soon after, that are communicated with the help of electricity — doorbells, alarms, and lightbulbs.
Deirdre, a social worker, shared with me a story about her fortieth birthday. She had invited her friend Richard over to celebrate. While they were drinking wine before dinner, the doorbell began to ring. Deirdre went to get the front door, but no one was there. The ringing would not stop. The bell just kept ringing and ringing, and this had never happened before. Richard, who was a contractor, told her it was a short; but even after he tinkered with it, it continued to ring.
That next morning, Deirdre received the news that a very good friend living outside of the country had died suddenly from a rare form of cancer, which she had not known he had. The friend had passed away in the half hour before her doorbell began ringing. “How do you explain that?” she asked me.
Another electrical occurrence made good on a wife’s promise to her husband. Their son, Thomas, submitted this story. A few days after Thomas’s mother died, his father was lying in bed thinking of his dearly missed wife. He recalled that they had once agreed that whoever died first would give the other some kind of message to convey that there was an afterlife. Just as this thought crossed his mind, there was a large boom in the house. Thomas was concerned that his father had fallen or hurt himself, so he ran upstairs. There was glass everywhere.
The globe over the lightbulb in his mother’s old sewing room had exploded. However, the lightbulb inside was untouched and still worked. His father told him, “I quietly asked your mom if she was going to give me a sign of life after death, then the globe exploded…” The light had been there for well over twenty years and the ring and screws were intact.
Winn told me that she thought a smoke alarm beeping out of control was communication from her beloved Coleman. The talented Coleman had played in a band called Smoke.
I realized the first night that it was Coleman, and that he was beeping the smoke alarm. I figured out pretty quickly that it was not a mechanical malfunction. I got out of bed and went out and started talking to him. The beeping stopped until the next night, when he came back at four- ish. A few days later, my brother Rob walked in with his family, and the smoke alarm beeped just once. I told Rob I thought it was Coleman, but he was in motion to dis- connect it while chuckling at my comment. Then he said, “How odd; the battery seems fine.” We got another beep or two over the next hour, and then a final beep in tandem with the alarm on the other side of the room.
Renee had a series of experiences related to the death of her mother that included many of the elements introduced earlier: a palpable energetic presence, strange occurrences with electricity, and personal and meaningful objects apparently acting as convey- ors of messages from beyond. She wrote:
When they [members of Renee’s family] arrived around 8:30, the director of the crematorium informed them that the electricity for the entire block was out, and therefore it was impossible for Mom’s cremation to take place that day. We had been informed earlier that they never did crema- tions on the weekend. I guess Mom had other plans. She was cremated on a Saturday.
A little later on the same Friday, in Petaluma [Califor- nia], I was working on the computer in my office when I tried to turn on the overhead light. The overhead light has four bulbs in it. It wouldn’t turn on. We had never had electrical problems in my office before. I had my husband, Steve, come out to try to fix it. He tried a number of things to no avail. We then left to take a walk. When we returned, the box containing some of Mom’s belongings that I had mailed to myself a few days earlier was sitting on the porch. I brought it in and then went back to my office. The overhead light was now on. The next evening, we were sitting around the dining room table when we saw this same light in my office blinking on and off, on and off, a number of times.
I called my brother, Sean, in Portland [Oregon] to re- port these strange electrical occurrences. He informed me that when he had returned to his photography studio, there had been an electrical surge that had blown out several pieces of equipment.
Back in Petaluma a couple of days later, I was sitting in my office late at night talking with my daughter, Bryn, about Mom. I was also sitting in front of my computer waiting for the first draft of Mom’s obituary to come in from Sean via email. Suddenly, all the lights went out. I checked my watch. It was 10:55. I went out onto the street and realized that all the lights on the entire street, 12 blocks down to the river, were dark. Exactly two hours later, all the lights came on again. The next morning I checked my email. Sean’s email with the draft of Mom’s obituary had come in the night before. It was time-stamped 10:55— the exact time that the electricity had gone out.
In the next installment (Part Two) we will look at more accounts of after-death communications and then discuss some of the theories and ideas behind these experiences.
Lisa Smartt co-founded both The University of Heaven and The Final Words Project with Raymond Moody. She is the author of Words at the Threshold, Cante Bardo and Veil. She is a book coach and is working on a new book called In the Realm of Engagement. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Psychology Today,Guideposts and on New Dimensions, Coast to Coast, Skeptico and other radio shows and podcasts.