Lisa Smartt’s excerpt about after-death communication comes from her book Words at the Threshold.
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Adam Duhan.
Accounts of communication from the dying and the dead have been recorded throughout time and cultures. Our modern-day ac- counts now include this new twist: text messages. The following account sent to me by Debbie Ribar comes from her sister-in-law Joanne Moylan Aubé:
My father passed away last January while I was sitting out- side with my mom (miles from the assisted-living facility). My brother was by Dad’s side at this time, because Dad was breathing heavily and nearing the end of his life. He was not conscious. While I was sitting peacefully in my brother’s backyard, my iPhone made a noise similar to Siri’s beep- ing response. I looked at the phone and saw a text, which showed up as though I had written it. It said, “Was leaving heavily might be just wind and downy might be ready to go bad that I like pneumonia now maybe get tired I’m down I’m going to be around anymore.”
I freaked out and called my brother, who was as shocked as I was by this message. After reading it over and over, I determined it meant: “I am breathing heavily now
and might be winding down. Might be ready to go now. Feels like pneumonia. Maybe getting tired. I’m down and am not going to be around anymore.”
My dad has never texted or understood iPhones or technology and was clearly not conscious in the sense that we know. I don’t know if he had terrestrial help, or if it was just that his energy was able to convey a message to me. His name was Raymond Aubé.
A grieving husband, Ka Lok, received a mysterious text message from a taxicab company after his wife lost consciousness following multiple strokes. The message said that the taxi he requested had ar- rived at his workplace, and that the driver didn’t see anyone. Ka Lok had not requested a taxi, since he always drove to his office at95 Plenty Road. However, his wife, Elizabeth, used to sometimes take a taxi from her workplace. At that hour, which was midnight, while his wife was unconscious, there would be no reason to get a taxi home. Ka Lok told me, “As a matter of fact, that night before she lost consciousness, she said she wanted to go home. I am convinced that she is now home, and that her life goes on in the afterlife.”
When Ka Lok emailed me his account, he sent a photo of the cab company’s text message: “The driver we sent has indicated that they could not find you at 95Plenty Road. If you still need a cab at this address, reply yes.”
There could, perhaps, be other explanations. And for many of the accounts, there are other explanations, because they represent synchronicities. And synchronicity appears, in most cases, to be one of the defining characteristics of communications that people experi- ence as being sent from across the threshold. This text message from the taxi company, too, could be explained in a number of ways; how- ever, it is hard to escape the poignancy of these “coincidences.”
Synchronicities in Nature
Many people told me that different animals appeared soon after the deaths of their loved ones. A common theme is the appearance of birds and butterflies who maintain close contact much longer than would normally be expected. Common were stories of birds that seemed to hover at windows and peer in for extended periods of time.
Rich Shlicht explained that he went for a walk soon after the passing of his mother, thinking to himself how he wished she would give him some sign of an afterlife. Soon after, a sparrow appeared and walked with him on the path, close to his heel, without fear, for over an hour. The bird then followed him home and sat on his bedroom windowsill, where it remained for minutes, as if to say, “I am here, son. All is well.”
Birds were the most common species in these accounts, but I also heard stories of butterflies, dogs, and cats. “Within a cou- ple of minutes of Mom’s passing, we heard a cat meowing very loudly outside in the courtyard. It went on for a long time. I hadn’t seen or heard a cat in the days before or after Mom’s death.” Inter- estingly enough, these species also appeared in the visions of the dying. There were no other animals in my sample of deathbed or after-death communication.
Common also are stories about personal possessions that seem to carry messages from the dying. Kaye Elliott shared this story about a special wooden box:
My daughter was friendly with a young woman of twenty- three called Ruth, who was attending a development circle run by the Spiritualist Church in an effort to develop her psychic gifts. She offered to try to contact my mother and later turned up with a drawing of a box made of carved wood, which had a lip inside and was decorated with a pattern of white diamonds. It contained a piece of paper, some jewelry, and some buttons. She said my mother was of stocky build and her middle name could be Emma. In fact, she was of stocky build but her middle name was Ethel.
I had no knowledge of such a box, my mother had lived fifty miles away, and Ruth had never met her or vis- ited her house. I put the matter out of my mind. However, when clearing out my mother’s bungalow some days later, my daughter suddenly said, “Look, Mum,” and handed me a carved wooden box that had a pattern of white diamonds on the top of it (arranged slightly differently from those in the drawing) and contained exactly what Ruth had said. There was nothing written on the piece of paper. Years before, my mother and I had been discussing whether we thought there was life after death, and I made her promise to contact me if she died before I did. I can think of no logical explanation of this occurrence, and neither can my rather skeptical husband, which is amazing.
As in the preceding examples, synchronicities are closely connected to the interests or themes of the person’s life, as are the meta- phors and symbols that appear in the language of our final days. The following story from a photographer’s sister clearly illustrates this.
Renee’s brother Sean was a professional photographer, and he died from lung cancer at age forty-eight. He had a son, and months after his father’s death the boy was getting ready to celebrate his eleventh birthday. The year before, Eugenia, who was Renee and Sean’s mother, had also died. As Renee drove home from work on her nephew’s birthday, she imagined a conversation with her mother and brother, asking that they join the family for dinner in some way.
Moments after the family members were all seated at the table, they heard a large crash upstairs. Renee ran upstairs to see what had happened.
One of the photographs on a shelf in her hallway had fallen on the floor, and the metal frame and two glass pieces were now disassembled on the floor. The photo was facedown. Renee turned it over. It was a picture of her mother and brother. Of the thirty- plus photos in her hallway, this was the only one of Sean, and it happened to include his mother, Eugenia. In the ten years that Renee had had photos in the hallway, no frame had ever fallen. She brought the photo to the dining table as a symbolic way of bringing everyone together again.
They’re Playing Our Song
Many people shared accounts of a signature song that appeared at poignant times and places. One example of this comes from Kathleen Stiles:
“Morning Has Broken” was one of Bob’s favorite songs. We sang it at an Easter church service in Bhutan and many other times. On the night before he passed, he was pretty much in a coma, unable to speak. One of his close friends was in the room with him. I said, “We are going to sing for you.” He responded, “La, la, la” (which he often said). We sang “Morning Has Broken” to him and played the Cat Stevens version as well on an iPhone. The next morning, a friend who played the harp for hospice patients called. She didn’t know Bob had passed, but said she woke up feeling she should come and play the song for him.
A few months after Bob passed over, I was at work at anEnglish-language school for international students, where I teach. I was missing Bob a lot. I opened a dictionary, and out fell an old mimeographed copy of the words to “Morning Has Broken.” I had never seen anything like that paper before, and haven’t since. No such old machine existed in the school at the time. A little over a year and a half later, I went to a past-life regression therapist/medium who plays music to help people get into an open state. The first song played was an instrumental version of “Morning Has Bro- ken.” I asked her if she always played the same music. She said no, but that she plays the song she is led to play. Even last Sunday, I had another experience with this song. I went to hear medium Hollister Rand speak and give messages at the Spiritualist Church in Santa Barbara. I told Bob it would be good to hear from him there, even though I feel I hear from him often on my own. I didn’t get a spoken message from the medium, but the first hymn we sang was “Morning Has Broken.”
Gestalt of Synchronicities
Elaine Unell, a retired teacher of gifted education, shared the co- incidences that occurred before and after her husband’s death. The synchronicities created a gestalt that formed a sustained narrative not unlike the metaphorical and symbolic narratives we see in the language of the dying. Some of the synchronicities seem trivial, and others more dramatic; however, the combined effect throughout the days leading to and after her husband’s death were deeply mean- ingful and comforting to Elaine.
Throughout her husband’s illness, the number 18 became in- creasingly significant. Elaine, who is Jewish, explained, “The Jewish word for 18, Chai, means ‘life,’ so when he was admitted to the cardiac critical care unit and placed in room 18, I took it as a sign of hope.” When a friend asked what his favorite number was, so he could put it on a Cardinals Jersey for him, Ron mouthed “18.” Ron died on September 18 (9/18). As a lifelong golfer, Ron typi- cally would play either 9or 18 holes. For about six months on the eighteenth of every month, it seemed to Elaine that she was getting “signs from him,” whether this entailed finding money, seeing and feeling him in dreams, or other small synchronicities.
However, these numerical synchronicities were just the beginning. Before his death, Elaine would sit in the hospital with him and entertain herself with an iPad game called Cryptograms. Each letter is assigned a different letter to represent it, and then a quote is spelled out using the assigned letters. The solver uses logic and reasoning to determine what each letter stands for and eventually figures out what the quote is. The quotes are randomly selected from all genres and time periods. At this particular time, the quote Elaine was solving happened to be by Socrates. Elaine sent me a screenshot of the cryptogram. She had completed all the letters except one. The cryptogram read, “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is better god only — nows.”
The k that belongs in knows was never solved, but it gave the impression that it should be read “now,” lending it a sense of imme- diacy, or at least giving it a double meaning.
“After seeing this I felt sickened,” Elaine explained to me. “I felt as though I were getting a message from Source telling me he was going to die. But I could not, would not, let that be true yet. How- ever, the feeling of nearing the end was pervasive, and the quote from Cryptogram was a haunting premonition of this.”
In the week following, Elaine’s husband died twice and returned to fight courageously. Machines kept him breathing and the blood pumping through his body while he had a dozen surgeries over the next two and a half months. Elaine had hoped that he would be able to have a heart transplant, but infection in his chest cavity kept him off the heart transplant list.
She explained, “The choice was to let him go on living in this horrible, painful, and imprisoned me- chanical manner, or to let go of his body and release his soul from its human form. This [release] is what it became very clear that he wanted, probably sooner than we who loved him wanted to accept. He was brave enough to give us our hopes for his recovery, but the doctors assured us that it was time to let him go.” On September 18, 2014, his wife and closest loved ones gathered around him, and at 7:32pm, as they watched a sadly beautiful sunset out his window, he took his last breath.
As Elaine looked out at the horizon, she was struck by what she saw. The sun was sinking beneath the skyscrapers in the distance, and the sky was layered in yellows, oranges, and purples. The view from his hospital window was beautiful and comforting. Coincidentally (or perhaps in retrospect, a foreshadowing), in May 2014, just before her husband had become ill, she had been taking an oil painting class. Looking at some photos, she had been having trouble deciding what to paint. Among the images she perused was a photo of her husband and herself on a cruise, with the sunset behind them. Elaine told me, “Something kept pulling me back to that photo. In the photo we were looking at the camera, but I decided to paint us in silhouette and turned us around as though we were looking out at the sunset.” As Elaine regarded the final scene out the window of his hospital room on the night he died, she was struck by how eerily reminiscent the view in front of her was of that last painting.
Over the years, Elaine has developed the practice of automatic writing and has received many messages that seem to come from the “other side.” It has been her experience with others who have passed that the best communications started two weeks after their passing. Given that, two weeks after Ron died she began asking for messages from him. When she inquired about the Cryptogram message, these were the words that emerged:
Elaine, when you received that message, I also received it. We were both told at the same time in different ways. I heard a voice in my head that told me just those words, and I was pretty sure that it meant I was to die, but I didn’t want to believe it. You also received that message and did not want to believe it, but it was true, and now I know and I can tell you that what I have over here is better than life as a human form. We all need to endure the human life to learn and grow for our soul development, but on this side there is so much more than you know over there. All is well and as it should be. Do not feel bad for me. Just live your life as happily as you can. Continue on your good path, and you will arrive here when the time is right. You are loved. Ron.
As was true for Elaine, several people I interviewed experienced messages from their beloveds by means of automatic writing. Terri Daniel, in her book A Swan in Heaven, talks about the afterlife mes- sages she received from her teenage son, who communicated tele- pathically with her after his death. Danny died at age sixteen after struggling with a degenerative disorder that had begun when he was an active, healthy seven-year-old, and which had eventually trans- formed him into a wheelchair-bound teenager who wore diapers, was unable to talk, and could not use his hands. He was completely nonverbal during the last years of his life, but within an hour after his death he began “speaking” to his mother. Terri explained that, as Danny lost his ability to speak, her telepathic abilities increased, and that this ability continued after he died.
About fourteen days after my father passed away, I awoke one morning to hear his voice as clearly as I had while he was alive. He said, “Please write this poem down and give it to your mother.” My father, a poet, recited this first poem of what was to be over thirty poems in the course of two years:
For I Will Always Hear You
Even in heaven no light shines
as brightly as Susan.
The cosmos sings for you as the days pass,
and I become the mountains with their longing for spring after long snowy winters.
We are wed always, like boat to harbor, even as I sail out
to this vast sea of galaxy;
you are always mine, beloved Susan,
and the poems call out to you beyond the seams of angels
to your tattered tears.
Do not cry too long.
Let that laughter of your love illuminate
the skies, for I
While these poems gave my mother great comfort in her time of grief, I was somewhat uncomfortable with them at first. I did not want to deceive my mother if they were just products of my imagination. I was mystified by the presence of this language — but also drawn into its beauty and its wisdom. Whose voice was it? My father’s? Mine? The voice of the collective unconscious? Although the poems were a mystery to me, I wrote down the words — as it seemed, then, a natural extension of all those weeks spent sitting beside him and writing down his last utterances.
For me, transcribing his final words offered one way to step into my father’s world and follow him beyond, from where his poems later came. As I did so, I felt what the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach had expressed in his last words to his wife: “Don’t cry for me, I am going where music is born.”
I had never imagined that as my father was dying I could ever feel so close to him, and to Source — closer than ever in those last days and hours. And what surprises me now is that his voice and his presence are still with me, in ways I had never imagined possible, especially given that my father was so skeptical. This connection began while he was dying and I was tracking his dying words.
One of the strongest memories I have of my father’s final weeks was of waking up in the middle of the night in my home, which was an hour’s drive away from him. I looked at the digital clock with its red numbers glowing in the darkness; it read 3:15. I felt as if the room were crowded with people. I whispered to my husband, “Do you feel something?” Then I saw swirls of energy and felt as if my grandmothers were there. “I think my dad might be dying now.” I said, “Something is going on.”
“Your mom will call you if anything is going on…Go back to sleep.”
When I came to visit my father the next day, I asked my mother how everything was going. She said, “Strangest thing. Your father woke up at 3:15and started talking about all the people in the room. He said something about the room being so crowded and he did not have time to talk to all those people.” How remarkable! It was as if in some way he and I were sharing an experience outside of the normal time and place. I came to learn that an experience like this is called a shared death experience, a term coined by Raymond Moody.
My father and I were attuned to one another in that experi- ence. And because of that attunement, hearing his voice reciting poems to me after he died felt very natural to me. Why some of us are attuned to our beloved during the dying process — and even afterward — is a mystery, one that William Peters, a marriage and family therapist who founded the Shared Crossings Project, has ad- dressed in his workshops.
Shared Crossings works with families and individuals to teach them about the profound and healing experiences possible through- out the dying process — with a special focus on how people can gain greater alignment with those they love as they cross the thresh- old. Peters explained to me that as we sit with the dying, we can often have profound spiritual experiences. Families and friends may witness unique changes in the room of the person who is dying — for example, they may feel or see unusual light, heat, mist, or other things, or they may experience telepathic communication with a loved one or feel the presence of the unseen in the room.
As many have expressed in this chapter, through the dying pro- cess we can experience strong connection not only to our beloveds but also to Source. Peters explained that there is a vortex of energy associated with death and dying, not unlike the charged energy many people feel in a room where a child has just been born. He talked about the powerful energy of that vortex, and how, often, those who learn to attune themselves to the energies of death and dying not only create deeper relationships with their loved ones but also gain greater spiritual insight and understanding that can ameliorate the grief and fear associated with the end of life.
Peters explained that this process of alignment allows beloveds to “step into the vortex that appears to open as people die.” This was clearly my experience and the experience of so many others who shared their words with me and stories of their loved ones’ final days, even of the moments during and after death.
Many I interviewed shared with me their knowledge that someone they loved, and who had died, was still with them. These stories came from people of all walks who felt that the after-death communication elevated their spirits and gave them a deeper connection to the Divine and to those they loved. If communications like these were only the result of imagination, would they have such a profound ability to console us, uplift us, and offer such insight and wisdom? And would we see so many synchronicities, so many shared experiences while miles and hours apart?
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, and Guideposts and on New Dimensions, Coast to Coast, Skeptico and other radio shows and podcasts.