“I understood then that this was the point of the dream. That I was being shown this world as a guest, that my job was to witness, to validate its existence. Perhaps even report that I had seen it.”
My husband and I were getting ready for bed, reviewing the day’s news, when he told me his elderly aunt had died. “She was a really sweet lady,” he said, misty-eyed. He had never mentioned this aunt before. I was surprised that he was experiencing any sadness at all. Then I remembered death is death, and most people feel a wave of sorrow when they suffer a loss, no matter how distant. I wished I could comfort him, and fell asleep accepting that there was nothing I could do.
In the night, I dreamed of an unfamiliar setting that struck me as strange, even for a dream. Instead of the typical monochrome dream palette, this world had bright, hyper-rich colors. The majestic landscape, a gorge in a sunny, tropical climate, burst with red rocks and exotic flowers. Amid the birds and fruit trees and waterfalls, an elderly lady dressed in billowing silk sat at a table drinking tea with two other ladies, each holding a fancy cup. They did not invite me to sit with them, but wanted to ensure I could see everything. My view, I then realized, was from above. I understood then that this was the point of the dream: to see. That I was being shown this world as a guest, that my job was to witness, to validate its existence. Perhaps even report that I had seen it.
When I described the dream to my husband the next day, he looked relieved. My husband is not nearly as interested in the extraordinary as I am. But he jumped into my description quickly to say, “maybe that was my aunt giving you a message that she was ok. Better than ok.”
“Do you think she would give that kind of message to me?”
He shrugged. “Maybe you’re more available than I am.”
We left it at that. Reader, he was comforted.
After Death Communication (ADC) is a well-documented phenomenon across cultures. It involves sensing the deceased through visual and auditory hallucinations, dream visitations, and even smell and physical touch. ADCs are usually peaceful and validating, especially to those in the midst of grief. At the same time, uncertainty surrounds the ways we talk about connections with the dead. Much of the confusion around these experiences comes from our shared cultural block, a collective doubt we’ve internalized for centuries. Conversations about ADCs are rare, and when they do happen they are cloaked in a thick blanket of familiar phrases like “it might be my imagination,” and “maybe I'm making it up”. We say these phrases to signal to each other that we are still “normal,” to create a safe space in order to share our extraordinary story.
Qualifiers about ADCs come from our modern western medical view, materialism, which maintains survival of consciousness as implausible. Our current scientific model sees the mind as a creation of the brain, so when the brain dies, so does the mind. Nothing survives. For this reason, doubting instead of believing in ADCs is a sign that you are healthy and “normal”.
But before the 20th century, belief in contact with the dead was quite popular in the West, particularly in the case of grief. The forefathers of psychology were quite interested in what was once called psychical research, and ADCs were an important scientific pursuit. Only as psychology started to refine into a branch of medicine did the general consensus about ADCs shift into question. Uncertainty about the scientific mechanics of ADCs gave rise to fear and anxiety around the subject. Today, we are still prone to a ripple of anxiety when the discussion turns to ADCs, but that’s changing as people share their experiences.
In the West, we are starting to legitimize ADCs as a normal part of grief. While several medical studies have begun to categorize the types of ADCs that people report most often, I have found that listening to people’s stories, and sharing them in my podcast, The Extraordinary Project, can shift us away from doubt and towards deeper curiosity and discussion. Hearing one person’s story of an ADC gives us permission to remember our own. If you’re looking to validate your own experiences of ADCs, give a listen.
Listen to more episodes of The Extraordinary Project and learn more at theextraordinaryproject.net.
Read Suzanne’s piece in the November/December 2021 issue: “5 Risks of a Spiritual Path.”
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