This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald on May 1, 2007.
Eight years ago, my mother stepped into a room at Children’s Hospital in Oakland where she was helping to care for my three-year-old daughter who was recovering from heart surgery. She saw an elderly man sitting beside the bed with his legs crossed and his hand on my daughter’s arm.
The man was my grandfather who’d passed away in 1982.
“I clearly saw my dad comforting Kelsey,” she said. “Then he began to fade and was gone.”
Somewhat like my mother’s experience, Ron Hyde, of Pleasanton, encountered his grandmother’s presence in 1977 as he sat on a beach at sunset with friends in Tahiti.
“I want to say it was like a light, but I’m not sure,” he said. “But it was a presence, and I knew it was my grandmother and that she’d passed away.”
After returning home, Hyde said his mother started to tell him about his grandmother’s death. “I told her I already knew,” he said.
What prompted the topic of today’s column was my recent interview with psychologist Jean Shinoda Bolen, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of several bestselling books, including “Close to the Bone,” subtitled “Life-Threatening Illness as a Soul Journey.” I interviewed Bolen on the set of the "In A Word," the regional television show about books and authors on Channel 30 that I co-host with Kathy Cordova.
Bolen believes we’re not so much humans on a spiritual path as spiritual beings on a human path. In her book, she recounts how her own son, Andy, contacted her in the hospital upon his death from a rare disease at the age of 29.
“I was awakened from sleep in the dark early hours of morning by hearing Andy call ‘Mom’ in his old familiar voice,” she writes. “He was waking me to let me know that he was leaving his body.”
Bolen’s son hadn’t been able to speak above a whisper in his final days, and as she went to his bedside after he woke her, he was asleep and didn’t respond to her voice.
“In the moment that it took me to turn on the lights,” she writes, “he took his last breath.”
After his death, Bolen’s son contacted his father, Jim, on several occasions to let him know that he was okay and was “very much alive.”
One touching visit from Andy occurred the day after his memorial service, when Bolen’s husband chose not to accompany his son’s body to the crematorium because he reasoned he’d already said his goodbyes. Jim was feeling sad and had second thoughts when Andy spoke to him: “It’s okay, Dad, I’m not there either,” he said.
According to Bolen, incidents such as hearing a deceased loved one’s voice or encountering a presence is not all that uncommon.
Irma Slage, author of “Phases of Life After Death,” agrees. “People appear when there’s an emotional reason for it,” she said. “They feel the emotions of their loved ones and feel sad. They feel they need to be there to help them.”
Slage, who lives in Livermore, said that although most of us aren’t aware of it, loved ones are always with us in spirit and are only able to show themselves when using a lot of energy.
“Mostly they come through as an odor, as my husband well knows,” she said. “After his brother died and visited us, my husband always smelled the distinct odor of the brand of cigarettes that he used.”
Slage, though, has the ability to see deceased individuals and hear their voices as if they were in the physical world.
In fact, they seek her out because they know she can see them.
Slage first learned she had this rare ability in her twenties when she was cleaning her upstairs bathroom one day in 1977. Her friend, Rose, was suddenly standing in front of her.
“I couldn’t understand why Rose was there,” Slage said. “Then she told me I needed to call her husband.”
Slage walked into her bedroom, picked up the phone, but then hung up.
“I wondered if I was crazy,” she said.
Slage soon learned that Rose had died from breast cancer—an illness she had oncealed—on the day of the visit.
“That day was a turning point,” she said. “I finally realized that the voices I had been speaking with all my life were spirits. Until then, I’d thought everyone could hear voices in their minds.”
Today Slage conducts psychic readings and relays communications from deceased loved ones.
For skeptical customers, she recounts specific information that could only come from the loved one.
But visitations need not always come through a psychic. Dublin resident Bill Graham encountered a presence about five years ago that appeared as sparkles—a presence he sensed was the stepmother of his life and business partner, Trena Caskey.
“I asked out loud if it was Trena’s stepmom,” said Graham, who heard her say that it was. Then, as he felt a very cold kiss appear on his cheek, he clearly heard the stepmother say, “Tell Trena I love her and I’m okay.”