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Lou LaGrand, PhD

The Extraordinary Experiences (EEs) of the Bereaved
PF Lyceum Blog #13, August 21st, 2006
Louis E. LaGrand, Ph.D., CT


Everyone experiences extraordinary events that change the course of their lives. They are referred to by a variety of names: coincidence, blessed encounters, chance occurrences, miracles, awe-inspiring happenings, anomalies, unannounced angels or just plain luck. Often they occur when dealing with the changes imposed by the death of a loved one, a divorce, or other losses. In any event, they consistently have a major impact on the course of grief work. Here is an example.

I am in my early 40’s and have had several unusual experiences since the death of my father which have helped me cope with his loss. For instance, last year on the first anniversary of his death my mother and I placed long stem roses at the grave. A few days later, I was really missing him and I asked for a sign that he was okay, and that I would be okay too. I specifically asked for the roses to be alive when I went back to the grave again. I intentionally did not visit again because I figured the flowers surviving the previous year could be explained somehow and my attempt would just prove to be a disappointment … and that whatever benefit I felt the year before would be replaced by the hard reality that he really isn’t with me any longer. Luckily for me my mom did visit the cemetery 18 days after we left them, on November 11th. She called me at work to tell me they were alive. Only then did I tell her I had asked that favor of my dad. Can you imagine long stem roses lasting 18 days in November?

So yes, it is still helpful, nearly 2 years later. I can’t believe how much I miss him but I do believe he has been with us, especially helping me help my mom. I consider my experiences to be his final and ongoing gift to me … likely the most precious among a lifetime of gifts.

The phenomena of Extraordinary Experiences (EEs), sometimes referred to as after-death communications, has occurred since the dawn of human history. They are deeply personal events that have brought comfort, and most importantly, meaning into the lives of the bereaved. Claimants consistently believe that these occurrences originate from a divine being or a deceased person. A significant number of contacts not only happen to those who are actively mourning the death of a loved one but also occur months or years after the death.

Although the scientific community generally classifies such reports as hallucinations, illusions, or coincidences, claimants see them quite differently. They are convinced they have received reassurance from a deceased loved one or a Supreme Being that the deceased is in another existence, happy, and wanting to help the bereaved adjust to the changes imposed by loss.

There are two common characteristics of Extraordinary Experiences: they occur spontaneously and appear to come from an outside source. More specifically, they are not invoked (although some therapists report being able to set the stage for an EE to occur by treating the sadness associated with the death and then inducing an EE) nor do they have anything to do with mediums. The phenomenon continues to happen every day in a variety of ways and is reported throughout the world.

Over the past 25 years in my interviews with mourners and discussions with counselors I have classified these bereavement experiences into fourteen categories (for details about my work click here). They come in all colors and flavors. Some are unusually dramatic, others are unusually subtle.

1. The Intuitive or Sense of Presence Experience (Sometimes reported accompanied by a scent associated with the deceased.)

2. Visitation Dreams (These are vivid unforgettable dreams, as in the “big dream” described by Jung.)

3. Synchronicities (These meaningful coincidences suggest that the deceased or a divine being is using natural phenomena for a comforting reason.)

4. Auditory or Voice Experience (This also includes telepathic communication for some mourners and may involve a telephone call, a computer, cell phone or pager.)

5. Olfactory or Sense of Smell Experience (Flower scents, pipe smoke, perfumes or colognes are examples of the types of odors reported.)

6. The Tactile or Sense of Touch Experience (Mourners report being embraced, kissed, or touched on the arm or shoulder by the loved one or a divine being.)

7. Unusual Behavior of Birds or Animals (They appear unexpectedly in places or at times when never before seen and are associated in various ways with the loved one.)

8. Symbolic Experiences (Rainbows presenting at unusual times, butterflies appearing repeatedly and staying with the survivor, and finding objects associated with the deceased are examples.)

9. Third-Party Experiences (The mourner receives a sign/message which comes through a third person, either child or adult who has the EE.)

10. Fourth-Party Experiences (The mourner receives a sign/message that comes through two other people, one highly intuitive.)

11. Out-of-Body Experiences (The mourner has an OBE and reports seeing the departed loved one.)

12. Psi Kappa Experiences (Movement of objects, a clock stops or starts at the moment of death, or lights or other electronic equipment go on and off as a sign.)

13. The Visual or Apparitional Presence (This may be a facial or full body appearance of the deceased.)

14. Crisis Apparitions/Sense of Presence (Visual appearance or sense of presence of the loved one is experienced before the survivor has been notified of the death.)

According to this schema, I do not mean to imply that EEs are necessarily limited to the above specific manifestations. Rather, there are probably many additional and very individual signs and messages—perhaps in combinations—which are yet to be uncovered and written about. Regardless of the route of contact, the reconnection that takes place reduces the intensity of grief, gives new meaning to life, changes beliefs about death, and provides a turning point to begin the task of adapting to the loss. The sense of presence and dream state EEs are most commonly reported while synchronicities seem to be most often overlooked by the claimant, but later recognized as a clear sign.

The Importance and Use of the Experience

Most mourners need a support person, someone they can trust, to tell about the deep anguish and pain being confronted. Always, they need someone with whom they can share their Extraordinary Experience and assist them in using it to cope with their loss. In short, a confidant helps normalize the event and becomes a good listener.

Regrettably, all too often, professionals and nonprofessionals alike—who have never had the experience—try to tell the bereaved person what he/she has experienced and in the process dismiss it as simply an artifact of grief. Initially, it is important to emphasize to any claimant that what happened is a gift and they alone can determine its authenticity. More importantly, it is a sign that love between mourner and the deceased continues on, that a healthy new relationship is to be reestablished (this is one of the major tasks of mourning), that it is perfectly normal to have an ongoing relationship contrary to public opinion, and that it is not at all a “hanging on” or a pathological response.

The guidelines for establishing a new relationship, one that is facilitated by the EE, are: (1) the mourner makes all decisions in his/her new life based on his/her goals and needs. While it is okay to consider what the deceased might do in a given situation, the mourner never makes an important decision affecting him/her based on what the deceased would want to the exclusion of what the mourner needs; (2) the mourner accepts the death of the loved one both intellectually and emotionally; and (3) the mourner realizes he/she must continue to build a new life with new interests and goals without the presence of the loved one. As long as these guidelines are observed, a healthy new relationship can be established and will help the mourner in adapting to the transition of living without the physical presence of the loved one.

Extraordinary Experiences are indeed ordinary, and with or without the help of friends or relatives to encourage and validate the event, they highly influence the mourning process. Not only does the EE bring comfort and joy at a time of sadness, it can become a prime motivator for the bereaved to integrate the loss into life and move forward on their journey. The conviction that death is not a wall and that the deceased is not gone forever, never to be seen again, often becomes a major new belief that promotes meaning-making, a most significant factor in the adjustment process. (For a bibliography of EEs click here. To purchase Dr. LaGrand’s book, Messages and Miracles from the PF’s on-line store, click here).

Lou LaGrand, PhD
Loss Education Associates
450 Fairway Isles Dr.
Venice, Fl. 34292-3659

For the index of all previous blogs, click here.



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