Continuing a relation with the deceased:
by Thomas Wingert ©
Tragedy, such as the death of a loved one or dear friend, may often strike unsuspected and at the most inopportune timing. It can strike one personally or it can strike someone one cares about. Traditionally grieving persons were supposed to forget the deceased at all cost, but would find themselves pondering the unthinkable loss repeatedly, accompanied by constant crying spells that would leave them feeling wretched at best. Surprisingly, many bereaved actually are able to cope with their grief by using this method, some with the help of family or friends, and some do this alone. Only recently an alternative for coping with grief has been recognized, which is continuing a relation with the deceased that is observable in many forms (Lindstrom, 2002). There are very interesting contemporary ways, in which the bereaved cope with the reality of their lives, some so amazing and out of the ordinary, yet worth sincere open-minded consideration.
An American Heritage Dictionary may describe “grief” as “deep mental anguish”, such as mourning a loss and experiencing the distressful pain of bereavement. However, it seems reasonable to assume that such terms do not reflect the true scope of losing a loved one or dear friend, but merely resembles the tip of an iceberg with much weight beneath. It appears obvious that a bereaved person would find himself or herself at first in some state of confusion, and according to Parkes (1998), it is a time of numbness and anxiety. After the initial shock, contradicting emotions and feelings may surface, for example, guilt for not being able to do anything about it or anger towards the deceased vs. guilt for even feeling the anger, which all could lead to severe depression (Arnason, 2001).
T. C. Lindstrom (2002) states “…depression and other negative emotional reactions are indeed regarded as so normative that their absence is regarded as offensive.” Unfortunately this view is not only shared by the general public, but by many trained professionals as well, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and other members of the medical field (Lindstrom, 2002). This disappointing fact about depression is compounded, because generally most people will avoid contact with the grieving person because it seems human nature to seek out company that expresses positive emotions, while negative expressions in relationship to grief, i.e. distress, though understandable, tend to make people uncomfortable.
C. M. Parkes (1998) suggests that there are three main components of grieving. The initial numbness that can last days is considered the first phase. Intense anxiety is part of the second phase, including the feeling of yearning for the deceased. The grieving person may be engaged in normal functions, but they may experience loss of appetite and consequently weight. The third phase is disorganization and despair; for example, many bereaved report hallucinations and report seeing the deceased loved one (Parkes, 1998). Published reports confirm that it is very common for the bereaved to speak of feeling the presence of the deceased person, and as if they are watching.
Professional counseling is one of the first contemporary options in dealing with a loss. This profession has its roots in World War II, when soldiers were debriefed on the beaches of Normandy, but did not gain any recognition until only a few decades ago (Time, 1999). Since then, the “Association for Death Education and Counseling” trains and certifies grief counselors, who generally aim to downplay their own role as professionals, in order to emphasize the focus on the client, by listening in an open-minded and nonjudgmental manner to their client reconstructing the stories of their lives with the deceased. In addition to helping bereaved people cope with a loss, the counselors also help with accomplishing daily tasks, such as paying the bills, or discussing problems with their jobs or family matters (Anarson, 2001).
On the other hand, some scientists argue that counseling is producing the problem for which people are seeking counseling in the first place. According to an article in Time magazine (1999), George Bonanno, assistant professor of psychology at the Catholic University of America, who studied bereaved individuals for 25 months concluded that “Those who focused on their pain, either by talking about it or displaying it in their facial expressions, tended to have more trouble sleeping and maintaining everyday functions.”
Bertha G., a mother of four children, had tragically lost her son Ryan, only seventeen years old, in a car accident three years ago, and had kindly agreed to an interview to explain some habitual changes she had made that helped her cope with her loss. After her initial shock subsided, the relation with her son continued by openly displaying certain items in his memory, such as lighting a candle on Halloween and placing his favorite candy, Reese’s peanut butter cups, next to it. In addition she always hangs a stocking at Christmas and places his pictures about for other family members to see. Bertha speaks often about Ryan by talking to other family members about the things he did. She especially talks to his younger brother who was 8 years old at the time of the fatal accident, which strengthens his memory about his older brother. At times she speaks to Ryan at his grave or simply communicates by a silent prayer.
Prayer is apparently a very common method in continuing a relation with a deceased loved one. Yet praying to a lost individual, limits the bereaved to contacting the deceased without any obvious reply. This may be satisfying for some, but not for others. Some people who so desperately wish contact with their loved one may look for other means of communication, and their attention could focus on the long controversial “paranormal.”
Some bereaved seek assistance by visiting so-called “Psychics”, who conduct séances with the person/s seeking contact with a deceased love one. Apparently a spirit communicates through the psychic person who is acting as the mediator, by speaking out loud and addressing the questions or comments of the people present. This method of continuing a relation may be gratifying, but could be very costly and questionable, since it does not offer any proof of authenticity. Unfortunately, it is generally known that desperate people may become victims of a skilled con artists’ deception.
A book published by Friedrich Jürgenson in 1964, titled Voice Transmissions with the Deceased, was the first to reveal the possibility to communicate with the deceased by the use of electronic devices (Jürgenson, 1964). The phenomenon described by Jürgenson is known in English speaking countries as the “Electronic Voice Phenomenon”, and has apparently become a preferred contemporary method for many bereaved persons to continue a relation with their deceased loved one or friend.
The Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) is generally defined as the manifestation of sensible remarks of seeming paranormal origin on sound recording media, such as reel-to-reel tapes, audio cassettes, video tapes and recently computers. The recorded voices, also known as “tape voices”, are often reasonable messages replying to corresponding questions, and in many cases, the contents of the messages and the characteristics of the speaker suggest that the recordings are transmissions by the deceased. The origins of these mysterious voices, their purpose and how it is possible are a hypothesis, and have been unexplained since their discovery four decades ago (VTF, World Wide Web).
“Recordings are conducted mostly by the use of a cassette recorder with a build-in microphone or preferably a separate microphone that is placed away from the recorder so it doesn’t record the vibrations of the motor, which is annoying when listening during maximum-volume replay. Many experimenters agree that a brand new cassette tape should be used to eliminate possible contamination of a previous recording, which is placed in the recorder. Users are instructed to press “record” and start by stating their name, date and time, allowing each recording session to be identified later, followed by a greeting to the spirits, which is considered common courtesy. It is common practice to speak uninhibitedly with five to ten second pauses between statements or questions to allow for answers or comments. The pause is beneficial to the listener because it is difficult to hear the faint voices when they overlap one’s own voice. The duration of a recording session should be five to ten minutes, because the listening requires much time. A recording is ended by respectfully thanking the guests for attending and/or commenting. Finally one should stop the recording, rewind and then listen (AA-EVP, World Wide Web).”
As simple and amazing the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) may seem, this particular approach of continuing a relation with a loved one may not be for everyone, which should be seriously considered before mentioning the EVP phenomenon to anyone who is in mourning. Many have the first instinct to say or do something to comfort the bereaved person, but unfortunately there are no etched-in-stone guidelines for such a delicate task, and the natural desire to help may be hindered by awkwardness, uncertainty, a loss of words, and how to approach the friend or family member without intruding on their terrible grief. In addition one should be aware that bereaved people are considered “vulnerable” due to the strong complex emotions accompanying loss, and that any “cold contact” may be considered an invasion of privacy (R. Steeves, et. all 2001). However, expressing sympathy in a compassionate manner may even do the bereaved some good, which is most likely greatly appreciated.
A continued relation with the deceased may not be of interest to anyone either. “Each individual grief is “unique”, that each bereaved person will have different needs and different experiences and will do different things (Anarson, 2001)”. Some bereaved simply prefer the traditional method of mourning and coping with a loss, and chose to cut the ties with the deceased so they may move on in life, such as entering into another marriage. Other people may have firm religious beliefs that do not allow the EVP phenomenon to interfere with their lives, which is very interesting, since most world religions claim the existence of a life after death. According to the VTF, the Catholic Church is aware of EVP and supports the sincere research of the phenomenon (VTF, World Wide Web).
It seems appropriate to wait with presenting EVP as an alternative solution for coping with grief, until evidence suggests that the mention of such amazing fact will not bring about any negative reactions or consequences, since it is difficult to judge the emotional state of mind a bereaved person is in. The duration of grief may go on for more than one year, with the second year perhaps being the most challenging since many people in our society apparently feel that grief should be ended within 6-12 months (Davis, 2001). With this perception, the bereaved may chose to keep their pain concealed and prefer silence instead of speaking about it, which could compound the already negative effects of grief, and influence the mental and even physical health of the affected person. This is evident by an increase of heart decease deaths and suicide, and approximately 25% of grieving persons will experience clinical depression and anxiety within the first twelve months (Parkes, 1998). Yet, after some time has passed, and the bereaved person shows obvious strong signs of the desire to continue a relation with their lost loved one, then perhaps it may be justified to mention the existence of the Electronic Voice Phenomenon, which has helped many cope with their grief.
Jürgenson’s book provides a detailed account of his discovery and experience, and has had a global impact that has encouraged people world wide to conduct their own recordings, and to pass their experience on to others, which resulted in several EVP associations, and a wealth of information available to the public. The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomenon, AA-EVP, founded by Sarah Estep in 1982, is one of many American associations offering detailed information, including an e-mail list for members who share experience or discuss topics associated with this phenomenon. She published her book, Voices of Eternity, in 1988.
Though many scientists are involved with the EVP phenomenon, it is not scientifically accepted, because it can not be replicated at will by a controlled experiment such as a experiment in chemistry, biology and so on. Yet it has gained enough attention for some scientists to receive funding for the exploration of this phenomenon according to scientific standards. Professor Imants Barušs from the Department of Psychology, Kings College, University of Western Ontario, published an article with the Journal of Scientific Exploration, in which he details an experiment that resulted in the “failure” to replicate the electronic voice phenomenon (Baruss, 2001). One of his staff actually described hearing her name “Gail” called, and a female voice saying “Tell Peter”. She said that it sounded like a woman she knew that had recently died and whose husbands name is Peter; yet it was disregarded since Professor Baruss felt that it wasn’t strong enough (p363). Professor Baruss may not have recognized any success in replicating the “voices” by scientific expectations, but the existence of recorded paranormal voices on cassette tapes is undeniable and cannot be disputed by any logical argument. It seems that his results demonstrate that the deceased do not act upon any universal laws of physics, and are truly in control of any contact with the living.
With some patience and perseverance that is strongly emphasized by all involved with EVP, successful recording sessions seem only a matter of time that for many has resulted in easing a grieving heart by bridging the abyss of a devastating loss.
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