Faith is something you can’t see.
A book - the Bible, say, or a copy of the Koran - is something you can see plainly. You can also feel it, smell it and drop it on the floor to hear the resulting sound. If you’re so inclined, you can even taste it.
But faith is not a book. Faith is a feeling. It’s an idea, a concept, a notion built on trust.
Try holding trust in your hands.
So when we speak of life after death, we aren’t speaking - necessarily - of something that can be charted, graphed, measured or in any way easily quantified.
You either believe - or you don’t.
In his book “Whispers of Love,” Spokane author Mitch Finley examines faith as it applies to the line that exists between life and death. Finley wrote about people who have experienced the presence of deceased friends and/or family.
In other words, his book concerns people who have communed with the dead.
A lifelong Catholic, Finley has done extensive research on people’s claims to have seen, heard or otherwise experienced contact with those who have passed on. That research, coupled with the many conversations that he details in his book, has changed his outlook on the idea of a finality involving death.
“It has given me a heightened sensitivity to how thin the veil is between this life and whatever happens next,” he has said.
But for many of us, such an attitude is unthinkable. Death is death, we say, and that’s all there is to it. And yet people continue to have unexplained experiences that blur the line between life and death.
In a story that ran in The Spokesman-Review last October, Finley talked about his book and the people who shared their stories with him. At the time, we invited readers with similar tales to tell to share them with us.
We received more than 30 calls.
Of those, we chose to highlight eight. Each story is representative of the whole, and each was told by someone who seemed perfectly rational and, in some cases, even a bit embarrassed (which is why some are identified, at their request, by only a single name). Each derived comfort from the ghostly encounter.
If you can suspend judgment, maybe you will, too.
Kathleen’s father died when she was just 4 years old. But 16 years later, as she was enduring a serious illness, he visited her.
“I was ill, of course, and everybody said I was hallucinating,” she recalls, “but he was standing in the doorway of my hospital room with his arm up on the door frame. And he said to me, ‘You’re going to be all right.’ That was all he said, and he just disappeared.”
As she’d grown up, Kathleen had remained close to her mother, even when her mother remarried and moved to Alaska. That’s where she was when Kathleen was hospitalized.
And yet, Kathleen says, her mother knew she was ill.
“They had no way of knowing that anything was wrong until they later got a telegram,” Kathleen says. Yet, she says, her mother picked up her photograph and told her husband, “Something’s wrong with Kathleen.”
There’s more. Throughout her life, Kathleen’s mother would call on her birthday and sing happy birthday to her daughter. And then she died in 1991.
“She passed away in February, and my birthday was on the 8th of June,” Kathleen says. “On that day I went into the washroom to do the laundry, and all of a sudden my mother sang, just as plain as can be. Not just ‘Happy birthday,’ but the whole song. And I wasn’t even thinking of her or the fact that it was my birthday.”
Kathleen, who is now 66, has shared her experiences with her family. Her daughter, “a dear soul,” has been accepting, as has her granddaughter. But other grandchildren were more, she says, “Whoa, has grandmother gone around the bend?”
As for her own reaction, Kathleen says, “I can’t say it changed me other than it made me feel at peace. It assured me that wherever she was, my mother was in a better place.”
Diana Shirley Daw
Diana’s mother died in 1982. But three months later, in the middle of the night, she returned.
“I woke up with a start, and my head was still sort of shaking from this noise,” she says. “And there she was at the foot of the bed, and she said, ‘Diana, darling, I just came to tell you I made it. And I’m so happy here, and I’m working’ was the word I think she used. And I said, ‘Mother!’ And at that moment she disappeared.”
But she didn’t just disappear, though.
“She disappeared in the strangest way,” Diana recalls. “She broke into all these many lines, like across a television screen or something. It took me days to go over that message.”
Now 73, Diana has had other such experiences. One involved her son.
After recording her memory of the incident on tape, she played it for the dean of her church, who assured that “others have had similar situations.”
The experiences changed her life, Diana says, though she admits to having been predisposed to believe such a thing possible.
“So it didn’t take me out of the gutter and show me another life or anything like that,” she says, “but it just made it all so crystal clear that everything we’ve been told is all true. There’s just no room for doubt, ever.”
Jo’s experience began with a phone call from the coroner.
“He told me not to worry but that he had done an autopsy on our daughter,” she says, “and I was in complete shock because I had no idea that an autopsy had been performed.”
Ten days before, Jo’s 9-year-old daughter, Marie, had died after being hit by a car. Jo, 40, was on her way to a Bible study session when the coroner called.
“The whole way to Bible study I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Jo says. “I was extremely upset.”
When a friend, who was driving, stopped at a store, Jo got out of the car.
“I got out to have a cigarette because I was so upset,” she says, “and the second I got out Marie’s voice came down from the heavens. That’s the only way I can explain it. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before or again.
“It only happened once. It wasn’t echoing. It was clear, it was very distinct, and it was my daughter’s voice. She simply said - and I wrote this down - she said, ‘Don’t worry, Mommy. I’m fine. That was just my shell.”’
Although Jo shares her story freely, she hasn’t felt understood by everyone.
“To be honest with you,” she says, “unless they have gone through this, they don’t really know what to think of it.”
And as she is a committed Christian, Jo doesn’t believe the experience has radically changed her life.
“No,” she says, “all it did was change my perspective concerning something that, to me, seemed something that I couldn’t deal with. My first thought had been, ‘They chopped her up!’ And it scared me to death. But the moment she said that to me, I was comforted, and I have never ever gotten upset again.”
Rachel was just 6 years old when her maternal grandfather died. On her next birthday, she was inconsolable.
“It was just awful for me,” she says. “I cried the whole day. I thought, ‘My grandfather is not here. I can’t turn 7. It’s just not right to turn 7 without my grandfather.”’
Her family held a party for her anyway, but she ran to her room in tears. Her mother comforted her, assuring her that her grandfather would always watch over her.
“That night,” Rachel says, “after my mother tucked me in, I had a very strong feeling that I wasn’t alone, that my grandfather was there with me.”
A victim of cancer, her grandfather had lost a vast amount of weight in his final weeks, so much so that Rachel was afraid to look at him.
“But that night I saw him as he’d always been - a big, tall, chubby guy, very healthy with nice color in his cheeks.”
Now a more mature 30, Rachel stresses that she wasn’t dreaming.
“I believe that I was very much awake, and I believe that I carried on a really short conversation with my grandfather,” she says. “He told me that he’s always going to be there for me in all the important aspects of my life.
“It was OK for me to go on. It was OK for me to grieve, to have birthdays and friends and just continue living.”
Her friends and family have been wonderfully supportive, she says.
“I guess I just hang around people who think and feel like I do because I’m not getting, ‘Oh, that’s really bizarre.”’
And the experience has only enhanced her understanding of how life works.
“I’ve always heard this little voice at my lowest times that this, too, will pass,” she says.
Both times that Joanne thought she was going to die, her dead father comforted her.
It was 13 years ago that Joanne’s father died from cancer. It was shortly after that, during a close call in a car, that Joanne first saw him.
“I don’t even know how we didn’t get hit head-on,” she says. “And when I was sitting there, all of a sudden, there in the car, it was like my dad, his head and shoulders, appeared.”
He didn’t say anything, she says.
“He just appeared.”
A couple of years later Joanne’s luck ran out. She was riding in a car driven by her husband when a drunken driver smashed into them. Seriously hurt, but after an hours-long transport from the Tri-Cities, Joanne arrived in Spokane.
“I was just lying there in Deaconess Hospital,” she says, “and I was kind of in and out, but I remember this as clear as a bell.
“My youngest sister happened to walk in the room just after I’d had another vision of my dad. It was the same thing: I could see him only from the shoulders up, but this time he was holding a telephone. I remember opening my eyes and asking my sister, ‘Where’s Dad? Who called Dad?’ And then I went, ‘Oh, that’s right. He’s dead.”’
Joanne, 45, hasn’t told many people about her experiences, though she admits that her youngest sister was a bit surprised.
“I think it shook her up,” she says.
But she has found the whole encounter comforting.
“It’s like my dad wants us to know that he’s around,” she says.
In 1975, Bob and his wife, Dotty, were returning to Spokane following a three-day weekend in Canada. Approaching an intersection near Loon Lake, they were enjoying the bright beauty of the approaching sunset.
“It was an absolutely beautiful Sunday afternoon,” Bob recalls. “The sun was just about to set to our right, and to the left the hills were kind of purple. It was just a perfect kind of day.”
As they came to the intersection, Bob says, “Something caught my eye to the left up on the hillside. And we looked up there, and there was this absolutely spectacular little cemetery. It wasn’t more than 150 feet away from us, and it was just as pretty as you can imagine.
“It had a little stone archway, and there were little garlands of flowers and a little white picket fence, headstones and lots and lots of flowers. And we said, ‘Isn’t that the prettiest little cemetery that you ever saw?’ It had a sparkling, almost electric feel to it.”
When they arrived home, their children had sad news for them: Their next-door neighbor, a longtime friend, had died that morning. When they visited the widow, she told them that she and her late husband had just recently purchased a pair of plots in the Loon Lake Cemetery.
A week later, they attended the services. But, Bob notes, they weren’t held in the beautiful little cemetery on the hillside. Instead, they took place in another graveyard, one that couldn’t be seen from the highway.
After the services and following lunch, Bob and Dotty returned to the highway, fully expecting to see the cemetery they’d spotted a week before.
“And we looked up on the hill but it wasn’t there,” Bob says. “There was just this empty field where we had seen this sparkling cemetery.”
A friendly priest was sympathetic:
“He said, ‘You really saw something, Bob. You’re very lucky that you saw that.”’
Whatever, Bob, who is 76, believes that it was a sign from beyond.
“It gives you a feeling that there’s something that happens after you pass on. This was some kind of a signal from Him, somehow.”
Anyway, he says, “I bet I made 10 trips up there the rest of the summer looking for that cemetery. Never did see it again. And it was so real.”
Thirty years ago, Shirley was comforted by a dead 5-year-old girl.
At the time, she was a housewife living with her husband and two children in the Tri-Cities. As her house was near the neighborhood school, Shirley regularly watched the children of working parents before and after school.
Two of the children she cared for were sisters - one a kindergartner and one a fifth-grader. One day, the school principal called and said the girls were sick. Could Shirley watch them for the day?
Shirley made beds for them both and tended to them until their father came to pick them up.
“He’d made a doctor’s appointment for them,” she recalls. “It turns out the little girl was having trouble with asthma.”
Later, she says, “The principal called to tell me that the little girl had died. I guess the doctor gave them medication, and she had trouble swallowing the pill, and she choked to death.”
That night, Shirley says, “I went to bed, my husband beside me, and all of a sudden I was sobbing. And this child appeared and said, ‘Don’t cry, Shirley. Don’t cry.’ I thought, ‘My God!’ She was dressed exactly as I had seen her so many times climbing the tree outside my kitchen window. And I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you must go and say goodbye to Linda’ - that’s my daughter - and she said, ‘I already have.’
“And I said, ‘What about your mother and father?’ And she said, ‘I said goodbye. I have to go now. Don’t cry. I love you, Shirley. I love you.”’
Shirley, now 75 and a Christian Scientist, says that the friends she has told have been supportive.
“My friends have been metaphysical in their thoughts and studies,” she says. “I have never really mentioned this to my friends in Spokane.”
The experience helped her let go of fear.
“Prior to that time, I had always been very, very close to my family,” Shirley says. “And one of my greatest fears was to lose somebody that I really loved, like my mother and dad. But after this, I totally lost that. I never feared death again.”
Steve Stone sometimes wears his dead father’s shoes. When he does, he says, “All is right in my world.”
Steve’s father died in August. He was 68 and riddled with cancer, and it probably was a kindness for him to pass away. Still, Steve misses him.
Especially when he comes back to visit.
First, there was the smoking incident.
“My dad smoked,” Steve says. “One night somebody was sitting on the edge of my bed. I sat up and swished my hands around, but I couldn’t feel anybody. Then I smelled cigarette smoke. So I went into my wife’s bedroom, and I said, ‘Are you smoking?’ She said no.”
Then the old man appeared in person.
“I was in bed, and my dad just walked in,” Steve says. “Crazy as it sounds, he started talking to me. He said, ‘I’m fine. Everything’s OK.”’
Steve thought at first he was dreaming. He even went to the bathroom. But when he returned, his father was still talking.
“He told me to go look in his wallet,” Steve says. “If I just went and looked in his wallet, I would be comforted.”
So Steve visited his sister, who had the wallet, and took it in his hands.
“I held my dad’s wallet, and I was comforted,” he says.
Like some of the others, Steve, who is 48, has received some sympathetic responses to his experiences.
“Some people say, ‘Yeah, I’ve experienced these things.”’
But his overall feeling is one, simply, of acceptance.
“I’m not afraid to die anymore,” he says. “I guess we’re all a little apprehensive about dying, but after he died, I have no fear of death.”
One last word
Anything that is extrasensory is difficult to accept. Every rational corner of our mind tells us that death is final.
Existence beyond that is a matter of spirituality. Of faith.
Fittingly enough, that’s exactly what many of those who have gone through such experiences end up having in abundance.
“In my career as a nurse, there were many times that I saw a person helped by a supreme being,” says Kathleen, the woman whose dead mother sang happy birthday to her.
“I’ve seen miracles happen,” she says. “I know there is something beyond our power.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Charles Waltmire