The Philadelphia Inquirer
Christine Duminiak Speaker at The Compassionate Friends
On After-Death Communications
By Kate Campbell
The Philadelphia Inquirer
July 3, 2005
Many believe the departed communicate with loved ones
A Bensalem writer described experiences and said she felt they are meant to comfort.
In the breezeless living room, Susan's photograph sometimes abruptly tumbles from atop a wooden writing desk. But the 10 surrounding family photos stay upright, say her parents, Jack and Dee Heil.The couple, whose 25-year-old daughter was shot by a stranger as she sat beside a hotel swimming pool, have embraced this inexplicable happening as one of the ways she still contacts them 19 years after her death.Leading the Northeast Philadelphia chapter of Compassionate Friends, a nondenominational group for bereaved parents, gives the Lutheran couple a tangible link to Susan, who was a Sunday school teacher and poet. But the mystical signs they feel from her offer a comfort deeper than support groups and church leaders could provide, they said."If you tell people on the outside, they'll say you're crazy," said Jack Heil, handsomely dressed in a crisp Hawaiian shirt. "But we believe they talk to us, communicate with us."
Vivid dreams, coincidences, even hearing the voice or sensing the physical presence of a deceased person, are examples of sacred messages sent to soothe those left in grief's wake, according to Christine Marie Duminiak of Bensalem, author of God's Gift of Love: After-Death Communications for Those Who Grieve.A practicing Roman Catholic and founder of an Internet message board about after-death communications, Duminiak believes the dead want to console - not alarm - their living relatives.The contacts are proof "there is eternal life," said Duminiak, who self-published the compilation of testimonials and spoke at a recent Compassionate Friends meeting.
Spontaneous communications from deceased loved ones is possible, said Duminiak's pastor, Msgr. Kenneth McAteer of St. Ephrem Catholic Church in Bensalem. McAteer has not read her book, but he said that Catholics believe in asking for intercession of the saints and that Jesus' mother, Mary, appeared to people in Fatima and Lourdes.
At the same time, he said, the Catholic Church forbids attempting to contact the dead via seances, fortune-tellers, incantations or any other means.
God allows the dead to communicate from heaven with their loved ones, Duminiak said, "in order to comfort us, to help us, and to let us know that they are OK." She was paraphrasing a 1997 statement by the Rev. Gino Concetti, theological commentator for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Popularized through movies like Sixth Sense and Ghost, the idea of paranormal contact is still widely held as taboo, according to Lucy Bregman, a Temple University religion professor. "In a lot of religions, the dead are dangerous to the living, and there are rituals worldwide that will have [the living] chanting for the person to go to the land of the dead," said Bregman, author of several books on the psychology of religion.
To David Hufford of Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine in Hershey, such contacts - which he called "bereavement visits" - are "common throughout the world." Hufford, a professor of neural and behavioral sciences and family and community medicine, has researched psychopathology and spirituality for 35 years. The experiences may not prove life after death, he said, but they play a much larger role in cultural ideas about religion and spirituality than has been recognized.
Since the 1970s, considerable research has been done on the topic, Bregman said. The current thinking, she said, is that "the presence of the dead person is real and part of the grieving process. For the person who has it - it's real enough."
It's been real for Duminiak. She said she had no otherworldly experiences growing up in Philadelphia's Logan section. Then, one night in 1998, her dead in-laws appeared to her in a hologram-type vision, she said."At first, I grabbed the rosary from underneath my pillow and started praying," Duminiak said. Her in-laws never spoke but continued to visit her over the next several weeks, she said. Terrified it was a warning about her husband's health, Duminiak started researching after-death communications, or ADCs, on the Internet.
At the Compassionate Friends meeting, when Duminiak shared some of what she called the 20 common ways loved ones try to communicate, more than a dozen of the 44 parents talked about their own powerful after-death communications with their children. Although the experiences were ultimately peaceful and rewarding, some found them difficult to accept at first.
Several mothers said they were still waiting, desperate for a sign from their children.
"Extreme grief seems to be an impediment for a loved one to get through, or for the desperate person to even notice when they are getting a sign," Duminiak said.
The experiences are not easy to describe, said Lin Baldwin of Wales, who took part in Duminiak's Internet prayer circle (www.geocities.com/adcfriends). A doctoral student at the University of Wales Lampeter in theology and religious studies, Baldwin lost her son, Tom, in 2002."In a death-phobic world, one runs the risk of appearing delusional or 'clutching at straws," said Baldwin, an agnostic before she began getting signs from her son. "Despite Tom's death, I feel that the universe is benevolent," she said. "Life here is hard, but it does teach... that I will be with my son again after my death. I am not afraid to die."
Kate Campbell is a freelance writer.