The Messiness of Death: When Mediumship Fails (Or Only Appears To)

Researchers explain the science behind "hearing the dead"

Yesterday, after receiving the news that a dear relative was on their deathbed, I was able to communicate to them during meditation. I received clear and detailed messages, one of which concerned the appearance of a dove: that would be the sign that my loved one had passed over and was fine. I went to lunch and while gazing at the tiny birds on the patio, I had a very strange sensation; my mind felt like it was somehow expanding, my consciousness altering, and my reality breaking down. I heard a high pitched sound in my ears that deafened me for a moment. I started to panic, but told myself in that moment that what I was experiencing could be a spiritual communication. I calmed down and gradually returned to normal. The experience was clear; my interpretation of it was the issue.

I decided that what I had experienced was the moment my loved one had passed. I looked online to see if there was any information on the high pitched noise I heard and somewhere I read that “spirit was trying to communicate with me” and that I needed to look for a sign. So I set out for home, searching everywhere for the white dove that my relative had said they chose. I didn’t see any white birds, but as I rounded the corner to my back door, a white feather floated down in front of my face. I grabbed it and ran inside, feeling euphoria and shock that my loved one had sent me this feather as proof that they had made it safely to the Other Side. I was a bit disturbed by the fact that the feather wasn’t completely white; there was some gray on the bottom half, but after searching for “dove feathers” online, I noticed that dove feathers do indeed have a little gray in them. So I placed the feather on the fridge and celebrated the joyous reunion of my family member with God. I thanked them for the sign.

But my dear one had not died. In fact, they were feeling a bit better and had committed to an experimental medication that might buy them a few more weeks or months. They were talking and hanging out with their kids.

The first emotion: shame. Then embarrassment. Then doubt. Then a dose of self hatred for not “intuiting” that this person had not died. I was, to put it mildly, in quite a state of confusion and upset. I had, at the very least, misinterpreted the signs I had received, and the communication that I had with my loved one. Worst case scenario, my messages were simply acts of creative imagination; the weird feelings and high pitched noise were signs of allergies and sinus trouble, and the floating feather was simply a random coincidence in an area filled with lots of birds. The middle ground tells me that the communication and signs were real, but that I had misinterpreted what they meant. My family member is between two worlds every day now; sometimes they are lucid and communicative, and other times they are far away in a world that we cannot access; except that I did access it, briefly, and was able to have a conversation with them in that state.

What you believe in this case reflects who you are and not who I am. It reflects what you believe about human consciousness, telepathy, angels and spirits, signs from other realms and higher intelligence, and simply whether or not you are a committed materialist, a curious seeker of knowledge, or someone who has experienced first hand the varieties of anomalous experience.

Mediums are often despised and ridiculed, and I am loathe to admit to anyone that I have any skill in this area. But I do. And usually, this gift does not fail like it did yesterday. And if this gift did not fail, I’m not sure how it worked. I have written before about how the information that mediums receive is not foolproof; there are ups and downs and crossed wires when you attempt to read someone or allow communication with the ‘deceased’. Stunningly accurate information can flow through you easily, and then it stops, leaving you with vague impressions that don’t make sense or worse yet, readings that turn out to have been meaningless for your client. I don’t know how my intuition works or where the information comes from. I simply cannot explain it, just as I cannot explain why it sometimes fails or derails. It is possible that we pick up on people with whom we had no intention of contacting; and yet, when I say that, the skeptics accuse me of covering up or justifying my fraudulent practices.

I sometimes despise my ability to read people and communicate with those in spirit (we are all in spirit, by the way, but some of us lack a body). It goes against my academic training, my critical thinking skills, my family’s beliefs, and tends to confirm what my parents said about me growing up: “she makes shit up” and “she lives in her own reality” and “she’s fantasy prone” and finally, “she has a BIG imagination”. When I think about those messages growing up, and the countless times I have suffered at work or with friends when I’m “outed” as a medium or investigator, I simply want to stop; to forget the fact that most of the time, I am spot on. Most of the time, I know things about people that I shouldn’t know by normal means. Shame creeps in to my soul, and I wonder why I have this “gift” in the first place. Especially because this gift is not always reliable or easy to interpret for myself or others.

I do not know if my loved one actually communicated with me while they were deep in slumber, experiencing vivid dreams. I am not allowed in the hospital room with them, since I am not immediate family. I do not plan on asking my family to question them regarding this communication issue, when they are deep in the process of managing the multiple indignities of a dying body. My need for proof must never outweigh the basic survival needs of my family member. That means, no proof for anyone else, either. However, I understand that what others might accept as proof varies considerably, and that there are those who will never believe in such things as feathers from a loved one or communication with the dead. Or the living, for that matter.

I have no resolution to offer here. No evidence to shock anyone; no final thoughts on the role of mediums and psychics in our culture, and certainly no solution to my own sadness and shame around serving as a medium in a culture that despises what I do and who I am. Maybe some of you can offer your advice and observations on this topic. I would welcome that.

Kirsten A Thorne, PhD

POSTSCRIPT: That day, as it turned out, was the very day that my dear one decided to give up the fight. At the moment I thought I had they had passed away, they were deep in a deep sleep experiencing vivid dreams. This was after they had decided to die. One of my in-laws had received messages from his the same day that I did, with signs to bizarre to ignore (but that is her story, and I will leave it to her to tell it if she wishes). So my relative had indeed left their body and was communicating with me and my in-law on the same day. What I though was a failure of my mediumship was, in reality, a simple demonstration that the spirit can leave the body before the body slips away. I learned that death is not a one-time event, but a long, drawn-out process where one’s spirit comes and goes, in preparation for the ultimate goodbye. This has left me stunned and humbled by how little we know of human consciousness and how it works outside of the constraints of a physical body. R.I.P. RMS.

Published by thupancic

I received my Ph.D. from Yale University in Spanish Literature and Language. I am currently a professor a Southern California college. My current area of research and interest is survival of consciousness research. I live with an eccentric husband and an emotionally deranged green-cheeked conure. I am the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research (2021), which for now is housed under until we get our own site. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in membership!

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