After Death Communication (ADC) is the clinical term for seeing, hearing, or feeling the presence of a deceased person. The event is spontaneous and, in terms of the laws of physics, unexplainable. It is estimated that 20 to 30% of the population has had an ADC occurrence during their lives.
In her book, Surviving Death, Leslie Kean describes ADCs as signals from departed loved ones that are unmistakably clear to the person receiving them. Kean writes that they are “usually unasked for, and can arrive as a shock into the otherwise ordinary world of someone who may not even consider such things possible.”
Licensed Professional Counselor, Jenny Streit-Horn, Ph.D., observes that a Dream ADC may be the most common experience. She says that people who report these ADCs feel that the dream was actually real or more real than typical dreams.
Recently, Dr. Streit-Horn, who has done a systematic review of ADC research, was kind enough to reply to questions and provide sources for reading on the subject. Here is that interview:
How are ADCs different from visual or auditory hallucinations?
The difference is the psychological health or illness of the person having the experience. Technically the actual experience may not be different in that the word hallucination refers to a waking sensory experience having no identified external physical stimulus. For more detail, see Ian Stevenson (1983). After-death communication (ADC) is defined as a “spontaneous phenomenon in which a living person has a feeling or sense of direct contact with a deceased person.” Implied in this definition is an assumption that the ADCr (person who experienced ADC) is psychologically healthy. What I found in my research was that the great majority of ADC researchers noted that ADCrs in their studies were mentally healthy. There is no evidence that ADC alone indicates psychological disorder or mental illness. People usually find ADC to be beneficial, using descriptive words like pleasant, positive, mystical, serene, elating, helpful, comforting, healing, spiritual, and a good experience. People sometimes experience distress related to ADC. Almost always the distress manifests as fear and/or confusion as a result of lack of information or misinformation about ADC rather than from the contents or experience of the ADC itself. It’s interesting to note that early authors and researchers used the term hallucinations of the sane to refer to the ADC phenomenon because the people having these ADC experiences were found to be psychologically healthy.
Do people question their sanity when they have ADCs?
Some people do. Generally someone who has what seems to be an ADC experience and is questioning his/her sanity is most likely lacking information about ADC. For people who are oriented to person, time, and place and are connected to a shared reality, they are aware that their experience is different from common experiences. For people who know about ADC and have familiarity with the experience, they are not likely to question their sanity. In fact, most people experiencing ADC feel they are better for the experience. See the previous answer for the common descriptions people use for ADC.
How common are physical manifestations like objects moving, lights being turned on or doors shutting?
These experiences are common and fall under the category of symbolic ADC. I don’t have a specific percentage, but it was reported frequently in the research. See Guggenheim and Guggenheim (1995) in particular for more information about this type of ADC and other types as well. Other examples of symbolic ADC include hearing a song connected to the deceased and usually at a meaningful time for the ADCr; seeing a bird, flower, butterfly, etc. that seems connected to the deceased and, again is meaningful to the ADCr.
Is it unusual to actually see a deceased loved one?
Visual ADC is common. I don’t have a specific percentage. It was reported frequently in the research.
Are ADCs caused by grief?
There is no causal relationship between grief and ADC. The data from my research indicate that a person who is grieving is more likely to report – and probably actually have – an ADC than one who is not. This conclusion is consistent with many authors’ and researchers’ findings that ADCs are a normal part of the grieving process. However, it is important also for healthcare providers and others to keep in mind that ADC research points to a large number of people having ADCs who are not grieving.
Do people frequently see a mist emerge from a loved one at the time of death?
I did not come across this experience in my research. For more information about death-bed visions, I recommend Lerma (2007) and Callanan and Kelley (1992).
Are ADCs regarded as proof of an afterlife?
Whether or not an afterlife exists was outside the scope of my research. I focus on the benefit or potential benefit for the ADCr. As mentioned in an answer to an earlier question, most ADCrs reported feeling comforted by the experience. They also reported feeling a continuing bond with the deceased, which they described as comforting and helpful. For more information about continuing bonds with the deceased see Klass, Silverman, and Nickman (1996).
Callanan, M., & Kelley, P. (1992). Final gifts: Understanding the special awareness, needs, and communications of the dying. New York: Bantam Books.
Guggenheim, B., & Guggenheim, J. (1995). Hello from heaven! New York: Bantam.
Klass, D., Silverman, P. R., & Nickman, S. L. (Eds.), Continuing bonds: New understandings of grief. London: Taylor & Francis.
Lerma, J. (2007). Into the light: Real life stories about angelic visits, visions of the afterlife, and other pre-death experiences. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.
Stevenson, I. (1983). Do we need a new word to supplement “hallucination”? American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 1609-1611.
Jenny Streit-Horn, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC, CBT, LMT
Denton, TX 76201
(940) 367-8383 (Phone)