UNBOUND

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Episode 121

August 21, 2022

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/202202/can-there-be-communication-after-death

https://www.studyfinds.org/ghost-dead-loved-one-guidance/

https://greaterthanthat.org/why-the-kubler-ross-5-stages-of-grief-doesnt-seem-to-work-for-you

https://psychcentral.com/depression/all-about-complicated-grief#symptoms

Do you see dead people? Talk to them? Hear them? Are you convinced that someone who's passed is somehow still with you? Well, apparently you're not alone. In fact, you're in far better company than I ever thought. I'm Spider...

...and tonight we're talking about bereavement hallucinations – the causes, the effects, and why it's important to learn how to navigate grief and move on. As promised, I've looked at both sides of this argument and we will be having what I think is a balanced and reasoned conversation about it in just a few, but first...

An accidental moment of reason, a pastor channels the spirit of Veruca Salt, and the sweet, juicy love of Jesus... it's Christians Behaving Badly: Bye, Bye Bible (and more!) edition.

https://onlysky.media/hemant-mehta/a-texas-school-district-just-banned-the-bible-oops/

In “whoopsie daisy news”, a school district in Texas, while choosing books to remove from  their school classrooms, has somehow banned all versions of the bible. At least temporarily. 

Last October, conservative parents in the Keller Independent School District demanded that certain books be censored and kept away from students' view, having themes that were deemed 'too mature'. 33 books have been challenged by parents and community members, including a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and “The Bible (All Versions).”
In the case of the Bible, an unnamed parent raised the concern. A reason was not specified.
The district formed a special committee to review everything on the list, and over the course of months, they removed some books from circulation while others remained in place. The adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary? That one remained in place. The Morrison book stayed as well. So did all the Bibles. As they should! There’s no reason to shield kids from any of them.
But according to an email that apparently went out to all principals this morning from Jennifer Price, the Executive Director for Curriculum & Instruction, all challenged books must be pulled from the library and classrooms by the end of today… even the ones that previously passed the committee’s review.
For how long, or for what reason? No one knows but the bottom line is: at least temporarily, a school board in Texas has banned the bible. 

Students in this county cannot take it out of the school library, and Teachers cannot reference it for any school curriculum or for any academic reason. 

“oops.” 

https://onlysky.media/hemant-mehta/pastor-apologizes-after-telling-church-members-to-buy-him-a-luxury-watch/

Carlton Funderburke, the pastor of Church at the Well in Kansas City, Missouri, told his congregation in a now-viral sermon that he was disgusted with them because they weren’t giving him enough cash to let him buy everything he wanted… including a luxury watch. 

These people never quite understand that when they put something on the internet, the internet can then take that thing and make it go VIRAL and then someone will be embarrassed. In this case, it's the pastor. I guess he was disappointed that he didn't make the “preachersNsneakers” Instagram page. Here's a quote from that sermon now. 

I’m not worth your McDonald’s money? I’m not worth your Red Lobster money? I ain’t worth your St. John Knits? Y’all can’t afford it, no how. I ain’t worth your Louis Vuitton? I ain’t worth your Prada? I’m not worth your Gucci?
… 
You can buy a Movado watch in Sam’s [Club]. And y’all know I asked for one last year. Here it is, the whole way in August. I still ain’t got it! Y’all ain’t sayin’ nothing. Let me kick down the door and talk to my cheap sons and daughters. I don’t wanna hear no more excuses about what y’all can’t afford. You can’t afford it because you don’t see the value here!…
Seriously, this is fucking embarrassing. Not just for a pastor, but for any grown-ass adult. 

Like, he's not even hiding the fact that he's a grifter. He doesn't want money to help the church or community, to take care of the poor or anything like that. He wants the money to line his own pockets and to keep him in the manner he'd like to be accustomed to. 

The pastor has responded with an apology that blamed people “taking his words out of context”. 

Yeah, right.

https://onlysky.media/hemant-mehta/the-blasphemy-of-beth-moore-crushing-on-jesus-because-of-grapes/

Blasphemy. The Baptists keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. 

Beth Moore is a Christian evangelist who preaches mainly to women. Unlike a lot of other evangelists with bigger followings, she is highly critical of Donald Trump and also the Southern Baptist's embrace of a right wing agenda. As a result of the rampant racism, sexism, and sexual abuse, Moore left the Southern Baptist Convention last year in a well-publicized breakup. 

So suffice it to say, they don't like her, and she doesn't like them.  They should you know, just steer clear of each other. But you know. That usually never works. 

Beth Moore made an innocent little tweet the other day, showing a picture of the grapes she's growing in her garden. The tweet read: “I’m growing grapes for reals. It’s like a miracle. In fifty jillion degree weather. If Jesus is trying to get me to have a crush on him, it’s working.” 

I mean, 'weird flex but ok'. But seriously, that's where the story should have ended. But you know. Christians. 

A bunch of insane Southern Baptists treated her joke-y little tweet like it was an act of blasphemy. 

Moore’s name began trending on Twitter. RELEVANT, a Christian publication, summarized the grape kerfuffle this way:
“This is awful,” said one person. “I am really holding my tongue right now. Really holding. I hope you repent and grow up.”
“Jesus Christ is not your ‘boyfriend’ or your ‘homeboy,” tweeted another. “He is your Lord, your Savior, your Creator, your Sustainer, your King and your God. Beth Moore doesn’t have a clue who the true Jesus of the Bible even is. Read the book of Colossians, goodness.” 
We could go on. “Toxic.” “Blasphemer.” “Abominable.” All these and many more epithets were hurled at Moore for the use of the word “crush.”
The same people who talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus, refer to church as the “bride of Christ,” and who have song after song about their infatuation with their savior can’t handle someone joking about having a crush on Jesus.
Moore responded to this with another jokey tweet about “Not getting any grape jelly from me for Christmas.” 

This was clearly TOO MUCH for a Southern Baptist pastor Josh Buice, the founder of the G3 conference. Yesterday morning, he wrote that someone at his church gifted him with grape jelly… so take that, Beth. 

Moore responded in jest, saying it wouldn’t be nearly as good as hers, before urging him, in more Christianese, to “lighten up.” 

To which Buice, a very normal dude, responded by denouncing her “blasphemy.” HE USED THAT WORD ABOUT THE GODDAMN GRAPE TWEET. 

Racism? Not a problem. Anti-LGBTQ hate? He welcomes it. Destroying democracy? Yes, please. Sexual abuse? What sexual abuse.
But Beth Moore jokingly saying she’s crushing on Jesus after seeing her grapes grow? Apparent blasphemy!
The state of theological debate in Southern Baptist circles must be really dull. Woman says something that Men don't agree with? May as well declare her a blasphemer! It'll save time later. 

PATREON/PROMO

Next Week: Road Tests
Two Weeks: TBA
Next Movie: Ressurrection

The term “bereavement hallucination” refers to a perceptual or perception-like experience of someone who has died, usually a partner, family member, or close friend. Such experiences are sometimes described in terms of specific sensory modalities: one might see, hear, or feel the touch of the deceased. - Matthew Ratcliffe

Up to three-quarters of bereaved people report some form of communication with a deceased loved one.
Such experiences are a part of the personal growth that many bereaved people experience.
Around a fifth of these experiences are "evidential," meaning they could be seen as providing information that turned out to be true. (Psychology Today)

A recent survey conducted By OnePoll finds 42 percent actually believe the dead can still contact us from the other side. Moreover, nearly two in three people (63%) claim they’ve seen signals or signs from a dead loved one.

That is a FUCK LOT of people... of course, had I been asked this only about six or seven years ago, I would also have been among those numbers.

Most common signs which people believe to indicate that a spirit is nearby:

sensing a presence in the room (27%)
household pets behaving strangely (23%)
smelling a particular scent and not knowing the source (22%)

25% people surveyed believed the spirit of a lost loved one is still playing a major role in their life. They say a friendly spirit guides them through many things in life: helping them find jobs, watching over them when they’re sick, and keeping them safe when they travel are among popular beliefs in this arena.

62 percent of adults who believe in life after death say they’ve had contact with a spirit. Another 39 percent say they believe in paranormal activity because of the stories others have told them.

Well... ok, but that's the thing: people who believe in life after death. The rest of us? Not so much...

Nearly half of the people who believe in ghosts (46%) believe a dead loved one has returned from the other side to contact them again. In fact, one in five who have experienced a spiritual presence say their ghostly loved one actually made physical contact with them — doing things like brushing past them or touching them.

Another 17 percent say their dead relative made their presence felt by causing the lights to flicker, while one in 10 have heard ghosts talking or crying out in a quiet house.

Even if they don’t believe they can hear what a dead loved one is saying, 46 percent of all respondents say it’s comforting to think that a lost loved one is still able reach them after death. With that in mind, 52 percent say they regularly talk to their family members who are no longer with them.

More than half the survey (55%) believes the people we love never really leave our presence, whether we still see them or not.

My own experiences...

My Grandmother
My Father
My best friend who died when we were 11

So I've ben there. Many, many, many people have been there. But does that make it real?

I was amazed that Psychology Today printed an article that paints this in a light of at least semi-validation, but the language of the article speaks volumes if you pay attention to what's being said. Here are a few examples.

This is from an article written, oddly enough, by a guy named Steve Taylor. No, not the homophobic, pro-life, christian musician and satirist we give too many nods to on this show. This one is a PhD and I do think he chose his words carefully enough so that those with ears to hear (or eyes to read, I guess) would understand. Here are a few snippets with my commentary thrown in:

In the aftermath of bereavement, it’s not uncommon for people to undergo an intense form of post-traumatic growth. They may even change so radically that they feel as if they’ve become a different person – someone with a wider sense of perspective, a new sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of connection to nature, and deeper relationships.

When death touches us at close range, it's natural, I think, to be confronted with our own mortality. So these things take on a sense of urgency. We focus on them more. We assign greater value to things like our relationships, our experiences, etc. 

In some of the cases, an important element of the transformation is a sense that the bereaved person was still in contact with the friend or relative they lost. For example, a woman called LeeAnn had a close friend who was murdered while working as a nightclub bouncer.

A few months later, LeeAnn was at home when, in her words,

All of a sudden, the room filled with this golden light. There was a sense of peace that was overwhelming…Then I saw Bruno in his human form. My eyes were closed, but he was standing there, surrounded by blue colors and light. He said to me, 'You keep asking for me to come back. Don’t ask that — this is where I’m supposed to be.'

OK... let's zero in on what I believe to be THE most important part of this: “My eyes were closed.” So she didn't see him. Her brain created a construct of him based on what she remembered and on several popular elements to supernatural encounters and near death experiences that a lot of people report on. I think she got her phenomena a little mixed up with this one because the whole sense of peace and bright light things are typical elements to people's NDE stories. 

And there is a good biut of overlap between sources when it comes to the actual experiences people have. For example, here's the list that shows up in Taylor's article:

Seeing the deceased person
A strong feeling that the deceased person is nearby, watching or helping. 
A sensory experience of (smelling their perfume, being touched, hearing them call out) 
A sense that deceased friends and relatives are contacting them through animals or by symbolic means

The simplest explanation would be that these experiences are wishful thinking, self-delusion, or hallucinations. However... 

(ugh.... there it is – the dreaded “however”)

...some after-death communications are difficult to dismiss in this way since they involve deceased people passing on messages which were later found to be relevant, or information that was later confirmed. In one study of 1,667 after-death communications by the researcher Ken Vincent, around a fifth were found to be “evidential” in this sense, with three different types of evidence. 

….aaaaand, four-fifths (or the upper 80 percent) we easy to dismiss. Why not just say it? OK, lets look at the leading “evidences” then...

First, there were experiences in which a person sensed or saw (often in a dream) the death of a person and found out shortly afterward that they had died.

...and back in the day I used to pick up the phone to call a friend and once in a while, there'd be no dial tone and the person would just be there. I'm not this only one this has happened to. This I know. Wacky, random coincidence, but it happened. I thought about this immediately when I read that. It's not a direct comparison, but it does prove that the person I was calling and I were thinking about each other at the same moment. Again, wild coincidence, but nothing more. 

Second, some experiences provided evidence that was later confirmed. In one example that was offered to me, a grandmother had a vivid dream in which she was having tea with the other grandmother of her grandchildren, who had died recently. The other grandmother warned her that their granddaughter was in danger from her violent boyfriend. After some trepidation, she spoke to her granddaughter. She admitted that her boyfriend had made death threats to her, and she split up with him shortly afterward.

This, to me, is among the worst choices for an example of this out there. Most abuse victims give off signs, and these signs are especially apparent to the people who care about him. I'm willing to believe that this person didn't actively think anything was wrong before this, but I do think that she was receiving those signals on a subconscious level – things the brain picks up but doesn't think about actively until there's enough data to do something like... generate a dream. There was something. I can't prove it, but when you know someone well, anything remotely off-center is going to register eventually. 

Thirdly, Vincent found that in some cases the experiences happened to more than one person. He provides the example of a young woman and her fiancé, who both saw a vision of her dead grandfather.

It bothers me that there's nothing in here about these people being taken to separate spaces and being asked specific questions to see just how alike the experiences were. What was grandma wearing? What did she say? Are there parallels in the descriptions? We don't know. We aren't being told. 

The article ends with what I consider to be ridiculous speculation about things like telepathy. OK, no. Can we not with the pseudo science in a psychology today article, please? I'm amazed they printed that.

So why does this happen? I mean, to the people experiencing it, it's very real. So real, in fact, that even once some people let go of the notion of their loved ones still having places in their lives they still hold on to those experiences as things that are beyond explanation.

Some studies indicate that, just like anything else, our brains have to learn how to grieve. At the beginning, bereavement hallucinations are the brain's way of dealing with the stress of loss. It manufactures sensory and cognitive information that is designed to make us feel like our loved one is still close. The comfort of that offsets some of the grief. 

But here's the problem: it's not healthy for the brain to keep this up forever. Most people see a diminishment of this kind of activity over time. I don't think you ever get over the loss of a child, spouse, or life partner, for example. There's no moving on from it to the extent that you don't feel some emotional attachment. The trick is getting all the way through the grief stages and landing in a place called acceptance. 

Since I brought it up, blogger Mark Negley, explains the grief stages this way on greaterthanthat.org:

The most well-known psychology-based model in the grief-recovery world is the Kuebler-Ross “Five Stages of Grief.” This model, introduced in the 1969 book On Death and Dying by noted Swiss-American psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross, presents a concept that is linear in nature.The model states that a survivor progresses through 5 emotional stages: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance. Linear progression models like this represent the healing experience as a series of emotional response steps that we will go through when confronted with loss. The model essentially suggests you will first feel this, and then you will feel this, and finally you’ll feel this. As you progress, you are supposed process the emotion associated with that step, get past it, and address the next until you have successfully completed the progression and are finally healed. The problem is, neither I nor any of the people I have interviewed or talked to have found the process to work like that.

And plenty of people don't experience or process grief like that, at least not in the static way the model suggests. I know I've experienced all of these but not necessarily in order. Fully processing the emotions in all of them often involves the aid of a licensed therapist or other mental health professional. Some people who lose loved ones turn to therapy for help, but the vast majority don't. This, I think, plays no small role in the huge number of people who experience bereavement hallucinations and when you look at the grief stages, it's easy to see that it's possible (and in many cases likely) to get... stuck. Bereavement hallucinations can show up at most stages of grief: 

In the denial phase, when the survivor is aching for more time with the person they lost and refuses to let go of the notion that the person is somehow not really gone. “No, he's here. He's with me. I feel him.”

In the anger phase, when the survivor is feeling abandoned or angry at the person for dying “Don't you fucking leave me here alone. I know you're there. Answer me!”

In bargaining it could be, “I just want one more chance to say some of the things I know I should have before. Just let me make amends and then I can be at peace with this...”

The depression stage could be where sensory hallucinations come into play – the desperate need for comfort and happiness

Acceptance seems to be the ultimate equalizer. It's where we come to grips with the finality of the situation, compartmentalize the emotions, and figure out how to move past any notion that some one who has died has any way of interacting with us. But in every other stage, there's room for our brains to latch onto memories that “fit” the mental places we find ourselves when we lose someone. 

But, like I said, there are more than a few sources out there that paint all of this in a positive, albeit cautionary light. Some say it's a normal part of the bereavement process but most of the sources that I found that said this also warn that eventually it's necessary to move on. If you get stuck in this head space, it can start causing problems. 

Now let's talk about some of the psychological conditions that can arise from grief.

Most mental health experts (who have bothered to blog about this) agree that bereavement hallucinations are not necessarily indicative of the presence of extreme mental health issues like psychosis, but they can be the result of several other causes.

PTSD is a major player in this arena and it's one of the disorders that play heavily into those defensive triggers that keep people from moving on. Loss of a child is one of the most common causes of PTSD tied to grief. Watching someone die is another. I know a thing or two about this one... 

Major Depressive Disorder is another leading condition that can be brought on by grief. It presents with extreme sadness or despair, only small – often undetectable – fluctuations in mood, and a loss of interest in life. In this scenario, the survivor basically disconnects from their emotions as a means of fleeing grief. They don't allow themselves to feel anything and subsequently wind up losing a large degree of their motivation. It makes it difficult to function at work, it can destroy relationships, and can even lead to drastic responses like suicide or prolonged mental illness of a number of descriptions. 

Prolonged grief can also present with conditions like anxiety, sleep disorders, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and a variety of physical illnesses. Our mental health CAN have a direct impact on our physical health and everything we go through prompts our brains to put up various defenses. There's a reason why so many people settle in with delusions about lost loved ones still being there – the truth and accepting it outright can upset the balance in the brain and make some very bad things happen:

Significant denial or disbelief about your loss
Perceived loss of identity
Consciously trying to “forget” the deceased person (good luck with that)
Lingering anger
Personality changes
difficulty returning to your normal social, academic, leisure, or professional activities
feeling emotionally numb
feeling like life has lost its purpose

Well then, isn't it better to just live with the delusion if confronting it and seeing it for what it is can lead to things like suicide? Well... that's where getting help comes in. But even the notion of resolving these thoughts and feelings can be terrifying. People often avoid therapy because they fear learning to let go. They can't see there being more peace in letting go than they perceive to have holding on. 

So that's the clinical end of it. Now let's look at how spirituality exacerbates the issue. When you add things like God and metaphysics to the mix, it's a good recipe for getting stuck. As an evangelical, I was taught not to believe in ghosts but I never got a straight answer from any kind of spiritual authority about whether or not a deceased loved one can influence us. The half-answers I got ranged from “it's possible” to “it's the Holy Spirit communicating with you in a way you can understand.” So the Holy Spirit is a liar. Got it. 

And that brings me to the two stories that got this particular ball rolling in (and violently bouncing off the walls of) my head...

Quantum Physics = Science
“I don't blindly accept or believe anything” ----> Confirmation bias
I experienced things during Reiki sessions
The song on the radio
He's with me

A lot of mental health professionals agree that religion can be a buffer when it comes to the effects of grief, but at what cost? What is the real benefit of using one delusion to counteract another? They also say that bereavement hallucinations can be beneficial to the grief process. Well, yes, if it moves things along, but if it keeps you stuck, what good is it?

The mirror of ERISED

I'll admit it: I was disappointed to see so many positive perspectives on this. In my mind, delusion is never a good thing. That said, I see where they're coming from. I would just have liked to see a bit more commentary about how to get past bereavement hallucinations and a little less on the side of enabling. Anyone going through this would likely look at an article like the one in Psychology today and find affirmation in it. That in and of itself can get a person stuck. The experts say this is fine and might even be real. “I have proofs just like those people in the article.”

This is why we look at both sides. In my own experience, visions and dreams didn't really provide me with much comfort. It always stuck in my mind that those people were gone. Wicca gave me a much more comforting construct of these interactions (it also described far better iterations of heaven than any Christian version had to offer). I would get chills whenever I would read the part of the Charge of the Goddess about, “I give freedom and peace and reunion with those gone before,” and I latched onto that pretty heavily for a while. But the more you distance yourself from the influences that keep your thoughts centered on those things, the more your thoughts start distancing themselves from those concepts. I think the person in story #1 ultimately decided she didn't want to pursue the relationship because she knew that the more she hung around with someone who didn't believe those things, the less she would have over time. She wasn't ready to let go so she chose to perpetuate feelings of the presence of someone who wasn't there over the real, tangible comforts that a relationship with a real, living, breathing person bring with it. In the latter example, being confronted with the mortality of her partner triggered the need to feel close to her mother who had already passed. The second story is moving toward a happy ending. The first? I have no idea. I'd like to think that eventually she figures out a way to move on but it isn't likely without some kind of outside influence leading her in that direction and, clearly, she's nowhere near ready for that. 

If you're experiencing things that you believe to be the presence of someone who's passed, let me leave you with these takeaways:

1. Your brain is creating a buffer for your grief

2. Imagination is a powerful thing

3. Assessing the “proofs” you claim to have is mandatory – a Billboard Top 100 song playing on a classic rock station is only proof of the popularity of the song, nothing else.

4. What are you doing to get past your grief?

5. Are you purposely keeping yourself at one of the stages of grief because that's where you feel that person most strongly?

6. Try to remember that the conversations you think you're having with a deceased loved one all pull from memories of real interactions. If you think about it, I'm sure you can even trace back the things that happen in those moments to things that actually happened when that person was alive. I dare you to test this one out. Everything you think about that person is based on experience having them in your life.

7. Moving past grief to a place of acceptance is difficult. It takes a level of courage that many don't possess on their own. Start by forgetting about finding the courage to let go and instead exercise enough courage to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for help. Remember, it's not about taking your pain away. It's about learning how to manage it and compartmentalize it so you can have healthy memories of the person or people you've lost. Remembering is very healthy. Insisting that they';re somehow still here just isn't.

Lastly, if you've experienced any of this and have listened this far, it means something very significant. It means you're open to the notion that there are explanations for the experiences you've had and you're interested in exploring the truth. This is a very good thing and good for you for having enough of an open mind to at least consider the truth of the situation. It shows that you're smart enough to realize that there's a possibility that these things aren't real.  

And no, you're not stupid if you have bereavement hallucinations. You're hurt if you have them. You're lonely if you have them. You might be angry or depressed. It has nothing to do with a lack of intellect but you have to be willing to let your intellect in on the conversation. This is what we hope to have facilitated in this conversation. It's important to not let your emotions run the entire show and if you have until now, I challenge you to let reason have the floor and approach the information we've shared with you tonight with the desire to understand what's really going on. 

Don't settle for things that exist only in your imagination. That's a recipe for missing out on things that are real and can bring you real comfort and happiness. Don't dwell on dreams to the point where you forget to live. It's good advice. 

If we've made you think about all of this a little more, also think about getting help in managing your grief if you haven't already and, again, not from your pastor or your best friend. Talk with a qualified mental health professional who can help you see the pros and cons and guide you into a place of peace with all of this. If you've been stuck for a while, your mind needs a break. Take steps to keep your mind well. 

I know it's scary, but, unfortunately, the truth isn't always comforting (at least not at the beginning). That's just the reality of it. Like we said way back in episode one, it's important to reach a place where we are willing to seek the truth wherever it leads, even if it puts us out of our comfort zone once in a while. There's still more peace to be found in uncomfortable truths than there will ever be in comforting lies. Stay open to the possibility of letting go. It's just one more step you can take toward getting and staying unbound.