Grief Relief: Visiting the Dead by Julia Mossbridge

A friend of mine died when I was in college, and I blamed myself. Josh was not sure he wanted to come to the dance I was deejaying with his sister, but when I flirted a bit during a phone call he decided to make the drive. He never arrived at the dance he was killed by a truck on the freeway. I had mentally tucked away this episode until I heard of a new technique that uses communication with the deceased as a way to heal unresolved grief.

I was pretty sure I didn't have any residual grief about Josh's death. If anything, I felt only guilt about the role I played in it. Nonetheless, I wondered if I could ask Josh's forgiveness for my role in his death. So I called up the doctor who developed this technique, Allen Botkin, who does his work in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

When I walked into Dr. Botkin's office, I was a little taken aback. I guess I had imagined some sort of high-tech machine in a darkened room presided over by a lab-coat clad, bearded, and eccentric character. Instead, the first thing I saw was a two-foot long white stick with a blue marker cap on it. Now really, I thought is this it?! A magic wand for seeing dead people? And Dr. Botkin himself, far from a mad scientist type, looked like he belonged at a softball game, giving tips to kids in an avuncular, arm-around-the- shoulder sort of way.

Despite my misgivings, I sat down and listened to his description of “Induced After-Death Communication,” which he developed by modifying a biofeedback technique in which the eyes quickly go back and forth. The theory behind this approach is based on the observation that during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, the brain is able to make associations and process information more quickly than during normal waking hours. Imitating REMs in the waking hours is believed to activate the same sort of speedy processing and associative leaps that were previously only attainable during dream states.

Drawing on the decades he spent at the Veteran's Administration treating soldiers with severe grief and trauma, Dr. Botkin explained that each client must be moved from the more superficial emotions anger, guilt, and shame into the core sadness that he believes is the root cause of the other emotions. He claimed that using his modified technique ( people can safely move through their sadness and release it. Further, about 70 percent of his clients experience after-death communication (ADC) reconnecting with the bereaved person in a realistic, joyful, inner vision.

As he described the methodology for me in his frank, no-frills way, every one of my intellectual bells went off to tell me that he was pulling my leg. At the same time, I had a strong gut feeling that said he was onto something. Being a good scientist, I trusted my gut. I let him do a short session with me, even though I told him I had no grief.

One minute later, after simply looking at the moving wand and listening to him gently ask me to get in touch with my grief, I was filled with images of my last fateful interaction with Josh. I watched some more waves of the magic wand and started to cry, seeing images of his death. As my sadness began to wane, I got in touch with a happy memory of Josh. Then I closed my eyes and actually had an ADC.

Simply, without pretense, I saw Josh walk out from behind a door. My friend jumped around with his youthful enthusiasm, beaming at me. I felt great joy at the connection but I couldn't tell whether I was making the whole thing up. He told me I wasn't to blame and I believed him. Then I saw Josh playing with his sister's dog. I didn't know she had one. We said good-bye and I opened my eyes, laughing.

The experience seemed too simple, too light. There were no trumpets, no bright tunnels, just a conversation with Josh. Dr. Botkin had mentioned that people are surprised by how “normal” ADC seems; I certainly was. He also mentioned that neither the therapist nor the client has to believe in the validity of ADC for it to heal grief is resolved through the reconnection, whether real or imagined.

Later I found out that Josh's sister's dog had died, and it was the same breed as the one I had seen in my vision. Yet I still don't know what's real. What I do know is that when I think of Josh, I no longer dwell on the images of me calling him or of his car getting hit. Instead, I see Josh walking toward me, laughing and playing with an angel dog. For now, this is the only kind of proof I need.

Julia Mossbridge, a Chicago-based writer, is also a mother, cognitive neuroscientist, and author of Unfolding: The Perpetual Science of Your Soul's Work (New World Library Reprinted with permission from Conscious Choice magazine, November 2003.