Grief, Loss, and Spirituality

September 26, 2008 at 3:37 pm  •  Posted in Grief And Loss by  •  0 Comments

By Karen E. Herrick, PhD, LCSW, LMSW, CADC

Some of My Grieving Clients, Like the Character in The Sixth Sense, Talk to Dead People

An Archetypal Model of  a Ghost
Client Stories About Communicating With a Deceased Loved One



Some of my clients have said to me:

  • “Although I have always been very open to the idea of life after death, since my experience, there is no doubt.”
  • “Enjoy life and love. In the end of life, we are reunited with our family.”
  • I know we are “attached” and “in communication with” others whether or not they are physically present to us.

Many therapists and helping professionals do not know that William James, the Father of American Psychology, and his colleagues wrote a report in 1894 for psychologists who might be studying the phenomenon of hallucination. The experience of seeing ghosts or one’s loved ones after they die was called a “sane hallucination.” The purpose of this report was to examine the evidence for telepathy which was described as “Thoughts and feelings in one mind, conveyed somehow otherwise than through the recognized channels of sense” and knowing it is conveyed “across a considerable distance of space” (p. 26).


The dying or dead person usually appeared in familiar clothing, a cold shudder was reported to precede or accompany the sane hallucination and “cases of recognized apparitions occurring within twelve hours of the death, the death being unknown to the percipient at the time” suggests “that there is no discontinuity at death” (pp. 398 & 401). “A large proportion of these hallucinations occurred in bed, many soon after waking, sometimes apparently caused by a dream” (Sidgwick et al, 1894 , p. 397).

Spirituality or having a spiritual experience, such as seeing one’s dead loved one, can be described as simply experiencing the spirit of your loved one, which is proof there is a component in a human being that is not physical. In Kelsey (2007, p. 74), he explains “that the Soul starts as the particle of energy, derived from God, which organizes the different parts of an atom.” As the Soul “gains experience…it grows larger.” This is what is generally known as “an old soul.” This spirit is called an apparition or ghost, studied by James and his colleagues in the late 1800s.

An Archetypal Model of a Ghost

One archetype or original model of a ghost could be Jesus Christ who appeared with the traits from Greek and Roman literature as an embodied ghost that appears once or for a brief time after the death of the subject and performs bodily functions such as speaking and eating, displays pre-mortem wounds, is associated with an empty tomb and vanishes suddenly without leaving any physical trace. If the Bible had used the word “ghost” in the telling of the stories of Christ, perhaps Christians would be more comfortable with this phenomenon. Some older Bibles do use the term “giving up the ghost or to give up the ghost.”

In the March 2005 issue of The Christian Parapsychologist, it was stated, “Spirits and ghosts have been reported since the beginning of documented history. The most common are in dream states…Ghosts appear to have an intention and a motivational basis. Some motives for return, from a collection of cases from 1880 – 1900, in order of priority, are:

  • Life cut short
  • Unfinished business
  • To give proof of survival
  • Loneliness
Client Stories About Communicating With Deceased Loved Ones

Client stories about communication with their loved ones have been collected through PhD survey research, in individual and group therapy sessions and in spirituality groups. These spirituality groups are now run in order to aid clients in understanding these types of spiritual experiences, to aid in their grief work and to help them further connect with their loved ones who have passed over.

Central to my work is the concept of Pretergression, which emanates from my studies with Dr. Raymond Moody. Pretergression gives a purpose to the paranormal or spiritual experience, which aids in the client’s mental illness. Whatever spiritual experience you have depends on your prior, ordinary concept of knowledge. Basically, what rituals, religious and/or spiritual beliefs you have from your family of origin make up your belief system? Then a new truth will come to you with your spiritual experience.

A good example of this is a client who described a meditation she had, after Christmas where she “saw” The Three Kings and they bowed to her. She stated this was a phenomenal feeling having The Three Kings appear during her meditative state and that she was filled with so much energy that she felt “they” had come to tell her that she was worthy of esteem and they were bowing to the divine inside of her. (Her family-of-origin issue had been one of depression because, for one reason, she had been born with the statement from her family that “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”) The Three Kings has now replaced this family-of-origin saying in her mind and this spiritual experience is meaningful to her because she was raised Catholic and has a prior positive concept of The Three Kings.

Dr. Raymond Moody, Jr. would call this an example of Pretergression, which is extremely helpful, I have found, as I use it in the field of psychology. “Pretergression amuses and bemuses us, with glacial force, it thrusts new truths up above a landscape of old knowledge. Over the centuries, that is, the vocabulary of the alluringly unknown pretergresses new truth out of old knowledge. And that justifies the paranormal (or the spiritual) as a source of new knowledge” (Moody, 1999, p. 125).

Rev Karen E Herrick, PhD
PO Box 8640
Red Bank, NJ 07701
Office: (732) 530-8513
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