Three years ago Kauakea Winston lost her husband, Fodi aba, to cancer. She was having difficulty coping with his death when she attended a grief seminar given by St. Francis Hospice.
"I was in deep grief at the time," recalled Winston, a Kane ohe resident. "I had a horrible cold, I had a bad cough, I actually had to leave the auditorium."
The seminar was televised in the lobby, however, and Winston was able to hear the speaker, Louis LaGrand, encourage audience members to reach out to their deceased loved ones. Winston silently and "begrudgingly" told her husband to "show me a sign, something absolutely specific that will show me our love is real."
Minutes after leaving the seminar, Winston received a phone call from a friend of her husband. The friend, on impulse, had Googled her husband’s name and found out he had died. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind" that the call was a sign from her husband, said Winston, a photographer and "energy healer."
Such "extraordinary experiences" are not unusual, said LaGrand, a Florida-based grief counselor, author and teacher on bereavement and death. LaGrand will speak Tuesday at Borthwick Mortuary on "Using Extraordinary Experiences to Cope with Death and Grief" in a talk sponsored by St. Francis Hospice.
LaGrand said that whenever he runs such seminars, there is always a handful of people who say they have had extraordinary experiences. "It’s amazing how people have had something like this happen to him," he said.
With grief counselor and researcher Louis LaGrand
Where: Borthwick Mortuary, 1330 Maunakea St.
When: 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday
Info: Call Vishaka Devi Jokiel at 547-8033
"People will say, ‘I was sitting in a chair reading the paper, and I was not thinking about John, and all of a sudden I looked up and there he was, in the doorway, standing there smiling, for just a few seconds, and then he was gone,’" LaGrand said.
LaGrand became interested in extraordinary experiences about 30 years ago after a woman whose daughter had died told him that her grandson, the deceased’s 4-year-old nephew, had seen the dead woman and was scared out of his wits. Because the child was so young, the woman was inclined to believe him.
LaGrand shared the story, which he calls a "third-party" experience, with some of his fellow counselors, who said they had heard similar stories but did nothing about them. He decided they could be helpful in the grieving proc ess.
"When I first started, one of the chief tenents was to go ahead and grieve for a while, but then let’s put death out of our minds and get on with our lives," he said. There was also an implied timetable to the grieving proc ess, he said, as if a person in mourning should be "all better" in a year.
"We’re never like our old self after somebody we love dies," he said. "We lose what therapists call the ‘interactive’ relationship with that person."
LAGRAND EMPHASIZES the need to re-establish a connection with the deceased but reformulate it in a way that is helpful and healthful. Extraordinary experiences "can really help us establish a new relationship with the person that died, and that really is one of the tasks of grief," he said. "We don’t just say goodbye and let go of the person; we will always have a relationship with them. In fact, it is helpful to establish a new bond, one based on tradition and memories."
There can be a fine line between a genuine extraordinary experience and something more insidious, LaGrand said. He is disinclined to trust psychics who claim they can call up the dead on demand, and he said a person who sees a dead loved one could be experiencing "wish fulfillment" or even be suffering from mental illness.
He is also wary of those who might be using the extraordinary experience to escape from the "pain of their loss or live in the past."
A genuine experience tends to be spontaneous and usually takes the form of feeling "the presence" of the dead person rather than actually seeing him or her, LaGrand said.
More important, for the "vast, vast majority of people who report these, the experience helps them immensely," he said. "Who am I to say whether your experience was true or false? You and you alone know what happened to you and what it did for you."
For Winston the call from her husband’s friend helped her look to the future, and her ultimate fate, with optimism. "I absolutely know that I will see him again," said Winston, who said she has felt his presence on other occasions since then. "I also feel that the love he and I shared, which was so big and deep, is so alive in me."