Crisis Apparition or They Came to Say Goodbye

CNN hit the jackpot with this story Do loved ones bid farewell from beyond the grave?

They come up with three tales of the supernatural, and treat them as facts with absolutely no critical evaluation.

Nina De Santo

Nina De Santo was about to close her New Jersey hair salon one winter’s night when she saw him standing outside the shop’s glass front door.

It was Michael. He was a soft-spoken customer who’d been going through a brutal patch in his life. His wife had divorced him after having an affair with his stepbrother, and he had lost custody of his boy and girl in the ensuing battle.

He was emotionally shattered, but De Santo had tried to help. She’d listened to his problems, given him pep talks, taken him out for drinks.

When De Santo opened the door that Saturday night, Michael was smiling.

“Nina, I can’t stay long,” he said, pausing in the doorway. “I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for everything.”

They chatted a bit more before Michael left and De Santo went home. On Sunday she received a strange call from a salon employee. Michael’s body had been found the previous morning — at least nine hours before she talked to him at her shop. He had committed suicide.

Simma Lieberman

Simma Lieberman said she’s experienced that ominous feeling and has never forgotten it — though it took place more than 40 years ago.

Today, Lieberman is a workplace diversity consultant based in Albany, California. In the late 1960s though, she was a young woman in love.

Her boyfriend, Johnny, was a mellow hippie “who loved everybody,” a guy so nice that friends called him a pushover, she said. She loved Johnny, and they purchased an apartment together and decided to marry.

Then one night, while Lieberman was at her mother’s home in the Bronx, the phone rang and she answered. Johnny was on the line, sounding rushed and far away. Static crackled.

“I just want you to know that I love you, and I’ll never be mean to anybody again,” he said.

There was more static, and then the line went dead. Lieberman was left with just a dial tone.

She tried to call him back to no avail. When she awoke the next morning, an unsettled feeling came over her. She said it’s hard to put into words, but she could no longer feel Johnny’s presence.

Then she found out why.

“Several hours later, I got a call from his mother that he had been murdered the night before,” she said.

Josh Harris

Josh Harris’ experience baffled him as well. It involved his grandfather, Raymond Harris.

Josh was Raymond’s first grandchild. They spent countless hours together fishing and doing yardwork in their hometown of Hackleburg, Alabama. You saw one, you saw the other.

Those days came to an end in 1997 when Raymond Harris was diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctors gave him weeks to live. Josh, 12 at the time, visited his grandfather’s house one night to keep vigil as his “pa-pa” weakened, but his family ordered him to return home, about two miles away.

Josh said he was asleep on the couch in his home around 2 a.m. when he snapped awake. He looked up. His grandfather was standing over him.

“At first, it kind of took me by surprise,” said Harris, a maintenance worker with a gravelly Southern accent. “I wondered why he was standing in the hallway and not in his house with everyone else.”

His grandfather then spoke, Harris said.

“He just looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Everything will be OK.”

His grandfather then turned around and started walking toward the kitchen. Harris rose to follow but spun around when the phone rang. An aunt who was in another room answered.

“When I turned back around to look, he was gone,” Harris said.

As if on cue, his aunt came out of the room crying, “Josh, your pa-pa is gone.”

The only explanation they offer is the paranormal one of “Crisis Apparition”. Apparently in some circumstances, people we know and love drop by to say goodbye just after they have passed away.

Here is how the reporter does the ‘science thing’

Scientific research on crisis apparitions is scant, but theories abound.

One theory: A person in crisis — someone who is critically ill or dying — telepathically transmits an image of themselves to someone they have a close relationship with, but they’re usually unaware they’re sending a message.

Others suggest crisis apparitions are guardian angels sent to comfort the grieving. Another theory says it’s all a trick of the brain — that people in mourning unconsciously produce apparitions to console themselves after losing a loved one.

Of these, only the last of the abounding theories has anything at all to do with science. We can’t say for certain that the spirit of someone can’t drop by to say “Hi” or “Bye”, but it would be reasonable to look at the possibility of a natural explanation before jumping to the conclusion that the spirits are here.

Beware of the Ghost!The cases of Simma Lieberman and Josh Harris are very similar. In both instances, the experiences happened m any years ago. Forty years in Lieberman’s case and 14 in Harris’, and Harris was only 12 at the time.  That’s lots of time for memories to become a bit hazy around the edges, for some things in our minds to alter over time. Our memories  very often play tricks on us—not all of us have Marcel Proust’s ability to remember an entire life in a handshake. The recent case of Troy Davis emphasizes the weaknesses of eyewitnesses in criminal cases.

The other similarity in these cases was that both of these people were awakened from sleep by the apparition. Lieberman by the telephone and Harris by his grandfather’s presence. But were they actually awakened? I have gone to work, only to open my eyes and discover that I hadn’t lifted my head and I had to get ready all over again.

To look at these critically, it is easy to consider the probability that a young women in love would dream about him calling and saying goodbye. I think most of us have dreamed stranger things than that. John Harris had a very close relationship with his grandfather whom he knew was on his deathbed. Not to dream about him would be abnormal.

DeSanto’s situation is a bit different in that she was awake at the time she saw her former client. But even here, many people dream while they are awake. Sleep disorders such as Narcolepsy, often lead to these occurrences. Some experts consider the vision of a recently departed loved one to be a common form of hallucination. DeSanto had long conversations with her client about his life, it is quite possible that her unconscious mind made the connection that he was a high suicide risk, and her imagination did the rest.

Of course, she could simply have been mistaken about the timing of the visit and the death, and he had been there the day before. We do not know.

Robert Carroll considers these merely coincidences.

if you think of all the pairs of things that can happen in a person’s lifetime and add to that our very versatile ability of finding meaningful connections between things, it then seems likely that most of us will experience many meaningful coincidences. The coincidences are predictable and we are the ones who give them meaning. Given the fact that there are billions of people and the possible number of meaningful coincidences is millions of billions, it is inevitable that many people will experience some very weird and uncanny coincidences every day.

Contrast this with what the CNN story:

People who are extremely close develop a virtual telepathic link that exists in, and beyond, this world, said Jeff Belanger, a journalist who collected ghost stories for his book, “Our Haunted Lives: True Life Ghost Encounters.”

“People have these experiences all the time,” Belanger said. “There’s an interconnectedness between people. Do you know how you’re close to someone, and you just know they’re sick or something is wrong?”

In all of these situations as described, the individuals remembered something after they found out their loved ones had died. In none of these three did the individuals write down their interactions at a given time and have them verified afterwards.

Back to Robert Carroll. He says that ghost stories are excellent ways to teach critical thinking skills.The answers don’t usually result in a call to the supernatural.

I have only scratched the surface in examining these cases. Someone with access to interview these people and the ability to determine their state of mind at the times in question, and ask pointed questions could come to more definite conclusions.

I certainly don’t have all the facts in these cases, but with what little I have, there are enough doubts raised that postulating a ‘crisis apparition’ is unnecessary. Can we prove ghosts do not exist? No. Can we suggest that the probability of persons have corporeal existence after death  is extremely low? Definitely.

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3 Responses to Crisis Apparition or They Came to Say Goodbye

  1. Gary says:

    Good entry. I just found your blog after reading the CNN story. Would have been nice if CNN interviewed a psychologist, other mental health expert, or skeptic for the story, but that would not have made for such a juicy piece, I guess.

    I would add to your comments about the sleeping individuals that auditory and visual hallucinations at the time of waking or going to sleep are extremely common and referred to as hypnagogic hallucinations. Of course, those same individuals could simply have been dreaming.

  2. Patricia says:

    There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Given what we are just beginning to discover about quantum mechanics and other dimensions, your conclusion that the probability of existence after corporeal death is low is spurious. Also I believe it was mentioned that no one actually touched the apparitions to verify whether they were corporeal or not. Perhaps they weren’t solid but merely the brain’s way of ‘interpreting’ the contact with the spirit, just as we interpret a table to be solid even though each atom is 99% empty space.

    • Please explain to me how quantum mechanics and other dimensions leave room for existence after corporeal death. Nothing I have read on either topic, that was written by a physicist, suggests anything of the like.

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