When Spirits Come Calling

The Open-Minded Skeptic's Guide to After-Death Contacts

Sylvia Hart Wright

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Have you ever sensed the presence of someone no longer alive? If you're a typical American, there's a 40% chance that you have. If you've lost a spouse or longtime partner, those odds increase to over 50%!

Experiences of apparent contact with the dead are commonplace around the world. Studies by doctors, psychologists, social workers, and public opinion experts confirm this. Usually such experiences do not involve mediums. They come to healthy, active people when they least expect them.

Most of the world's faith traditions assume that we can communicate with our lost loved ones. The Buddhists and Hindus who believe in reincarnation, the Chinese and Africans who practice ancestor worship, the Mexicans who each year celebrate the Day of the Dead, all believe that the spirit survives.

This groundbreaking book calmly confronts a hush-hush subject. Can some part of the human personality survive death and reach out to us? Professor Wright offers persuasive proof that indeed it does.


"Fascinating ... deserves a wide audience." Andrew Greeley, sociologist, best-selling author, Catholic priest

"Wright's vivid interviews make it clear that sensing the presence of a deceased loved one ... is a genuine encounter with a surviving intelligence. Intriguing and carefully researched." Russell Targ, laser physicist and co-author, Miracles of Mind

"It's wonderful! Well-written and on a topic full of fascination and hope for many people. The reporting is clear and factual and the stories themselves are enthralling." Mary Manin Morrissey, senior minister, Living Enrichment Center, and author, Building Your Field of Dreams

"Superbly written and well researched." Louis E. LaGrand, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, State University of New York, and author, Gifts from the Unknown

"Intelligent, open-minded and very readable." John Beloff, author, Parapsychology: A Concise History

"Wright does not distort her subjects' accounts to make them fit the atheistic assumptions associated with so much contemporary science. A real gem, empirically bold, yet humble in the face of a great mystery." Michael Dreiling, sociology professor, University of Oregon

"Warmhearted yet coolheaded. Illuminated by the author's sensitive and searching cross-cultural analysis." Madronna Holden, anthropologist and educator, Linfield College

"Tells us something important and perhaps universal about human consciousness." Paula Bram Amar, consulting psychologist, expert on biofeedback

"Guaranteed to raise goose-bumps among even the most cynical.... Makes you rethink your understanding of how broad the limits of life may be." Shevach Lambert, past president, Temple Beth Israel, Eugene, Oregon

"Offers compelling evidence to us postmodern agnostics, atheists, and skeptics that we are not alone - and that is good news!" Charles Sturms, professor of intercultural studies, Northwest Christian College, and Disciples of Christ minister

Table of Contents


1. After-Death Contact - A Common Experience
2. Sensing Someone Else's Death
3. Knowledge and Guidance from the Other Side
4. How World Religions View Survival of the Spirit
5. Facing up to a Cultural Taboo
6. After a Suicide
7. Subtle Contacts - Scents and a Feeling of Closeness
8. After the Death of a Child
9. Lights That Blink a Message
10. Misbehaving Radios, Telephones - and More
11. Symbolic Events
12. Animal Stories
13. More Help and Guidance from Loving Spirits
14. Ghosts, Possession, and Things That Go Bump in the Night
15. What's So Different About Paranormal Dreams?
16. Who Becomes a Sensitive?
17. Spiritual Experience and Religious Belief



When we married in New York, Paul was a tall and vigorous 51 year-old with a wild and sometimes salty sense of humor, and a linguist's delight in wordplay. As Keith and I picked up his verbal addiction, the three of us often sat laughing around our dinner table, circling it with a sequence of ever more outrageous puns. With Paul's barrel chest and lots of wavy brown hair lightly flecked with gray, my bluff, gregarious husband looked a decade younger. But diabetes, which he'd had for some twenty years, was gnawing away at him from within. Two years after our wedding at the Unitarian-Universalist church where we had met - a humanistic church that had no creed which we could not sincerely affirm - a massive hemorrhage caused by diabetic retinopathy destroyed the vision of his right eye. For two more years he got by reasonably well until, in November of 1977, a smaller hemorrhage damaged his other eye.

Now he was legally blind. By profession a teacher of French and Spanish, he could no longer work. He took lessons in "cane travel" and, since he could still read if he had lots of light, he bought himself a floor lamp whose four bulbs together gave off 330 watts. In time that lamp would have a momentous effect on my life.

My son and I never used more than its top, 150 watt bulb. Soon we came to call it "Paul's lamp." He would sit under it by the hour when he wasn't playing his guitar or visiting with friends or volunteering at the church where we had met, answering the phone and fielding questions from visitors. We waited for the bleed into his "good eye" to be absorbed by surrounding tissues and hoped that somehow the series of specialists we went to would stave off any further hemorrhages. The doctors did their best. For a time his condition improved. But then came a second hemorrhage, then another and another. By 1981, Paul was totally blind.

Usually my husband made a fine show of keeping up his spirits but one day he came home seething with bitterness and resentment. Some stranger, seeing him with his cane and wanting to comfort him had told him, "Don't worry, someday you'll see again," meaning, of course, in the afterlife. "What a crock," my atheist husband roared to me, fury in his worn, once handsome face. "When it's over, it's over." Around New Year's Day, 1983, he came down with pneumonia. Three weeks later Paul passed on.

I never expected to sense him near me again. My 16-year-old son and I kept busy preparing for his memorial service and the open house we would hold that same day. For almost two weeks those duties kept us focused. The day after the memorial service - it was a Sunday - I felt lonely, let down. Somehow I would have to start rebuilding my life. Keith had a paper due the next day; I offered to type it for him and pressed him to put his draft into final form. We were standing in the living room of the Manhattan highrise apartment where the two of us had lived since 1969. Paul's lamp, unlit, was a few feet away. Suddenly it turned itself on and started flashing strangely, short flashes of light that came infrequently and seemingly in response to things we said.

At first it was incomprehensible. "That's weird," Keith said. We looked at each other, bemused. Nothing like this had ever happened since Paul bought that lamp several years before. And there was nothing wrong with the wiring in the building. And nothing else in the apartment seemed to be affected. The refrigerator still droned on; our hallway light glowed on, unchanging. Once more our eyes met - and suddenly Keith and I both understood. Paul was contacting us. How better could he let us know that now he could tell the difference between on and off, light and dark? The blind man we loved could see again!

We started laughing and crying and dancing around the lamp. Paul, who spoke French like a Frenchman, had lived in Paris for five happy years when he was young, had visited there often, had been the ultimate Francophile. "Now you can go see Paris again," Keith said and for a long moment the lamp blazed brighter.

Twice that evening, Paul's lamp came on by itself and flickered for a time mysteriously. Afterwards, returning to our accustomed skepticism, we checked its bulbs and switches and the outlet where it was plugged in. Nothing we found accounted for the way that it had behaved. My son - who in his senior year of high school would win two regional awards for scientific achievement - noted that it seemed to have difficulty flashing unless we were within about eight feet of it, and could not flash frequently or immediately in response. Keith theorized that Paul's spirit had only limited energy and capacity to respond. (Years later I would run across confirmation of this theory in a book by a distinguished British physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, who in the early part of the 20th century wrote books on the paranormal. More about this in Chapter 9.)

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2002

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