Jamie Foxx talks to his late grandmother. The most poignant (and reportedly the most TIVO'd) moment of this year's Academy Awards ceremony was when the Oscar winner expressed gratitude for his grandmother’s formative teachings and explained that even though she’s passed on, "she still talks to me now—only now she talks to me in my dreams." Before walking off the stage he told the audience of 42.1 million viewers that he couldn't wait to get to sleep that night because "we got a lot to talk about."
Many Beliefnet readers also seem to have a lot to say to their deceased loved ones. In a recent online Beliefnet survey, 10,000 people answered detailed questions about how they communicate, or do not communicate, with the dead. A striking 69% of respondents indicated that they have attempted to talk to the dead, and many believe they've succeeded in making contact.
Our survey asked our readers if they had ever consulted a medium or psychic (21% said yes), used a Ouija board (28%), or participated in a séance (14%). But the vast majority said they attempted to communicate with loved ones directly without resorting to outside help—through prayer and meditation (63%) and speaking to them aloud or in their minds (69%). A final question, "Have you ever felt as if a dead person was trying to communicate with you?" elicited more than 3,800 essay responses. The testimonials detail everything from the spirit of a dead cat appearing in a woman's lap to a deceased son giving his mother one last hug in a dream. Others used the essay space to submit a simple, emphatic "No"—often in all capital letters, with multiple exclamation points.
But the skeptics were greatly outnumbered. Clearly, most people in this survey audience indicated that they reach across a divide to dead loved ones as a matter of course. Their stories and experiences, whether you credit them or not, reveal a vast and varied landscape of beliefs that warrants a closer look.
What It Feels Like
What's it like to contact the dead? Here's how some of our users describe their experiences:
"It's like chills going up your spine. It's like someone's in the room with you and they're watching you, but you can't really see them."
"I feel a rush of cold air, something will brush against my neck."
"It's more like a voice in my head—when I ask for guidance from angels, guardians, and guides, I sometimes hear the answer in my head. Or I simply feel their presence and know they are working on my behalf."
"They appear before me like a hologram in my mind, meaning they aren't in the air space in front of me. Then we converse, like the living. No big deal."
"After losing my best friend to a sudden, accidental death, I dreamed of him. I saw him as clear as I did in life... that visit from him came to give me great peace and comfort."
"My brother who was killed in a car accident often visited me by sitting in the passenger seat of my truck for several years after. Sometimes he would just be there, other times he would send comforting 'hugs' in my head."
What the Dead Have to Say
Jamie Foxx notwithstanding, Hollywood tends to depict close encounters with the dead as very scary or at least somewhat creepy: witness the ghostly twin girls in "The Shining," visions of corpses in "Sixth Sense," and the girl in the well in "The Ring." But most of those responding to the Beliefnet survey seemed to consider contact with the dead a comforting part of their lives, and only 2.4% classified their experiences "negative."
Although presumably most people do not confer about how these things happen—receiving messages from the dead is rarely cocktail or water-cooler conversation—we found a surprising number of common themes. Many respondents believe passed loved ones were watching over or protecting them, assuring the living that they're O.K., or delivering a final message. One respondent writes of her son, who died when he was just three weeks old, "Suddenly I had this feeling that my baby son had entered the room and that he had come to say goodbye. It was a very real experience, leaving me tearful and shaky."