Death is an inevitable part of life. Reminders of our own mortality surround us everyday. Any time we read a newspaper, turn on the news, or consume media, we are shown heartbreaking stories of a tragic loss of life. As the old saying goes, "If it bleeds, it leads." At some point throughout our lifetime, we will experience the loss of a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance. With each passing, we are faced with a question: What happens when we die? I was first faced with that question on September 8th, 1995, when my oldest brother Eric passed away from cancer at the age of 24.
Learning About Death
I was only eight years old at the time of my brother's passing. The concept of death was a lot for a third grader to take in, let alone understand.
It confused me.
Much of my childhood was spent at the cemetery where my brother was laid to rest. The more time I spent surrounded by tombstones, the more I started to comprehend what death was and how we would all meet the same end. As my mother would visit my brother and grieve, I did what any eight-year-old kid would do: explore. I'd walk around the cemetery. I'd read the grave markers, the names, the dates of birth and death. I'd speak with the groundskeepers and ask them questions about their job. What was it like working in the death industry? I watched as they would prepare the ground for upcoming burials, the funerals taking place close to my brother's gravesite. I would listen to the eulogies and observe how others handled grief. This is macabre, but it helped me begin my own grieving process. As the years passed and I grew older, thinking of our ultimate end became easier for me. In 2002 my grandmother passed away, peacefully in her home at the age of 73. She was ill in the later years of her life. During our final conversation before her passing, I knew her time on earth was coming to an end; and while I fought to cherish the little time she had left, I was prepared to grieve for her once she took her last breath. However tragic death was, I readied myself for this anguish.
I was confident I could properly grieve for my grandmother. Death wouldn't catch me off guard.
But in 2004, my brother Gary took his life. I couldn't see it through the rage I felt at that time, but my way of thinking about our final end would change forever.
"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."
?Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Nameless City
Paranormal Investigation as Grief Therapy
There are many reasons why people get involved in the search for ghosts and hauntings. Some are looking for an adrenaline rush, some for notoriety. One common reason is the passing of a loved one. In my 17 years of research, I have met hundreds of individuals who are willing to journey into the dark for answers about the afterlife, just as I was after the death of my two brothers. Many paranormal investigators have found a sense of peace in trying to communicate with those that have come before us. After hearing countless stories from those in the field, I realized that the act of paranormal investigation was a form of grief therapy. I only ever made that connection when I read a book titled Corpses, Coffins and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman, which showed up on my radar for a research project I conducted many years ago. In chapter two of Colman's book, she cites a study performed by psychologist Maria Nagy in 1948:
"The children, who nicknamed Nagy 'Auntie Death,' had discussions with Nagy and drew pictures. In addition the older children followed Nagy's request to 'write down everything that comes to your mind about death.' Nagy studied their responses and concluded that some children go through three stages in understanding death. The youngest children aged three to about five tend to be curious about death and ask matter-of-fact questions about funerals, coffins, and cemeteries. To them, death is a continuation of life but at a lower level: dead people can't see and hear as well as living people, they aren't quite as hungry, and they don't do very much. And they might return.
Younger children appear to think that death is at best not much fun and boring and at the worst lonely and scary. Beginning at about the age of five or six, children tend to realize that death is final and move into what Nagy named Stage 2. Although at this stage, many children realized that death was final, some of them thought that they could escape death if they were clever, careful, or lucky. Christy Ottaviano remembers thinking like that when she was in elementary school. 'I had to walk past a cemetery to get to school,' she recalls. 'I thought that I wouldn't die if I held my breath the whole way. So I did until I was about nine or ten years old.' Christy may have stopped because she moved into what Nagy identified as Stage 3 in understanding death. This is when children tend to realize that in addition to being final, death is also inevitable. Everyone dies, even clever, careful, and lucky people. Or people who hold their breath when they walk past a cemetery. 'Death is destiny,' wrote one ten-year-old child. Another ten-year-old wrote, 'Everyone has to die.' According to Nagy, Stage 3, which starts at about age nine or ten, continues throughout life." (Colman 29, 30, 31)
Death and the Final Frontier
Reading Maria Nagy's The Child's Theories Concerning Death completely transformed my thought process. Having basically grown up in a cemetery and losing someone so close to me at such a young age, I made the jump from Nagy's proclaimed stage 2 to stage 3 in a more advanced timeframe. Other studies have shown that, "children who experienced a parent's death, who are dying themselves, or who have witnessed violent, traumatic death will perceive death in an adultlike manner at much earlier ages than children who have not had such experiences." ("Death—The Development Of A Concept Of Death—Children, Dead, Nagy, and Age - JRank Articles") These experiences of the human condition led me early on in a lifelong pursuit of finding answers about the possibility of retaining consciousness after the brain dies. Like many others in the study of ghosts and hauntings, I have found comfort in journeying into the dark, and I carry this into every investigation I conduct, into every bit of research I perform, and the hours upon hours of footage I review. And I will continue to do so, until I meet my own ultimate end.
Colman, Penny. 1997. Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial. N.p.: Henry Holt and Company.
"Death—The Development Of A Concept Of Death—Children, Dead, Nagy, and Age—JRank Articles." n.d. Social Issues Reference. Accessed December 4, 2021. https://social.jrank.org/pages/186/Death-Development-Concept-Death.html#ixzz7E9jWV4N5.