Life after death: Trick of the light or something more? (includes video story)

Lorenzo Borges walked into the home of his deceased grandparents with his mother, Patricia, and his brother. They were there to gather the belongings of the departed. Then, out of nowhere, he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

“It was standing within [my grandmother’s] bedroom doorway, and as soon as I made it clear that I was aware of its presence, it walked out of view,” said Lorenzo. “I didn’t see any clear characteristics, but everything within me told me it was her, perhaps checking up on her family or her home.”

In an instant, his brother hugged him as Lorenzo was hit with a wave of emotion. Patricia walked into the room to talk to her mother’s spirit and demanded she cross over.

“We took the moment to speak to her, tell her that we were OK and that it was time to be with those that have passed before her, and to move on,” said Lorenzo.

Some cultures believe the dead still walk among the living, but the spirits of deceased loved ones live on through not only stories told by family, but also through the energy source that once gave them life in this realm.

One of the most ancient religions, Zoroastrianism, contends God created spiritual entities and beings before manifesting their counterparts in the material plain. It influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even Greek philosophy.

Western culture was introduced to the idea of contacting the dead through occultism, which was frowned upon in many Catholic religions.

Part of this phenomenon was the ouija board, a talking board that was invented in the late 1800s and marketed to children before it became a tool for mediums to contact the dead.

Mediums are known for having a gift of speaking to the dead or using the spirit world to investigate the unknown.

Some people meet with mediums to speak to their loved ones on the other side, but Patricia found comfort in the psychic’s words of wisdom when her high school sweetheart was in the Persian Gulf War. She first met with a medium when she was 16 years old.

“I would go to her because he was away and I wanted to make sure he was OK,” she said. “She told me so many things that I could not even explain.”

That was when the medium told Patricia that her first love would not be her last.

“She goes, ‘He’s the love of your life, but he’s not yours. That’s not your man,’” recalled Patricia. “I said ‘What do you mean? I’m not going to get a divorce. I’m not leaving him. He’s it for me.’ And she goes, ‘That’s not what’s written for you. You’re going to be with a man that’s divorced and has a goatee.’”

Patricia’s husband died in 1995 and three years later, met Rick, a divorced man with a goatee.

Five years after Lorenzo was born, he had one of his first ghost sightings that the medium thought was because of his sensitivity to spirits.

“I woke up around 3 a.m. and witnessed two individuals standing in my bedroom,” Lorenzo remembered. “Both were dressed in traditional wedding attire, one being the groom and the other the bride. They had bright white spheres for heads and were toying with a television remote, seemingly attempting to turn on the TV.”

As he looked at them, Lorenzo remembers screaming in fear. The apparitions vanished as soon as Rick walked through the door. At first, Lorenzo thought it was a dream.

“That was until I noticed the TV remote lay shattered on the floor where they stood and the television was on the same channel they left it on,” said Lorenzo.

Patricia went straight to the medium for answers.

According to the medium, he was followed by the deceased couple after their trip from the Rocky Mountains.

“That was when I found out Lorenzo is spiritually connected,” said Patricia. “All my other children have some sensitivity to spirits, but Lorenzo has it the most.”

Lorenzo said he still experiences ghost sightings in his home.

“What occurs most often is the recognition of apparitions throughout my household,” he said. “Whether that be of long-gone household pets wandering the backyard, or human figures standing in doorways.”

Lorenzo has had his fair share of premonitions, but none compared to when he got a visit from his grandmother.

“My grandparents passing was a most abrupt one, and it would not be outlandish to claim that proper farewells and goodbyes were desperately needed by both parties,” he said. “The sudden loss struck everyone quite hard, and it was a difficult phase of our lives.”

Grief has been known to make people look for signs from their departed loved ones.

Journalist, author and paranormal enthusiast Leslie Kean has sat down with mediums and spiritualists who practice spirit materialization, or the turning of a spirit into matter from an unknown source.

“The medium gets strapped into a chair and you see this fluid cloud of ectoplasm exude from his body,” said Kean. “It almost looks like water and whatever these energies are in the room that are making all these things happen can manipulate this substance and do various things with it, like move closer to the person sitting on the other side of the table.”

“A hand will start to form, you sort of see these digits appear and then it becomes three-dimensional,” said Kean. “In a moment, you see this thing lift up off the table and bang on the table making a sound. When the hand came back a second time, I was able to hold it, touch it and feel it until it withdrew again.”

She described the hand as feeling like a normal human hand.

For 150 years, spirit materializations have been reported time and time again, but people have refused to believe them except for a small percentage of the population that have witnessed this phenomenon for themselves.

“These things are actually happening and it’s pretty life-changing when you experience something that is completely unexplainable by the physics and the sciences as we understand it,” said Kean.

Many who have loved ones that are no longer alive find comfort in this practice because it gives them empirical weight to the claims of the continued existence of departed spirits.

“[Life after death] could be seen as an opportunity to find solace and reunion with those loved ones who have long passed,” said Lorenzo. “Those that have passed beyond still have their eyes watching over those they left behind, and they do so with love and care.”

Science cannot prove the idea of ghosts walking amongst the living, but it can debunk the things that go bump in the night.

The medical field has also been trying to determine where the dead may go by studying those who have nearly died.

Dr. Bruce Greyson is a psychiatrist and a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia. He has also written books on what he calls near-death experiences (NDEs).

“[When some people] come close to death or sometimes when they are in fact pronounced dead, they have a difficult time explaining a phenomenon as a sense of leaving the physical body, reviewing one’s entire life, or encountering some other entities that aren’t physically present,” said Greyson. “At some point, they go to a point of no return, beyond which they can’t continue, and still come back to life. When they return, they often are profoundly changed by this experience.”

Nereida Soler is a Catholic woman who encountered an out-of-body experience when she lost an abundance of blood during a C-section for an atopic pregnancy when she had her second child.

Nereida Solor shares her out-of-body experience.

“I’m here for you,” her brother said after Soler woke up on the hospital bed.

Doctors said she was extremely close to dying after undergoing two blood transfusions following her surgery.

Soler said she felt peaceful after the overwhelming feeling passed during her NDE.

“I felt heavy like there was a weight on me as I was laying down,” she said. “I couldn’t move at all, but I felt at peace for a little. Then, I felt this feeling of anxiety, like I needed to get out of this state before it was too late. I expected to see angels and clouds, maybe even deceased family members, but I saw nothing but white light. Everything that happened brought me peace, though, and I’m honestly not afraid of passing suddenly anymore.”

Some scientists believe that NDEs can explain where our mind goes when the brain stops working. Researchers at the University of Virginia Medical School are trying to find a way to study this phenomenon that many doctors are more open about.

“When we first started presenting this material in medical conferences, there would be a polite silence in the audience,” said Greyson. “Now in the 21st century, when we do this, it’s rare that doctors don’t stand up in the audience and say, ‘Let me share my experience with you.’ So, it’s pretty well accepted now.’”

Greyson, once a skeptic himself, started questioning the phenomenon that many encountered when he started his psychiatric training.

“I started being confronted by patients’ reports of things that I couldn’t explain,” he said as he remembered a time when he was just a few weeks into his training.

“I was asked to see a patient who had an overdose in the emergency room,” he said. “I was in the cafeteria when the page came in and I was eating dinner. The page startled me so I dropped my fork, spilling spaghetti sauce on my tie. I couldn’t wipe it off, so I just covered it over with a lab coat.”

Moments later he saw the unconscious patient and spoke to the patient’s roommate in another room.

“There was no air conditioning back in the ’70s, so I unbuttoned my lab coat, so I wouldn’t sweat so much, exposing the stain for about 10 minutes or so,” he recalled. “When I went back to see the patient, she was still unconscious.”

Greyson visited the patient the following morning to introduce himself to her but she said something unusual that he would never forget.

“She stopped me and said, ‘I know who you are. I remember you from last night,’” said Greyson. “That puzzled me, so I said, ‘Well, I’m surprised, I thought you were unconscious when I saw you last night.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘Not in my room. I saw you talking to my roommate down the hall.’ She sensed my confusion and started to tell me about the conversation I had with her roommate — where we were sitting, what we were talking about. Finally, she said, ‘And you had a striped tie on with a red stain on it.’ That just blew me away.”

Steven Laureys, a clinical professor who leads the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège, compares the study of NDEs to our growing understanding of dreams in a National Geographic article. 

“Near-death experiences are a physiological reality, but science and medicine haven’t taken them seriously for way too long,” said Laureys. “We can’t just listen to extraordinary stories from patients; we need to measure brain function. The field needs studies like these.”

Many medical doctors have done statistical analyses on different people that have had NDEs.

“The only other thing people can do scientifically is address the skeptical arguments and show that they are not valid,” said Kean. “Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot [research] can do because it’s unexplainable by science and you have to have the foundation that consciousness operates independently of the brain.”

According to the material theory, consciousness evolved out of single-celled organisms to eventually humans because of chemical and biological processes inside the brain. The confusion amongst experts lies in the fact that consciousness somehow enhances without the electrical impulses of the brain.

“[Death is] certainly the end of the physical body. We all agree on that,” said Kean. “But then the question is, does any part of our consciousness survive that? Is there anything else that happens? I don’t know for sure what happens after we die but I sort of dwell on the mystery of it. I think for each person it depends on what is evidential for you as a person. What experience you have had yourself that might convince you of something like this.”

Carolina Villagra is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism at Florida International University. Her interests include writing poetry, reading philosophy books and the art of photography. She aspires to have her own podcast while working for the Los Angeles Times after she graduates.