6 Dec 2010
Exploring the afterlife: Local ministers recall events before deaths they witnessed
Published: Sunday, December 05, 2010, 6:00 AM Updated: Monday, December 06, 2010, 10:26 AM
Bryce Dallas Howard as Melanie and Matt Daman as George in "Hereafter." The Clint Eastwood movie tells the story of three people haunted by mortality in different ways. The film about the afterlife has spurred thoughts on what happens to people just before and right after death.
When Sally Bunce and her grown daughter visited a spiritualist church service in Jackson one Sunday morning about eight years ago, a question from the pulpit stunned them: Is anyone here named Betsy?
Bunce's daughter raised her hand and was given three different messages to pass along to her cousins from their father, Betsy's deceased uncle.
"Betsy asked me after the service what she should do with the messages, and I told her to call them," said Bunce, a Jackson resident and a minister with Spirit Rising. The result was tearful gratitude from all three about what they "heard" from their late father.
This happens regularly at the Corinthian Spiritualist Church, 1805 E. Ganson St., according to the Revs. Daniel C. and Connie Price, both metaphysical ministers or mediums.
A deliberate time is set aside near the end of the 90-minute worship service to hear from the dead.
Similarly, Daniel Price said he is able to connect with spirits in counseling sessions. Price, a therapist, has a practice at 1004 W. Michigan Ave.
"Especially people who have lost children or teens, these loved ones can come through and I can be aware of it as a medium and tell them what I'm hearing, what I'm seeing. It is a great reassurance to people who are missing their loved ones," Price said.
The "afterlife" has always been a subject of interest, mainly because we don't know what will happen. And now, the movie "Hereafter" by Clint Eastwood, starring Matt Damon as a medium, has generated more conversation.
"The spirit world knows when we are going to make our passing, call a gathering, and they help the soul make the transition," Connie Price said. "There is a wonderful energy. I was with both my parents when they passed. When my dad passed, the room changed to a gold color that was very comforting, beautiful and energy-loving."
The Rev. Sue Babb, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church, 275 W. Michigan Ave., said as a pastor and hospital chaplain in Jackson and other cities, she has witnessed a number of people making the transition.
"I was visiting a patient and his family in Kalamazoo, and happened to be there when he died. His was one of the most peaceful deaths I've seen. He at one point opened his eyes and started looking toward the ceiling, then looked straight forward and got the biggest grin on his face. A number of seconds later, his breathing stopped," Babb said.
On the other hand, she said, "I've witnessed people who fight death to the last breath, almost like they are afraid of what's going to happen and they won't give up until their body simply cannot go on. And I've been with people who are talking to people in the room who have died years before, like they can't wait to be with them."
The Rev. John Elliott, a United Methodist minister who lives in Jackson, recalled two experiences.
The first was when he was called to a hospital emergency room for a man around 80 years old.
"I could tell he didn't have too long and suggested the family say their good-byes. He was happy, kind of a smile on his face and then, suddenly, his eyes opened and he looked up and seemed to follow something.
"He got a big smile on his face, his eyes closed and his heart stopped beating," Elliott said.
The other was the husband of a parishioner who had a successful heart-valve transplant operation.
"He was zapped (with paddles to revive his heart) during surgery, and after surgery he said he was awake during the operation and saw people standing around, then saw a really bright light and felt very warm," Elliott said.
Elliott assumed the light and warmth were the result of the paddles but the surgeon said no, there is no light and that body temperature doesn't rise as a result.
"It wasn't two days later that this man died, even though the operation was totally successful," Elliott said.
"I think he just wanted to go back where it was bright and warm."
For Bunce, the afterlife holds a growing interest "because I teach and practice spirituality and I embrace there is a life after death. I also think it is possible the two can communicate."
But not always.
When her daughter, Betsy, had a cardiac arrest in May in Ann Arbor, her heart was shocked a number of times before she was essentially brought back from the dead.
She was in a coma for five days before she began to fully recover.
One of Bunce's first questions to her daughter was, did she pass into the afterlife?
"She said she didn't see or feel anything," Bunce said, laughing.