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Experiences of presence; Symptoms, spirits, or ordinary lives?


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Title: Experiences of presence; Symptoms, spirits, or ordinary lives?

Experiences of presence Symptoms, spirits, or
ordinary lives?
  • Jacqueline Hayes
  • jacquelinehayes_at_fastmail.fm

Experiences of presence in bereavement
  • Voice
  • Vision
  • Touch/tactile (e.g. pressure)
  • Smell
  • Taste (?)
  • Feeling of presence

Common experiences
  • Estimates between 50 (Rees, 1971) and 80
    (Wiener et al, 1996)
  • 90 of widows in Japan (Yamamoto et al, 1969)

Language and consequences
  • Language representing this
  • hallucination symptom
  • pathological grief illusion
  • cognitive error awareness
    continuing bond
  • continuing relationship
  • continuing presence

This study
  • Diverse bonds and varied rel/cultural backgrounds
    and type of death. Systematic investigation of
    meaning and consequences of experiences of
  • Methodology Ethnomethodology, Conversation
    Analysis, Discursive Psychology, Joint Analysis
  • Narrative biographic interviews with 17
    participants in the UK

This study
  • What happens?
  • Meaning? where does the meaning come from
    (sources of meaning)?
  • How did people make sense of them using
    religious/spiritual ideas and other semiotic
    resources (e.g. Psychology)?

  • What consequences do the experiences have for the

What the literature says...
  • Helps a person cope with grief. Better sleep and
    less lonely (Parkes, 1972, Conant,1996, Klass,
  • Can help to resolved unfinished business in the
    relationship (Klass, 1996)
  • Sign of pathological grief? (Kersting, 2004
    Baethge, 2002 Parkes 1965)

Functions(Hayes, 2011)
  • Soothing
  • Help with practical task
  • The feeling of absence
  • Continuing fraught relationships
  • Mixed/ambiguous

Soothing - Samuel
  • Samuel spontaneously smelt and tasted the food
    his grandma cooked for him several times after
    her death. This would always be at a time he was
    particularly stressed. The smell and taste helped
    him to feel calmer. He told me how in the past,
    at times of need, his grandma would cook for him,
    theyd eat together, and she would help him to
    find a solution to his troubles.
  • Smell/taste was a continuation of his grandmas
    care in a time of need.

  • Sarah but it was just, .hh I
    thought, "can I do this?" hehheh
  • JH Yeah
  • Sarah Erm, anyhow, I thought, "well, I'm just
    gonna have to do it!" So I did it, and, but it
    was really, really really difficult. And towards
    the end I was only just holding it together.
  • JH mm
  • Sarah So I went back to my seat, and I was
    almost physically shaking with the effort of
    having to, to do this and remain (.) together
    while I was doing it. And, at that point, I
    felt, I had, almost like, a some sort of a not,
    a, a pressure on my shoulder, there, and I just
    thought well, ah, that's Benjamin
  • and he's saying ((claps)) "Mum, you've done
  • JH mm

  • Sarah you know, and it was (.) so strong that I,
    I put my hand up to feel (.) his hand
  • JH aww
  • Sarah there, which was (.) incredibly powerful,
    and has never happened, never happened before
  • JH Yeah
  • Sarah And that really sort of, you know, said to
    me (.) that he's, he's with me and he was, he
    was there with me at that particular
  • very difficult (.) moment
  • JH Yeah
  • Sarah and afterwards.
  • JH Yeah
  • Sarah Erm, and that was incredibly helpful and

Practical - Isaac
  • Isaac yeah, I, I, ah, I- erm
  • (2.0)
  • she has, er, she had, in the sink,
  • (1.0)
  • what's it called now? I'm, the, the name's
    gone, er
  • (2.0)
  • you get rid of your rubbish
  • (1.0)
  • JH waste disposal, yeah, yeah
  • Isaac waste disposal, sorry, waste
    disposal ((sips drink)) and erm ((sips again))
    I was always, forever fixing it for her, shed
    put down something, a
  • spoon or whatever, and it broke

  • (1.2)
  • anyway, my sister said can you come across, and
    when you come can you fix the (0.2) waste
  • JH mmhmm
  • Isaac so I said OK, yeah.
  • (2.0)
  • and like, there's a button, at the back (0.8)
    which I know now (0.8) but I didn't remember it
    as of the time. And as clear (0.8) as (1.0)
  • I'm speaking to you
  • (2.0)
  • JH mm
  • Isaac It sung, "keep going Isaac, it's there

Resolving unfinished business
  • Aggies boyfriend died after a short illness, a
    year before the interview. She wasnt expecting
    his death, but later found out that he knew he
    was dying. Prior to his death, her boyfriend had
    broken up with her and she hadnt understood why.
    They were reconciled shortly before his death.
    Since then, Aggie hears her deceased boyfriends
    voice on a regular basis. Aggie visited a
    clairvoyant and believed that she was having
    contact with her boyfriends spirit.

  • Aggie some of it is um (.) things (.) that I
    would easily hear him say
  • JTB mm
  • Aggie but things like Im sorry an now I
    understand why things happened (.) he never
    said that heh heh
  • JTB heh heh
  • Aggie he never properly apologised for
  • JTB mm
  • Aggie so (.) because the last part of the
    relationship (.) went quite badly, like he knew
    he was dying an he pushed me away
  • JTB mm

  • Aggie an I just thought (.) that he just didnt
    care anymore (.) an then just before he died he
    broke down and got real upset and said I want
    to be with you an then like what did I do?
    (.) because it had been like six months
  • JTB yeah
  • Aggie of (.) a complete nightmare (.) an (.)
    he never said sorry for it (.) really (.) like
    not properly said sorry (.) an like he- hes-
    st- telling me he understands why everything
    Ive done, why I did it (.) an he never
    understood nothing (.) three four years he never
    understood anything (.) so (.) mm (.) heh (.) so

  • Aggie he got incredibly upset with the stuff
    that was happening to me an (.) an something
    came up an I had to be involved with the police
    an stuff and that made him incredibly set-
    upset an he ended up in hospital
  • JTB mm
  • Aggie so it was kinda- not like an asthma
    attack but its like (.) he cant breathe an his
    er chest was tight an he needs attention like he
    really needs steroids or whatever
  • JTB yeah
  • Aggie so I put him in hospital for that so for
    a long time I felt oh Ive killed him cos it
    was only (.) six weeks, two months after (.)
    like before he died when all that happened so
    (.) I kinda blamed myself for a lot of things
    but (.) Im kinda letting go of a lot of that

Aggies unfinished business
  • Conciliatory and healing
  • Resolving confusion about the meaning of their
  • Concreteness of hearing the voice spiritual
    meaning power of this
  • Transformative
  • Guilt and self-forgiveness

A sense of presence, a feeling of absence
  • Aggie once (.) I like (.) really really really
  • thought he was there like could literally feel
  • JTB mm
  • Aggie and could hear him and then I woke up and
    turned round an I just (.) couldnt stop crying
    an I was like oh god heh heh (.) so it was a
    bit (.) cos it feels like its actually
  • JTB mm it felt so real
  • Aggie yeah yeah (.) so (.) mm

Continuing fraught relationships
  • Linda heard the voice of her deceased husband.
    The voice insulted her youre fat, youre hair
    is a mess and criticised her parenting. Linda
    made sense of it by referring to their
    relationship before his death they werent the
    happiest of couples and to his personality
    before he died he was a very angry man, he
    used to have a terrible terrible temper.

  • Julie heard the voice of her deceased mother
    almost daily. The voice called her name, insulted
    her, and told her she should kill herself. Julie
    found this situation highly distressing.
  • Julie made sense of this voice within the context
    of her relationship with her mother before her
    death. She had felt continually rejected, and
    unloved by her mother. She always felt that she
    favoured her brother and did not really want
    Julie. Julie understood her experiences
    spiritually, but although she was a catholic did
    not draw upon Catholic teachings to understand
    what was happening.
  • The voice after her mothers death seemed to
    crystallise in words an underlying dynamic to
    their relationship. The voice continued the
    rejection in their relationship, in an altered

  • Matt I was on an assault course for one of my
    army qualifying courses and I fell off a wall, a
    ten foot wall and subsequently I slipped some
    discs and was in quite a lot of pain. If I'd
    have left the assault course and not have
    completed it I would have failed the course which
    would have meant that I wouldn't be able to
    qualify. And I was lying on my back at the base
    of the wall in quite a lot of pain and he said,

  • my father said to me "You're a loser don't even
    bother carrying on" and he was just telling me
    that I wasn't ever going to get to the army
    anyway, that I was doing it for all the wrong
    reasons. But then I realised I wasn't and so I
    got up and even though I had a slipped disc I
    finished the assault course.

  • Voice introduces doubt of Matt when he needs
  • He had made sense of why he heard this critical
    voice past dynamic
  • Felt threatened and jealous of Matt tried to
    impose his values on him.
  • Had a way of dealing with his father in life
    rebellion - which helped him deal with the voice
    and transform it from destructive to source of

  • Consequences depend on nature of relationship to
    the deceased, and how the bereaved respond to
    this dynamic.
  • Exps continued an aspect of the relationship
    were entirely appropriate to the relationship
  • Helped with emotional/profound issues or
    accomplishing everyday chores
  • Highlight the loss or continue most difficult
    parts of the relationship

  • Healing potential as well as destructive
  • Look at individual cases to understand the
    consequences and changes in different
  • Therapeutically - can work on the meaning of this
    relationship to help the person transform the
    consequences of a difficult voice

Selected references
  • Hayes, J (2011). Experiences of Presence. PhD
    thesis. (book forthcoming)
  • Rees, D (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood.
    B. Medical J., 4, 37-41
  • Klass, D. (1996). Continuing Bonds New
    understandings of grief. Washington Taylor
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