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First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Illustration by Rachel Wada

Deep within my heart, I believed that once we died, that was it. I never believed in the possibility of life after death. My scientific training as a respiratory therapist meant I thought that a person who claimed to see the “bright lights” during a near-death experience was simply suffering from hypoxia as their brain and body shut down.

But I’ve always enjoyed hearing about near-death experiences and watched multiple documentaries trying to prove or disprove the phenomenon. In one film that I had watched, a sign had been placed above the surgical lights in an operating room, instructing anyone who saw that sign to let the staff know. Nobody ever responded. A few years ago, my boyfriend Dave and I shared links to videos about research that explored the possibilities of life after death. He was fascinated with the topic, too. The last link that he sent to me was a TED Talk about a person’s energy continuing to exist after the body dies.

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Several weeks later, one week before Christmas, Dave committed suicide. I was completely blindsided because we had been making so many plans for the future. But I would come to learn that he had probably been planning it for quite some time.

I grieved for months, and in the spring I discovered the TV show Long Island Medium. I became completely mesmerized and decided that I needed to find my own psychic medium, hoping that someone could make a connection to Dave.

I went to see a psychic in Calgary who has a good record of helping law enforcement agencies from around the world locate missing and murdered persons.

If someone had told me years ago that I would embrace this completely different world, I would have thought they were crazy. Yet here I was, and I had no idea what to expect. I opened the door to her office and was immediately struck by the crystals. I saw what appeared to be angel wings adorning the walls. An eagle’s wing, wrapped with ribbons, was hanging from a hook by the door.

Patricia is the most delightful person. Her blond bobbed hair swung as she jumped up from her chair to welcome me and gave me a warm hug. I never told her any details about Dave; I wanted it to be completely spontaneous. My belief system entirely hinged on the reading I was about to receive. Either she knew things, or she didn’t.

I had brought a picture of Dave because her website mentioned that photos helped her to channel that person’s energy. I also brought a tape recorder because I didn’t want to forget or miss anything that she said.

Patricia started the reading by trying to identify the different spirits that had walked in with me. She described one of my grandfathers perfectly, but she also said he was talking about somebody else who was there, someone that was missing the tip of a finger. I didn’t know of anyone that was missing any fingertips. (Later, I learned that my other grandfather had lost the tip of two fingers in a lawnmower accident. He died when I was a baby, so I didn’t remember him at all.) This was one of 50 validations of my life that she could never possibly have known.

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Patricia sensed that there was somebody else in the room but the spirit was “wispy,” unlike my grandfather who was strongly present. After several minutes, she asked me if someone had died recently. When I told her that my boyfriend had died six months earlier, she exclaimed: “In the first year, it’s darn near impossible to reach them, but I will try because he is here.”

“He can hear you,” Patricia said. “It’s almost like he comes to you gently because you were very angry with him when he left.” She told me stories for almost an hour, telling me things that she could never possibly have known. She described how Dave would sit across from me at the kitchen island. How when I was at the kitchen sink, he would wrap his arms around me from behind. “He’s still doing that.”

She explained that “if you even think of them, it’s … like picking up the phone or having him right in front of you. If you know what you feel like, you’ll know what somebody else’s energy feels like.”

At home I tried hard to focus on anything that I was feeling, it was almost like a deep meditation. About a week after the reading, I noticed a tingling sensation on the right side of my head when I thought of Dave – as if my hair was standing on edge, this ebbed and flowed depending on the intensity of my emotions. When my mom died suddenly a year later, I was more open to the sensation and I felt her energy differently, and immediately.

The experience has brought me comfort. The peace that I feel has assured me that our journey does not end once we pass from this life. It is like the veil has been lifted between our two worlds, and I am constantly being caressed from the other side.

Patricia left me with a parting thought to consider once my grief had subsided. “It’s almost like you wanted to write a book, and now you have the material,” she noted.

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Writing a book was not something I had ever considered, but after my experience, sharing my story is something that I simply have to do.

Cathy Bohlken lives in Calgary.

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