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Grieving the death of a loved one is one of the most intensely painful experiences known to the human race. It is a traumatic assault to our hearts, perhaps even to our very souls. It is also, unfortunately, an experience that all of us will have to endure at some point in our lives, due to the rather simplistic fact that everyone does die.

The hardest part for many of us to accept is the fact that our loved ones are irreversibly gone from our physical reality. To know that we can never see or communicate with them again, at least for the remainder of our own earthly lives, nearly always provokes the deepest anguish any of us will ever know.

But is this always true? Granted, they can no longer be a part of our daily lives, and this is something we must learn to adjust to, no matter how difficult the task. But are there rare times when our loved ones are able to bridge the gap between our dimension and theirs? Are there times when they try desperately to communicate that they still exist, or perhaps even to give us a message of comfort and hope?

This phenomenon is known as the ADC, After Death Communication. It is defined as a spontaneous and direct contact between the deceased and the living. These experiences are always initiated by the deceased and do not include the use of a third party such as a psychic or medium, or any sort of ritual or device. In fact, they often occur at times when they are least expected, and the people that have these experiences are nearly always awestruck or surprised by them.

Rather than inducing fear, the vast majority of ADCs give the recipient a sense of comfort and hope and often contribute greatly to resolution and healing in the grief process. Bill and Judy Guggenheim, authors of the book, "Hello From Heaven," give a conservative estimate, based on their research, that some 50 million Americans have experienced some form of an ADC.

Indeed, some very notable figures throughout history have reported having ADCs. Some examples are Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, author C.S. Lewis, and General George S. Patton, Jr.

While ADC is undoubtedly a spiritual experience and can lead one to question and study the subjects of metaphysics and the afterlife, the subject is quite different from, and should not be confused with, the negative perceptions associated with spiritism or the occult.

There are several types of ADCs that can range from the symbolic--sense of feeling a "presence," auditory experiences, spontaneous and unusual electrical phenomena--to the more profound and difficult to explain (e.g., full visual appearance).

One of the more common forms of reported ADCs are dream contacts. Many people report having dreams of their deceased loved ones. Often these will occur within the first couple of months following the loss, but can also spontaneously occur many years afterward. Though probably a significant number of these dreams can be explained as products of the subconscious, typically the dreams that qualify as ADCs are more vivid than ordinary dreams. They are often described as "different" and may also include tactile sensations, or a "message." In addition, what can also make these "message" dreams stand apart from ordinary dreams is that they often contain information that the bereaved did not or could not possibly have previously known.

The ADC is thought by many researchers to originate in the right temporal lobe, the same area of the brain where the well-documented phenomenon the "Near-Death Experience" is processed. Some also believe that these experiences do not belong lumped into the category of the "paranormal" and that they are more accurately described as normal components of the grieving process.

It is believed that what we commonly call the "soul" is composed of energy. If we believe, as we learned in high school science, that energy cannot be destroyed and merely changes forms, the survival of some aspect of human consciousness is not at all far-fetched.

ADCs, whatever form they take, are almost always powerful and uplifting experiences to those who receive them. No matter what a skeptic may think of the subject, many people do experience them, and they are very real to those who do. Perhaps some can be explained away as wishful thinking, or products of the imagination. Yet, even if this is sometimes the case, if the perceived experience gives a person comfort and healing during his/her time of bereavement, surely there is no harm being done.

That being said, there are also many accounts that are fascinating, compelling, and seemingly defy simple explanations. It is these accounts that can strengthen our faith that the souls of our loved ones do still exist. They can offer hope and confirmation that even the finality of death, cannot eradicate the strong bonds of love.

Perhaps the most important thing of all is simply to recognize that the people who experience these events do perceive them to be very real and that they derive much comfort from them. It is within the context of these facts alone, that we, believers and skeptics alike, can find the common ground to appreciate the true gifts of ADC.