Less than four years after their wedding, Janis Heaphy Durham’s husband Max passed away from cancer. Durham was a spiritual person, raised in the Presbyterian church and blessed with a strong faith in God, but even if she suspected that death was not the end, she was entirely unprepared for what happened next. In fact, I doubt there are many people–even among those well acquainted with after-death communication–who would not be startled by the odd events Janis witnessed in the years following her husband’s passing.
Oh, yes, there were the “usual” sorts of signs: lights flickering, clocks stopping at precisely the time of her husband’s death, radios suddenly turning on at important moments. But then there was a phenomenon I’ve never seen recounted anywhere else. On the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Durham found a man’s handprint on her bathroom mirror. And it wasn’t just an ephemeral, barely visible smudge. It was made of a white, powdery substance that stayed for days–and eventually had to be scrubbed off. She was able to photograph the handprint, and she includes the photo in her book The Hand on the Mirror (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2015).
Her book describes as well the odd white smudges that appeared on the same mirror on the second anniversary of her husband’s death. And the larger handprint that appeared two days before the third anniversary date, with fingers that this time appeared strangely curved and elongated. And finally, three years after that, there appeared an odd footprint, not on the mirror this time but on the arm of a suede chair in Durham’s living room.
All these bizarre events understandably led Durham to investigate research into after-death communication, as well as psychic phenomena in general. As an accomplished newspaperwoman who spent 10 years as the publisher of the Sacramento Bee, Durham had a perfect entrée to speak with many of the leading names in the field of scientific psi research, including Dr. Dean Radin, Dr. Bruce Greyson, and Dr. Gary Schwartz, and her book is not only a heartfelt testimony of her own journey to find answers but an intriguing account of her interviews with these pioneering scientists.
Durham was surprised to discover that after-death communication is actually the norm. She writes on p. 165 of The Hand on the Mirror,
What I thought was extraordinary was, in fact, ordinary. Apparently, paranormal is normal. I just didn’t know it. And there’s a reason. People are afraid to admit what they have experienced. They’re reluctant to speak publicly about what they’ve experienced for fear of being judged.
Durham herself was a case in point. She had been very skittish about mentioning, even to close friends, the strange events occurring in her life, afraid of being labeled crazy or a New Age freak. That’s why, once she had spoken with all of these scientists and realized how prevalent such experiences really are (although, again, nobody else I know of has seen this particular phenomenon of powdery white handprints on a mirror), she decided to write her book, to let others know they were not alone in their experiences and to encourage them to speak out. That’s also the reason she’s begun her website thehandonthemirror.org, to give people a forum to share their extraordinary stories with one another.
What I take away from Durham’s book is first of all the huge variety in people’s experiences of the psychic side of life. While there are certainly some kinds of experience that happen over and over to lots of different folks (for instance, the flickering lights and stopping clocks I mentioned above), there are also a lot of cases that seem truly unique, like Durham’s. The psychic side of life is not a monotonous place, and it’s not the location to go looking for cut and dry answers.
Throughout her book, Durham questions the exact origin of the handprints she encountered. Were they produced by her deceased husband? Were they produced by her own need to see some sign of connection with him? I think a lot of us who confront truly odd experiences have the same questions–What do they mean? Is there a message involved? I suspect that the difficulty we have in pinning down what’s behind these phenomena may be part of the point. Durham quotes an insightful observation made by Dr. Greyson in their interview:
These things happening in your house–they may be coming from Max, and they may be coming from you. … At a core level, perhaps there is no difference between you and Max–we’re all part of the same thing.
Maybe that’s why these events can seem so very puzzling. They don’t fit well into our mechanistic, binary thinking that separates the world into “me” and “not-me.” And perhaps that’s part of their purpose: to elevate us beyond this perspective, to a perspective from which we can see the interwovenness of all things. Maybe these events are so mysterious precisely in order to lead us on a mystical journey, to a new sense of our place in the world. Durham asks near the end of her book, “Is love the unifying factor that connects us to one another?” I believe the answer is yes. And that, if we look carefully, even the craziest experiences in life ultimately point us in this direction.