Baby Katie learned to speak very early, and as soon as she could string sentences together, she began repeatedly asking her mother, “Remember when I was your mummy?” It was all fun and games–after all, kids say the darnedest things!–until one day her mother, Deb, decided to play along and asked her, “What was your name when you were my mummy?” With the utmost seriousness, Katie whispered to her, “They used to call me Blondie.” Deb’s mother, who passed away when Deb was eighteen, had the nickname Blondie growing up. But Katie, if she had heard the family talk about her at all, had only ever heard her grandmother referred to as Elizabeth.
And that’s not all. Deb’s mother had been abusive to her and her sister growing up, and sometimes Deb had had to protect them by locking her mother in the bedroom. This wasn’t necessarily the mom you wanted to have reincarnate in your family! But after revealing that her name had once been Blondie, little Katie continued by saying, “I didn’t like you very much when you were my little girl.” Deb expressed surprise and asked why not. “Because you always used to yell at me,” said Katie, “and push me into my room and lock the door.”
Carol Bowman’s book Return from Heaven is filled with stories like this: stories of children who, for good or ill, share the memories, physical scars, and/or idiosyncratic behaviors of a deceased relative. And it seems in the stories Bowman relates that it’s generally for the good. That even relationships that were fraught with violence and animosity in the past, like Deb’s with her mother, can undergo great healing when one of the parties “returns” in a new body.
Bowman states that her goal in researching these kinds of cases and writing about them is not to prove to anyone the reality of reincarnation. Not because she doesn’t think it can be done, but because she thinks it’s been done wonderfully well already, in the meticulous research conducted by the late Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. And I would have to agree with her. Ian Stevenson’s work is the reason I was first forced to take a hard look at the “crazy” theory of reincarnation, and I found it impossible to dismiss the evidence contained in Stevenson’s exceedingly detailed scientific works.
But Carol Bowman is ready to move the investigation to a new level. To move beyond asking whether this stuff is real and to start asking how it works and what it means. And it seems that cases of “family return” offer a unique piece of the puzzle. Bowman reasons that if reincarnation were just random, the odds of a soul’s returning to the same family would be millions to one. And yet she alone has come across hundreds of such cases in her research. She writes, “The very existence of these cases of same-family reincarnation attests to the fact that there must be some choice, some intention, at least for some souls. Reincarnation is not a totally random process.”
But when you get into the details of the individual cases, you find so much more. Over and over, you find children talking about having chosen their parents. (And it’s not just Bowman who encounters these stories–check out Wayne Dyer’s book Memories of Heaven to read letters from parents whose children recount similar things!) One particularly astounding story comes from a good friend of Carol Bowman’s. The friend has a daughter who was particularly close with her female cousin. “In fact,” says the mother, “they were more like sisters than cousins and so psychically ‘in tune’ they often kept their verbal communication with each other to a minimum.” Then one day, after some debate with her cousin about whether they should reveal their secret, the daughter told her mother, “Before Sarah and I came here to this life, we were supposed to come together. We were twins and we were supposed to be in Tricia’s [Sarah’s mom’s] stomach. Just before we came, that person held me back. Remember him, Sarah? Do you remember what he told me?” Sarah continued the story: “He told you that you couldn’t come. That it wasn’t your time yet, but that he’d make it so we could always be near each other. He said you’d have to wait and we were so upset–but look! Here we are! He kept his promise!”
If such a story seems too good to be true, remember that it exists alongside more difficult stories, like that of Katie, Deb, and Blondie. There are abundant reincarnation stories in which children are very troubled by their memories of another existence. Or where they even long to return to their former home, or to a family they say they were “supposed” to have, before plans got changed in heaven at the last minute. Belief in reincarnation is not a panacea for all our existential ills. Far from it. Families with reincarnated relatives still have to do the hard work of loving and forgiving and living human lives. And yet stories like that of these two cousins who were expecting to be born as twins point to there being some guiding purpose in all of the joy and all of the suffering.
I myself take immense comfort and inspiration from the stories in Bowman’s book. I don’t personally have any memories about before I was born, but I have experienced things during this life that are so meaningful that they convince me there is much more to our existence than meets the eye. When I read Bowman’s stories–or hear my friends talk about their memories of being in heaven before they were born–I feel a deep resonance in my heart. A deep and thorough yes. As though somewhere deep in my unconscious is buried the memory of another place. And of a deeper kind of communion with the souls I love on this earth.
Before Ian Stevenson died in 2007, Carol Bowman had several opportunities to interact with him, and she recounts asking him why he thought we chose the parents that we do. She said she listed several hypotheses: “geography, familiarity, randomness, unfinished business, and the idea that love may draw a soul to its parents.” Stevenson’s response? “Isn’t love reason enough?”
And what if it were? What if you and I chose to live where we do, in the families we do, with the friends and spouses we do, with the problems we do, all for the purpose of loving? Loving in the face of pain. Loving when the need for forgiveness is enormous and seems impossible to meet. Loving when the world seems to do everything it can to discourage us. What if giving and experiencing love in precisely these circumstances is the reason why we came?
I believe some things are too good not to be true.