Glimpses of the beyond
February 9, 2009
By GREG HARDESTY
The Orange County Register
LAGUNA WOODS The Bridge Club was meeting next door.
The presentation in this room was a bit heavier.
"As you all know," the speaker began, rain lashing the windows, "we're all going to die."
If the coffee and cookies hadn't done the trick, the visiting speaker from Iceland likely woke up the crowd of mostly seniors.
The Life After Life Club was in session.
Elizabeth McAdams, a courtly and conservatively dressed woman who speaks with a slight Texas twang, founded the club.
Sitting in a Mimi's Café in Lake Forest, the topic of conversation was ghosts, deathbed visions, the afterlife, religion, apparitions, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, philosophy — interrupted, briefly, by a waitress asking McAdams if she wanted more coffee.
McAdams, 63, a divorced mother of two children with five grandchildren, started the club shortly after she moved to Laguna Woods Village a year and a half ago. What began with 20 people in her living room has grown to nearly 70 members.
Is McAdams a crackpot?
"Well," she says, with a twinkle in her eyes. "I'm hiding it."
For McAdams and other club members, the afterlife is no laughing matter. It's as real as the waitress asking McAdams if she wanted more coffee.
McAdams says she's not trying to convince folks of anything; her club, she says, isn't affiliated with any religion or philosophy.
"We simply put the information out there," says McAdams, a former teacher of educational psychology at Pepperdine University.
"What happens after we die?" McAdams asks. "It's a question a lot of people have."
Especially at Laguna Woods Village, where the average age is 67.
"We're getting closer to the end," said Frank McQuirk, 81, who's had an interest in the metaphysical for more than four decades and is a Life After Life member.
"We should be thinking more about it."
The Life After Life Club, which presents monthly programs, is an offshoot of a nonprofit organization McAdams founded in 1983, the International Foundation for Survival Research (www.expbeyond.org).
That foundation provides informational booklets about life-after-death experience that are free to hospices, hospitals and senior facilities.
"We document people's personal experiences (with the afterlife) and provide research," says McAdams. "For example, about half of widowers say they've had some experiences related to the death of their loved ones."
Saturday, at Clubhouse 7 in Laguna Woods Village, the Life After Life Club sponsored a presentation by Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, a well-known parapsychologist whose books include "At the Hour of Death."
Either McAdams is a super promoter, or interest in the afterlife is growing – or both – but Saturday's lecture attracted 82 people. Slightly more than half were non-members of the club — some seeking a better understanding of their own experiences with the non-physical world.
Six years ago, in a corridor near his home in Laguna Woods Village, McQuirk felt "two spirits" following him.
He turned around.
"They looked like two Jewish men from Leisure World," said McQuirk, a former electrician from Dublin. "I walked toward them. I walked right through them, actually."
Haraldsson's 60-minute lecture, followed by 30 minutes of questions and answers, was academic — his gray sports coat perfectly complementing his sober delivery.
Using a text-heavy slide show, the professor emeritus at the University of Iceland discussed, among other things, deathbed visions culled over the decades — mostly from doctors and nurses in the United States and India who related what patients told them.
Many patients reported seeing long-dead relatives and feeling a sense of peace.
Catherine Paulson, 60, stopped by for most of the presentation before heading to dance class.
"It seems like many of these people want to have some kind of warning, like a hallucination or something, of their death," said Paulson, a nurse. "Are they afraid of dying?"
She left the question hanging.
Life After Life club member Joyce Burkhart said she enjoyed Haraldsson's talk.
"My mother died two years ago," Burkhart said. "Through a medium, I've communicated with her."
Expression of hope
McAdams said she had a paranormal experience involving her deceased father in the mid-1980s when she was finalizing her divorce.
"I felt his essence when I pulled into a parking lot," she said. "I couldn't see him. I said, 'Dad, is that you?'
"He said, 'Yes. Honey, it's done. I'm so proud of you.'"
McQuirk has seen other apparitions besides the two men in the corridor. He's not sure who they were. He saw his wife in her walker six days after she died.
Like McAdams, McQuirk considers such experiences normal and common.
"Understandably, people are very cautious about this topic," McAdams says. "It's very hard for someone to know how real this is if they haven't had any experiences themselves.
"I like to think that I'm giving people some hope, as well as an understanding of some things they might not know about."
A Life After Life Club event in March will feature life-after-death experiences from the points of views of guest speakers from the Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian communities.
Burkhart said most members of the Life After Life Club have two motives for joining.
"They've lost a spouse or someone close to them," she said, "or they're heading that way themselves."
Burkhart, who has done hospice work, said she's not afraid of dying.
She also doesn't believe that members of the Life After Life Club are especially odd, or overly obsessed with dying.
Across the lobby, the Bridge Club still was in session.
"Now, those people are far out," Burkhart said. "Talk about obsessed."