A group of women sit at a table, sipping coffee and talking animatedly. One is a doctor, another a barrister. A third, Jane Clark, 49, is a no-nonsense civil servant — so you might imagine these high-flying women are here to network, or are members of a school PTA.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, for the next hour, they will discuss how best to connect with the departed and debate the scientific evidence for the existence of Heaven.
‘We’re not sitting in an old-fashioned gypsy caravan, looking into a glass ball,’ says Jane. ‘We’re all professional, educated women. I work in a team handling large contracts and am the type of person who questions things and looks for evidence. I’m logical and think things through. But I also believe that the human spirit can live on beyond death.’
People have been fascinated by the concept of what lies ‘beyond the grave’ for centuries. While there are those who are sceptical about the existence of an afterlife, many — even if they won’t admit it — say there’s more to our world than can be explained even by science.
Theresa Cheung (pictured) collates encounters of the afterlife in her new book
For others, there is irrefutable proof. They have had personal experience of those who have passed on, directly or through a medium, that has left them certain a spirit world exists.
That is my experience. I believe there must be an afterlife as, otherwise, I would be dead.
Twenty years ago, I was in my car, heading to a junction behind a lorry indicating left. I planned to turn left, too, until a voice told me to move to the right and change lanes.
Even though she had died a few years earlier, it was my mother’s voice, and I obeyed instantly.
If I had turned left, you wouldn’t be reading this now, because I would have driven into a pile-up that claimed the lives of three people in cars directly behind the lorry.
To this day, I can’t explain that voice, other than that it must have been my mother guiding me from Heaven. It proved to me there is an afterlife.
I’m no fool: I have a Masters in theology and English from Cambridge University. I am also very aware that many are sceptical about whether our consciousness can survive death.
Yet more people than ever are curious about the possibility that the human spirit does survive.
Jane is one is of them. She has a humanities degree, works for the Ministry of Justice and has held several roles in the prison service — but incidents in her life have left her convinced Heaven must exist.
Ali Norell (pictured) , 44, spoke to a medium to connect with dead family members
When she was an 11-year-old, one of her school friends was left in a coma after being hit by a drunk driver. The girl wasn’t expected to live, and doctors went as far as turning off her life support machine. But to everyone’s astonishment, she came round. ‘She said her dead grandpa had told her she had to go back,’ says Jane. ‘She was absolutely adamant she had been protected by angels. I still believe she told the truth.’
Jane also consulted a medium who was able to connect with a troubled young man she had worked with, who wanted to speak to her from Heaven. Jane says the medium knew details about him and the manner of his death that nobody else but her and a handful of others could have known.
‘I had contact with him as a probation officer, and his case was known only to me and a few colleagues,’ she says. ‘It was not possible for the medium to have researched the story.’
Danny, had died in sad, lonely circumstances and Jane had felt responsible that she hadn’t been able to do more to help him.
There’s substantial evidence beyond reasonable doubt that there is life beyond death
Through the medium, he gave details of conversations he and Jane had had and was able to reassure her that he was no longer troubled.
Since then, Jane says Danny has ‘spoken’ to her with other specific details through other mediums, and she is utterly convinced it is possible to connect with the spirits of those who have passed on.
Jane says: ‘I absolutely get why people say that this is twaddle, because it’s not tangible in terms of something you can see.
‘But as the lawyer in our group says, if you look at it as you would in a court of law, there’s substantial evidence beyond reasonable doubt that there is life beyond death.’
In fact, science has made incredible advances, especially in the field of near-death experience and research into consciousness.
A recent study has shown consciousness can survive body and brain death (file image)
A 2014 study of 2,000 patients at hospitals all over the world by Dr Sam Parnia, a leading resuscitation expert from the University of Southampton, showed that consciousness — spirit or soul — can survive body and brain death. The frequency of near-death experiences reported by patients returning from the brink prompted Dr Parnia to study them scientifically.
Of one case, he concluded: ‘Consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted.
‘Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.’
The research was so definitive that another larger study was ordered and is ongoing.
Is it such a leap of faith to suggest that when our bodies die, the energy created by our thoughts and feelings carries on in a non-physical, invisible dimension — or Heaven?
I have no explanation other than it must have been, as the psychic said, Romy trying to communicate with us from Heaven- Ali Norell
And is it possible that, sometimes, we can tune in to that eternal energy of the departed? For me, thousands of people’s experiences bear witness to the very real possibility that the strength of the energy between two people can sometimes make communication between this life and the next possible.
Ali Norell, 44, from Brighton, East Sussex, has had encounters with deceased loved ones that have convinced her it is possible.
Married to Darius, a leadership consultant, she should have four children aged between two and nine. But her third child, Romy, died of a brain haemorrhage in July 2014, aged just four months. A former reflexologist-turned-author, Ali says: ‘The first encounter happened when I was 14. I saw my grandfather, who’d died when I was four, in my bedroom. What stood out were his clothes. They were so scruffy — baggy, shapeless trousers and a bottle-green, cable-knit sweater, like a fisherman’s.
‘There were no photos of him wearing them, and I was so young when he died that I have no memory of them, either, but when I spoke to my mum, she said that was what he was buried in.’ But it was a sitting with a medium a few months after Romy’s sudden death that really persuaded Ali the human spirit can survive death.
Ali believes her son Romy who died aged four months tried to contact their family from heaven (file image)
She says: ‘I’d never met this woman before, or given her any details at all about my life or the fact one of my children had died.
‘Straight away, she started talking about a baby or a very young child who had passed very suddenly and quite recently.
‘I was wearing a heavy coat with a scarf round my neck, and she told me I was wearing a gold locket round my neck with a photo of my daughter and a lock of her hair in it. This was correct, though there was no way she could have seen it.
‘She was also able to give me specific details, not known to anyone else, about how Romy had died — she collapsed after we had got back from a trip out.
‘I had left her sleeping in the living room while I went to make a cup of tea.
‘Then I heard this weird rasping sound. I realised it was Romy and she was gasping for breath.’
Romy was rushed to hospital, but her parents had to turn off her life-support machine the following day.
‘I beat myself up for months afterwards, thinking: ‘What if I’d stayed with her and hadn’t made that cup of tea?’ ‘ says Ali.
Many people believe mediums research their clients in advance (file image)
‘Technically, Romy died the next day when we’d turned off the machines, but the medium said she had passed on in the house. It was something I had also known in my heart. But apart from my husband and mother, I never told anyone that. The medium said she was given information to reassure me that Romy had gone to sleep, had slight difficulty breathing, then hadn’t woken up. There was nothing I could have done.’
Ali adds: ‘The most stunning thing was that she said, out of the blue: ‘Has your TV been moving?’ She said it was Romy’s spirit trying to communicate with us.
‘This was a bit left field, even for me. But the funny thing was that the TV had been moving. For three mornings in a row, I’d found it had swivelled round 180 degrees. I’d assumed my husband had moved the screen to reach the plugs behind it, or perhaps it was our four-year-old son.
‘When I mentioned this after my reading, my husband not only said he hadn’t moved the TV, but that he had also discovered it turned round on several occasions at night.
‘He thought it was me and, of course, our son would have been in bed by then. I have no explanation other than it must have been, as the psychic said, Romy trying to communicate with us from Heaven.’
One argument that is often used against mediums is that they research their clients in advance.
Claire Broad, a respected medium with whom I co-wrote my latest book, counters this with an experience she had connecting a client to her deceased mother during a sitting. Claire was able to ‘see’ a handbag she strongly felt belonged to the mother.
The mother’s spirit made her aware there was a ring inside it that she wanted her daughter to have. Claire recalls: ‘My client put the information to the test. She contacted her father and asked him to search the house for a handbag.
‘To her amazement, he discovered it — and inside was the ring!
‘My client contacted me to let me know she was blown away by the discovery and is now the proud wearer of her mother’s ring.’
There is no way that Claire could have researched that information anywhere. The only person who knew about the ring and its location was the deceased mother.
With so many experiences such as this out there, is it any wonder there are those like Jane Clark and her circle of high-powered women who want to prove that the spirits of the deceased really can communicate with us from Heaven?
Answers From Heaven: Incredible True Stories Of Heavenly Encounters And The Afterlife, by Theresa Cheung and Claire Broad, is published by Piatkus at £8.99.