Do You Believe In Life After Death?

People often believe only what they choose to believe, not what may be unbelievable but true.” – Janis Heaphy Durham

Do YOU believe in life after death?  Stay with me here, I know it’s an off-putting question to ask on a random Thursday, but let’s talk about it for a bit.

Life After Death

I’ve always believed in life after death, primarily because I’m a Mormon and one of the main tenets of my religion is that there was life before this one, and another after we die.  It doesn’t seem strange to me at all to think of the state of life as fluid, moving from one sphere to the next.

But I absolutely understand that it’s a strange concept for a lot of people; I get it.  It’s one of those feel-y, faith-y things, and plenty of people think the idea of life after death is completely bananas.  In fact, the author of the new book, The Hand On The Mirror, Janis Heaphy Durham, was one of them.  Durham was a journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher of the newspaper the Sacramento Bee, a fact-based professional if there ever was one, whose notion of the whole thing was flipped on its head when her beloved husband died in 2004.



Durham’s husband died unexpectedly at the age of 56 after a brief, excruciating bout with esophageal cancer, and one year later on the first anniversary of his death, Durham started experiencing inexplicable phenomena.  The first thing she found was a handprint, the size and shape of her dead husband’s, on her bathroom mirror.

Crazy, right?


do you believe in life after death?

Durham had the wherewithal to photograph the handprint, (something I never in a million years would think to do) and that experience, along with her absolute conviction that it was her dead husband Max communicating with her from beyond, set Durham off on a quest for understanding nearly a decade long.  She approached the strange incidents she experienced (there were several, as physical as the handprint on the mirror) like a true investigative journalist, crisscrossing the country to interview dozens of experts in various fields to try and explain and validate her story.


Life After Death

Durham’s son with her husband Max


What Durham found is that there’s this whole world out there, the “paranormal” (which is a funny word, really) with legit scientists studying things we feel and see that can’t be explained. What she realized is that something isn’t necessarily nuts just because we don’t understand it.  In the book Durham says,

Paranormal is normal.  I just didn’t know it.  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.

And one of the scientists she interviewed, Dr. Charles Tart, had this to say on the subject:

Being a skeptic is an honorable, high-status role, especially in intellectual circles.  We tend to think of skeptics as smarter and sharper than those who just unquestionably accept whatever they’re being told.”

That feels pretty true to me.



I’ve had a handful of experiences with life beyond this one, and while they’re too personal to share, I’m an absolute believer that there’s more out there.  One of the experiences I have had though, which I hope you’ll respect, is the fact that sometimes I feel and smell my grandmother.


I’ve written at length about my grandmother.  We were very close, throughout my life until her death in 2001.  My grandmother was, and is, one of my cheerleaders, my guardian angel, my life champion.  And sometimes, especially in really difficult times, in moments I feel bereaved and alone, I feel my grandmother near me.  I have even smelled the very specific smell of her, the mix of her perfume and face powder, her Estée Lauder red lipstick and laundered grandmotherly sweaters.

I didn’t know this was a common thing, being able to smell the very specific smell of people you loved who have died, but it is.  It happens all the time.  Who knew?  Not me, that’s who.  There’s also a lot of other stuff that happens all the time, that no one talks about, like the actual physical person coming back to comfort those still alive.  I have a lot of friends and family members who’ve experienced really amazing, sacred things with loved ones who’ve died.  And I think it’s the coolest.  I think it’s absolutely the most wonderful kind of scientific discovery ever.  What a comfort.

In the end, Durham came to the same sort of conclusions I’ve come to, about how she now lives her life. After the grief and heartache, the near death experiences of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too precious, too fleeting, too wonderful to waste on nonsense.  I’m learning to let go, and to do only the things that make me and those around me happiest.  Durham summed it up beautifully in the last paragraph of her book,

Death taught me about life.  I rarely waste time anymore.  I live life in the present, acutely aware of paying attention to all dimensions.  I relish the brief glimpses into the mysteries of our existence.

So what do you think?  Does it feel too weird to you, this life after death stuff?  Does it make sense?  I would love to know what you think, I really would.

// This post was brought to you in partnership with Grand Central Publishing.  Follow Grand Central on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  #HandOnTheMirror.  Learn more about the book and Durham’s experiences, and how to share your own at and watch a video of the author talk about her story on YouTube. //

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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. Chrysula :

    I too have had those deeply personal moments. I never met my grandmother — she died long before I was born — but I’ve felt her physical presence at multiple junctures in my life. Her involvement in my life is a gift I deeply treasure and I look forward to meeting her one day.

    • Allison :

      Chrysula, oh thank you for sharing, friend. Isn’t it amazing, feeling these people from beyond? It’s the most comforting thing. I can’t WAIT for you to meet your grandmother. If she’s anything like you, it will be a remarkable reunion!

  2. Josi :

    I have had very few of these experiences, but know a lot of people who feel the closeness you feel with your grandmother. I am one who has faith in the faith of others for the most part but I absolutely believe in a sphere beyond this one we call earth. It brings me great peace and comfort to know it, and I love hearing other people’s connection to that world that I don’t necessarily experience myself. Sounds like a great book.

    • Allison :

      Josi, I think that faith in the faith of others thing is pretty powerful stuff, and you’d love the book.

  3. Kami Larsen :

    Wow, this gave me chills! Death has always produced huge anxiety in me (like, I can’t roadtrip without being scared I’m going to die). But as I learn more about things like this, I feel more calm. Thanks for posting.

    • Allison :

      Kami, I’m so happy to hear this made you feel more calm! The thought of life after death has always been a comfort to me, and hearing other people’s stories makes it even more so. I think you’d love the book, it really studies the stories from all angles and it’s so interesting to see the scientific data behind the feel-y stuff.

  4. Heidi E :

    Wow! Allison, I’m so glad you shared your experience with your Grandmother. I too have had that experience. It was also a combination of her regular choice of perfume and familiar natural scent. My experience was while living in a new home several states away from where I grew up. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I walked into the room and smelled it. I immediately new it was her smell. Even though I absolutely have faith in life after death, I somehow shrugged it off not understanding how, or why that scent was there. But, after reading your same experience I’m thrilled to hear how I’m not just imagining things and maybe it really was her!!

    • Allison :

      Heidi thank you for sharing, I really appreciate it. I too had NO idea that was a real thing, I really just thought I’d imagined it or there was some other “logical” explanation. Isn’t it such a cool thing though, especially since smell is such a memory trigger? I love hearing I’m not the only one! The coolest.