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The Other Side: How I Know What I Know
I believe in the other side and the eternity of the soul. I believe our spirits make the round-trip from this world to The Other Side many times, by our own choice, to learn and experience for the ongoing advancement of the souls God gave each one of us. I believe that only a thin veil separates our earthly dimension from the dimension of The Other Side. I believe that The Other Side is Home, where we all came from and where we will all go again, and that we carry very real memories of it in our spirit minds. And I believe it is on The Other Side, between what we call "lifetimes," that we are really at our most alive.
Every one of those beliefs is absolute. For some reason, many people assume that since I was born psychic, into a family with a three-hundred-year psychic lineage, I'm already genetically goofy anyway, and likely to fall for every harebrained, supernatural "woo-woo" rumor that comes along.
But the truth is, I was also born in Missouri, the "Show-Me" state, into a Lutheran/Episcopalian/Jewish home, and attended Catholic school, which gave me enough theories about The Other Side and the journey of the soul to keep me perpetually confused if I had simply believed everything I heard without questioning it. Not a chance. I happen to be one of the most naturally skeptical people you'll ever meet, and I'm almost addicted to research. My faith in God has always been unshakable, but until and unless I've seen, tasted, smelled, felt, and experienced the details about how this whole creation of His really works, I take nothing for granted and keep righton digging for answers.
I would never waste your time with a book of pretty fantasies and illusions about The Other Side. I love fairy tales as much as the next person, but only when they're properly identified as fiction and used as pleasant little escapes from reality. The Other Side is reality, as real as the ground we walk on, the bodies our spirits inhabit, and the air we breathe. And the truth about The Other Side is more thrilling, comforting, loving, and empowering than any fairy tale could ever be.
Rather than ask you to just take my word for it, though, I'll assume that you're as skeptical as I am, and walk you down the sixty-three years of paths and occasional detours that led me to the truth, so that we can all take the upcoming tour of The Other Side together with fearless, confident joy.
I was born with an inherited, God-given psychic gift in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 19, 1936. Neither my dear daddy, William L. Shoemaker, nor my not-so-dear mother, Celeste, was psychic. The gift skipped that generation and passed directly from my beloved, brilliantly psychic maternal grandmother, Ada Coil, to me. Grandma Ada was my mentor, my inspiration, and my constant source of assurance that being psychic wasn't really the frightening burden I often found it to be. She used to say, "You're the only one in our family who's ever rebelled against this gift." She was right. Until I understood it and discovered that I could use it to help people, it was one gift I would have happily exchanged.
Just as a God-given musical gift can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from singer to composer to musician to conductor, the specifics of the psychic gift have varied from one generation of my family to another. Some of us can trance, or step aside to allow a spirit entity to see, speak, and hear through us, while others of us, including Grandma Ada and my psychic son, Christopher, either can't or won't. A few of my ancestors and my amazingly gifted granddaughter, Angelia, have psychokinetic power, which is the ability to manipulate tangible objects psychically. I don't have that ability, nor does Christopher, who is Angelia's father. The variations go on and on, but the bottom line remains the same: even when we were too young to understand what was happening, the psychics in my family have had countless, undeniable encounters with The Other Side in some form or other.
The majority of my childhood psychic experiences were visual. I was five years old when, at a family dinner, I saw the faces of both my great-grandmothers melting, as if their skin were slowly running down their necks like lava, leaving nothing but their bare skulls behind. Within two weeks they both died, and until Grandma Ada explained psychic visions, I was simply being given a visual form of psychic information, I was convinced that I had somehow killed them. At around that same age I discovered I had the disgusting, involuntary ability to see inside people, like a three-dimensional, full-color X ray. Try having a normal childhood when some repairman or family friend stops by and all you see is a diseased liver or tumor-ravaged lung floating through the living room.
I couldn't imagine a lifetime of looking at melting faces and infected organs, and I complained to Grandma Ada, the one person who understood. She taught me that, just as God gives us this gift, He can help us refine it. "Ask Him not to show you anything you can't handle," she said. So I did, and He answered the prayers of a frightened child. The visions kept coming, as powerful and intense as ever, but the images themselves were always more "age appropriate" from then on.
For example, it was only a few months later, the week before Halloween, when a little classmate of mine named Pam came to the house to show off the paper witch costume she was going to wear that year for trick or treat. The moment she stepped in the door I "saw" her surrounded by flames, as if she had an aura of fire. I wasn't sure exactly what it meant, but I was sure I preferred that to seeing her completely engulfed in an inferno with her flesh burned and charred. Pam was twirling around the room in full witch regalia when she spun too close to the wall heating grate, and suddenly her paper costume ignited and burst into flame. Purely on impulse, I threw her to the ground and rolled an area rug around her, extinguishing the fire even before my parents could rush into the room at the sound of Pam's terrified screams. Not only was my psychic vision of her surrounded by flames a bit less violent than the melting faces and diseased organs I'd been subjected to before, and not only did it turn out to be accurate, but I'm also convinced it heightened my senses and allowed me to help rather than panic when the vision became a reality just minutes later.
I was in my early teens when I "saw" my friend Joan severely slamming her head against the dashboard of a blue car. I told her about it and begged her to stay out of blue cars. Days later her older boyfriend's car broke down, and he managed to borrow his parents' blue car for his date with Joan that night. Fortunately, she'd known me long enough to take my warnings seriously-she actually started to get into the car before she changed her mind and told him she couldn't go. A few hours later he wrapped the blue car around a light pole. He and the driver's side of the car suffered only minor damage, but the empty passenger's side was totally demolished.
What I could handle without panic was seeing spirits, which has been a constant part of my reality for sixty-three years now. They started with night visits in my very early childhood. I'll never forget lying in my bed in the dark, watching forms take shape, one after another, until they almost filled the room, as if word had spread through the spirit world that "if you want to be seen, there's a party at Sylvia's." They never threatened me or even paid much attention to me, they just mingled and went about their business until a light came on, at which time they promptly became invisible to my clairvoyant night vision. Again I complained to Grandma Ada, and she calmly handed me a flashlight to take to bed with me. It worked, thank God. To this day I can't sleep in a completely dark room, because the minute I try it the room begins filling up. As a child, it was scary. As an adult, it's just annoying, like having a crowd of uninvited shadowy guests gather around you every time your head hits the pillow.
My psychic son Chris and I took my very psychic seven-year-old granddaughter Angelia to see a movie called The Sixth Sense, and since all of us routinely see spirits, we appreciated how accurately one of our daily realities was portrayed. We did find ourselves wishing that the little boy in the film had spent more time urging the ghosts around him to understand that they were dead and go toward the light to The Other Side, but that's another issue for a later section of this book. The movie brought back one long-forgotten memory of my Grandma Ada losing a steel strongbox full of important personal papers when I was a very young child. She had searched everywhere for it before she mentioned it to me, at which moment I clearly saw a tiny, rather unattractive woman-my great-grandmother, as it turned out-pointing to the back of a huge bureau in her bedroom. I told Grandma Ada, thrilled at this rare occasion when I was seeing a spirit she couldn't, and she finally remembered that yes, before the moving crew had grunted and groaned that giant bureau into place against the wall, she had slipped the strongbox behind it for the ultimate in safekeeping. For that memory and a generally well-done portrait of life through the eyes of a psychic child, I do thank The Sixth Sense.
I can hear you saying, What child doesn't see shadows moving around their bedrooms at night? True enough. It's not that uncommon. What is uncommon is for parents to take their children's night fears seriously. The typical reaction is to turn on the light and say to the trembling child, "You see? There's nothing here. Stop imagining things and go to sleep." But next time you find yourself in that situation with your child, please bear a couple of things in mind. For one thing, my Spirit Guide, Francine, whom I'll properly introduce later, swears that one of the most unfortunate words in the English language is imagination, because it's too convenient an excuse for a lot of incidents that deserve a closer look. For another thing, the most psychic beings on this earth are children and animals, so instead of dismissing what your child claims to see as made-up nonsense, encourage them to tell you all about it, and really listen. You'll be surprised at how much they can teach you about the spirit world and The Other Side if you'll let them.
Before long, to my chagrin, I was able to see spirits just as clearly in the bright light of day as I could in the dark. They would blithely mill around in a room full of people, seemingly unnoticed by everyone but me, two dimensions superimposed over each other and both of them equally real, and I finally stopped bothering to ask my parents or my sister, "Do you see that?" The answer was always no, so why reinforce to them, and to myself for the millionth time, that I was not a normal child? Except when Grandma Ada was around, I just kept my mouth shut and felt like an alien.
The whole family was gathered in the living room one night, reminiscing about dear departed relatives, when I saw the form of a man take shape behind Grandma Ada's left shoulder. I was sitting on the floor at her feet and whispered, "Grandma, who is that man behind you?"
Unlike the rest of the group, she didn't say, "What man?" or "There's no one behind your grandmother, Sylvia, knock it off." She simply asked, "What does he look like?"
I told her he was tall, with reddish hair and little round wire glasses, and he had a string around his neck with a horn on it, that he used to listen to people's chests.
Grandma Ada beamed, immediately recognizing the description of her Uncle Jim, a doctor who had died in the flu epidemic of 1917, twenty-four years earlier. She loved knowing he was there, and I loved knowing that by seeing him, I had given her a reunion that made her very happy. It was wonderful validation for the accuracy of my visions and the first time I remember believing that maybe this "psychic" thing really was a gift instead of a burden after all, if I could bring a smile like that to someone I loved so much.
It was in the context of all these spirits around me, and my curiosity about where they came from, that Grandma Ada started telling me about The Other Side. She said that when life on this earth ends, our eternal spirits leave our bodies and go Home to God in a place of unimaginable beauty, full of colors and music and pure, all-encompassing love. These spirits weren't coming around to hurt me, they were just visiting from The Other Side, and because of the gift she and I shared, we could see them when others couldn't.
I thought her stories about The Other Side were enchanting. I also thought they sounded too good to be true. She was probably just trying to make the spirit world and life after death sound pretty and safe, to ease the mind of the gifted, sensitive, confused granddaughter she adored. So I listened, adoring her right back, too young to realize that my soul was quietly resonating with the truth of every word she said.
Frankly, I didn't care very much about The Other Side and the eternity of the spirit when I was a child. I was too busy being relentlessly inquisitive, hyperactive, and outspoken, loving my daddy and grandmother, trying unsuccessfully to understand my troubled mother, and always, always "knowing things," whether I wanted to or not. I knew who was calling before the phone even rang, and who was at the door before they knocked. I announced the sudden death of my paternal grandfather just as Daddy raced in to break the news. I frantically pulled my father out of a theater one afternoon in the middle of the movie, screaming that my baby sister Sharon couldn't breathe, and we arrived home just in time to rush her to the hospital to be treated for double pneumonia. I knew what was about to happen, good and bad, to my friends and teachers. I even knew, without ever being told she existed, what the pretty blonde woman looked like whom Daddy quietly called when he thought we were all asleep. (I didn't blame him, by the way. To this day, although my father never did end up leaving my mother, I still see that "other woman" and consider her part of the family.)
I was seven years old when The Other Side became intensely personal for me and changed my life forever. I was in my bedroom, brushing my hair, playing with my flashlight, trying to ignore my certainty that someone I couldn't see was nearby, watching me. Suddenly, almost blindingly, the light from the flashlight grew and intensified until it filled the room with a pure white glow, and from the midst of the light a woman's voice said, "I come from God, Sylvia. Don't be afraid."
If a disembodied voice told you not to be afraid, no matter where it said it came from, would you just sit there? Me neither. I was out of that room, flying down the stairs, terrified, in search of Grandma Ada. I crashed into her in the kitchen, where she was cleaning vegetables from her victory garden. Sobbing and trembling, I told her what had happened. She held me and stroked my hair and explained, as if she'd been expecting this, "That was your Spirit Guide, sweetheart. She's here to help you. Pick up the carrots."
As always, Grandma Ada was right, it was indeed my Spirit Guide, and I've never spent a day without her since. Her real name is Iena, but for reasons no one can quite remember I immediately insisted on calling her Francine instead. In her one lifetime on earth, she was Aztec-Incan, from a small village in Colombia, killed by a spear in 1520 while trying to protect her child during a violent Spanish invasion. She is my closest friend, my constant companion, my patient confidante, my teacher, my "resident expert" on The Other Side, and my infuriatingly judicious protector who knows I can't learn without making mistakes. She speaks to me in a voice that's transformed into a high chirping sound as it makes the transition from her dimension to mine. With my permission, she also speaks through me, using my voice while I trance, oblivious to what goes on in my absence until I'm told about it later or hear her on tape. She's five nine, rail thin, with elegant long-fingered hands and waist-length black hair that she wears in a thick braid. She is sloe-eyed, and her looks are exotic, almost Egyptian, with her olive skin and huge dark eyes.
I didn't get my first actual glimpse of Francine until I was eighteen and in college. And when she appeared, I very deliberately closed my eyes and turned away.
I majored in education and literature at St. Theresa's College, with a minor in theology, toward my goal of becoming a teacher. I also signed up for a hypnosis class at the University of Kansas City. Francine had been chirping away to me on a regular basis for eleven years by then. The Three Faces of Eve was the hot new must-see movie, about a woman with multiple personalities. And, as part of my required studies, I was taking a course in abnormal psychology. I had felt abnormal all my life, and now here was a handy textbook that listed the eight symptoms of schizophrenia, four of which might as well have had a little photo of me beside them as far as I was concerned. The more I read, the more I studied, and the more I added things up, the more impossible it became to ignore the obvious: I was crazy. Far too crazy to teach children. The exalted three-hundred-year "psychic legacy" in my family was probably, in reality, a long, tragic hereditary insanity instead. As for this Francine person that no one could hear but me, how could I have been so stupid? She was no Spirit Guide. She wasn't even real. She was clearly just my own alternate personality, a sad imaginary splinter of my poor genetically deranged mind.
It sounded like good, solid logic to me, and I was almost smug when I announced it in my farewell speech to this symptom of my dementia I had known for so many years as Francine. She listened with her usual patience and didn't argue with me or defend herself even once. But she did ask me to indulge her in one little demonstration before I permanently declared her unreal: for the first time since I met her, she was going to materialize.
It was nighttime. Raining. My mother, father, and sister were with me, beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of seeing this woman I'd been chattering about for all these years. I, on the other hand, was some combination of scared, anxious, and resigned to the fact that when nothing happened, it would prove beyond a doubt how completely nuts I really was. We dimmed the lights a little, at her request, so as not to hurt her eyes on her first physical trip to this dimension in several centuries, or so she said. And then we waited.
But not for long.
There was a rocking chair beside me. Slowly, with silent grace, the folds of a pale blue dress took form, draping from the seat of the chair to the floor.
Next came a hand, resting in the lap of the soft dress, its fingers long and slender.
My father ecstatically blurted out, "Don't anyone talk until she's gone, so we'll know we didn't influence each other about what we saw!" No problem. Mother and Sharon were too busy gasping in awe to form actual words anyway.
An arm gradually appeared above the hand, with smooth mocha skin, and then, resting against it, a long braid of thick black hair.
That was enough for me. While my family kept watching, utterly enchanted, I turned away and never glanced back.
Dr. John Renick, a psychiatrist who had become one of my favorite teachers and confidants, was surprised at me when
I told him the next day about my reaction to Francine's physical debut. He thought I should be thrilled. "I've known all along that you're too strong and well integrated to have any serious psychological problems, let alone schizophrenia," he told me. "But you and your family saw Francine with your own eyes. She's real, which means that you're perfectly sane. Why did you turn away from her?"
I don't cry often, but I remember feeling tears on my cheeks. "Because I have to live in this world, Dr. Renick. I hear and see so much that normal people don't have to put up with. I don't want to be some airy-fairy weirdo, I want to be a teacher. I'm goofy enough. I can't afford to get any goofier."
He smiled, looked into my eyes, and said, "What a perfectly sane thing to say." I finally smiled back. I still have a written diagnosis from him: "Normal, but has paranormal abilities?" Even with the question mark, it meant a lot to me, coming from a highly respected psychiatrist, and at least as a psychic, I never questioned my sanity again.
Incidentally, after Francine disappeared that night and the family compared notes, it turned out that all three of them had seen exactly the same entity, right down to the tiniest detail. And while I refused to admit it at the time, part of me was furious that I missed it. How's that for predictable?
Also incidentally, I've known since the day she was born that my granddaughter Angelia is possibly the most powerfully gifted psychic this family has ever produced, so it didn't surprise me when she strolled into my bathroom one day when she was four years old and said, "Bagdah [her nickname for me], who is that lady with black hair who follows you around?" I'm always surprised, though, at how many "normal" audience members ask me after lectures and television appearances why I didn't introduce the tall dark-haired woman behind me onstage.
Now that I had fully accepted Francine, and at the risk of sounding like an ingrate, I began complaining to her about her high-pitched, chipmunk-like chirp and asked if she couldn't find some slower, lower-octave, less irritating way to communicate. She explained again that she couldn't control the distortion of the sound of her voice as it traveled from her dimension to mine, but for the first time she offered an alternative: if I would trance, she could speak through me, using my voice. I wouldn't be aware of anything that was said during the trance, but I could tape it and listen afterward to whatever she had to say.
My response was a less polite version of "Fat chance." I wanted no part of that. Letting a Spirit Guide occasionally borrow my vocal cords hardly sounded compatible with my determination to keep one foot safely planted in the rational world. She assured me that trancing was risk free, that it could be very helpful, and that I would never find myself unable to come back and take charge again. I didn't care. The answer was still a resounding no. She started to talk about trying it sometime if the opportunity presented itself, just to give me the experience, but I cut her off, finished with the whole conversation.
It happened a few days later, in a hypnosis class led by Dr. Royal. My friend Mary Margaret, whom I'd known since kindergarten, was with me. I remember being "counted down" as usual. The next thing I remember was regaining consciousness. I'm double-jointed, so it was a particularly graceless awakening-I was still seated on my chair, but I was bent over with the top of my head resting on the floor between my feet. Everyone in the room was gaping at me. Self-conscious and very confused, I sat up and asked what had happened.
All of them, including Dr. Royal, talked excitedly over each other. I caught phrases like "You should have heard yourself ...!" and "So much information ...!" and "Where did all of that come from?!" and the one that especially caught my attention, "It was like you were someone else." Finally Mary Margaret leaned close to my ear and discreetly announced, "Francine was here. Talking through you."
I insisted that there must be some mistake. But Mary Margaret was a close friend who knew me well, and she had been hearing about Francine for years. It wasn't just that Francine had introduced herself to the class while I was "gone." The speech patterns, the rhythms, the terminology, everything that came out of my mouth, with my voice, was so dramatically different from what Mary Margaret knew to be "me" that there wasn't a doubt in her mind, or anyone else's, that somehow, as I voluntarily slipped into a hypnotic trance, Francine had stepped in and taken my place. And by the way, they loved her and hoped she would come back soon.
I was furious. I confronted Francine that night, demanding to know how she could betray me like that. She patiently reminded me that she had told me she would be watching for an opportunity to channel through me, and the hypnotic trance she used to accomplish it was voluntary on my part. So she hadn't lied to me, nor had she really come in against my will. She had just wanted to show me how safe it was for me to channel her, that I could and would always come back, and that it was a perfect way to help her communicate with those who had no other way to hear what she had to say.
I have never won an argument with Francine, including that one. She convinced me to give channeling a try and made a few ironclad promises: she would never again surprise me like that-I would never have to worry about standing in front of a classroom or client or audience and jumping back and forth from me to Francine to me again with no warning. She would never, ever tell anything but the truth, or cause harm to me or anyone else. And, most important, she would only use my voice for humanitarian purposes, to teach people about The Other Side and the eternal, unconditional love of God. If I ever had any reason to believe she'd broken one of those promises, I could call an immediate halt to channeling her or even hearing her voice again.
That was forty-four years ago, and she's kept every promise. When she talks through me, it's always with my willing permission, and she's been of immeasurable help to countless people. It frustrates me that I never get to hear what she has to say until later, but I have thousands of tapes of her lectures and agree that, except for the sheer mechanics of my voice itself, she sounds nothing like me. Her speech pattern is very slow and deliberate compared to mine, her knowledge and vocabulary far exceed mine, and she never says a single word in jest (as unlike me as you can get, let's face it). I never take her information at face value, much to her frustration, but it never fails that the more I research and study in an effort to prove her wrong just once, the more I discover that she meant it when she said she would never tell anything less than the truth.
My psychic son Christopher, who doesn't trance but understands the process, leaves the room when Francine takes over. He loves and appreciates her, it just unnerves him to see me so obviously absent while my body is still sitting there. Which leads me to another point about Francine: she never helps me with my own lectures, television appearances, and readings. Frankly, I wish she did. I'd love to be able to blame it on her when I'm wrong. But you never have to wonder if it's me or Francine you're talking to. If you don't know me well enough to hear the difference, you can absolutely trust the fact that she never shows up unannounced.
I was nineteen years old when I embraced Francine as a legitimate part of my life, graduated from college and became, almost as a diversion, a full-fledged licensed hypnotist. I thought it might be a useful tool for helping people stop smoking and lose weight. I never dreamed it would lead me to some of the most remarkable experiences of my life, throw open the door to The Other Side, and then dare me to have the faith and the courage to step through it.