We spend our lives reaching out to the people we love. But could it be that some people can make contact -- even after they're gone? Here's Tracy Smith:
In a way, this story is like almost the view from across the Golden Gate: intriguing, even beautiful, but sometimes hard to see through all the fog.
Janis Heaphy Durham was not the kind of person who believed in after-death communication. She used to think of death as an ending -- but she never will again.
In 1999 Janis and Max Besler were a California power couple: she was publisher of the Sacramento Bee, a paper that won two Pulitzer Prizes on her watch; he was a political consultant, stepfather to her son, Tanner, and the love of her life.
"He was compassionate and empathetic and my lover and my best friend," she said.
And she was at his side when doctors told him he had terminal cancer in late 2003.
"The most painful part was just watching him suffer" -- and feeling helpless, she said.
In May 2004, a few days shy of his 56th birthday, Max Besler died, and that, Janis says, is when things started getting weird: Lights in her Sacramento home would flicker; clocks would stop at the moment Max died.
But then, on the anniversary date of his death, Janis was stunned by something she saw as she stood in her bathroom washing her hands.
"I looked up at the mirror and I saw a handprint," she told Smith. "A perfectly-formed, powdery handprint. Large, on the mirror. It was the right hand."
Her first thought was that maybe Tanner did it as a joke. But his teenage hands were much too small.
"That hand looked so consistent, so similar to Max's," she said. "So I did have the wherewithal to photograph it.
"I wish I had done more. I wish I would have thought to take a sample. But I just didn't even think of it. I thought, 'I do need to photograph it, however.'"
Before long, the hardcore skeptic was a true believer.
Smith said, "I have faith in things that I can't see, but you know there are millions of people out there that are going to say, 'Come on!'"
"Exactly," said Durham. "And I was one of them, so I really understand it."
In time, Janis moved on; she remarried in 2008. But things kept happening: A footprint appeared on a chair at their vacation home; carpets would move themselves across her floor.
And on the second anniversary of Max's death, more powdery images on the mirror.
On the third, another handprint.
Durham said there is no doubt in her mind that they were signs from Max.
Of course, there's plenty of doubt to go around. Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell, Of Buffalo, N.Y., has a different view: "Let's just say that somehow he's doing this. Why wouldn't he do it before her very eyes? Why not just write with his finger, 'I'm okay. Love you. Miss you'?
"Is there a possibility that this could be her deceased husband, Max, talking to Janis?" asked Smith.
"I don't think so," he replied.
Nickell says a lab test of any of the handprints could have settled the matter: "She didn't do that. And then the next year she didn't again. And the next year after that, again she didn't. One has to decide that at some point I don't think she wanted to test it."
Because? "Well, I think she was afraid of the answer."
Smith said, "You know, despite everything you were saying, people will still believe this."
"I have good news and bad news," said Nickell. "The bad news is there are no ghosts. The good news is nobody will believe me."
Janis did some digging of her own, talking to scientists and other experts who, she says, convinced her it was Max. She's put it all in a new book, "The Hand on the Mirror" (Grand Central Publishing).
If Max was behind this, he's moved on; there haven't been any new handprints for a while.
But Janis says she's be grateful it happened at all.
Smith asked, "What do you think Max was trying to tell you?"
"I think Max was trying to tell me that there's more to life than the physical form, the physical reality we live in," Durham replied. "I'm not saying that these experiences made me feel less sad about the fact that Max lost his life at 56. But it makes me able to live with it better."
And she still misses him. "I do, I do. Yes."
READ AN EXCERPT: From "The Hand on the Mirror" by Janis Heaphy Durham
For more info:
- "The Hand on the Mirror: A True Story of Life Beyond Death" by Janis Heaphy Durham (Grand Central Publishing); Also available in eBook, Unabridged Audio Download, Unabridged Audio CD, and Large Print Hardcover formats
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