It is widely held that there is no pain so great as losing a child. Its pain is echoed in art: from Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” to Shakespeare’s King Lear. William Shakespeare penned Hamlet, about a young prince lost in grief for his father, after the loss of his only son Hamnet. One wonders, reading between the lines of its soliloquies about life after death, and of Hamlet’s anguish, if Shakespeare was releasing some of his own grief, as well as pondering what happens next. Shakespeare has Hamlet, the protagonist struggling with his sudden plunge into matters he had perhaps heretofore thought of elliptically, confront these questions head-on, as he attempts to come to term with sudden loss:
To die, to sleep –
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep –
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
A 1998 film borrowed its title from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy – and long before that, in Platonic dialogues and even in cave paintings, man has addressed the soul’s fate. In our modern world this question reverberates: what happens to us when we die? Where, if anywhere, do we go?
A man has faced this question in the most personal way. A process of examining the mysteries of life, death, and life beyond death began when Mark Ireland and his family lost their teen son. Their youngest family member, son Brandon, had gone on a mountain hike with some of his friends on a Saturday morning. Air pollution was thick that day, and unexpectedly blew upward into the mountain range. Brandon, tragically, suffered an asthma attack, and could not be saved. He was gone, his hand held by a passing stranger, before medical help could arrive.
How does one cope with such sudden, irrevocable tragedy? One can either go under, or go through and perhaps even help others one day. The amazing account of the process author Ireland went through, Soul Shift: Finding Where the Dead Go recounts one man’s personal journey and that, too, of his surviving family members: wife Susie, and their firstborn son, Steven. It is at once devastating – no sensitive person can escape the loss inherent in this account. And hopeful – there is light beyond the darkness that we feel at times pervade this life.
The book is written with sensitivity and yet journalistic detachment. The author does not reach out and pull the reader into the morass of grief and despair; such things are alluded to – rather like the above mentioned examples. One finds the symbols of grief: a room left untouched but often visited. A mother who finds places to cry alone. The book feels, upon reading, a sincere attempt to broach and perhaps empirically answer the looming question every sentient being must at least feel a glimmer of at some point in its life. Do the dead retain their consciousness? Where do we go when we die?
Mark Ireland, in writing about his confronting and exploring such questions, is honest about his personal history in ambivalence toward them. The son of a famous psychic, or ‘mentalist’ as some prefer, whose abilities were empirically proven time and again, the author grew up just wishing to be ‘normal’ and to live a ‘normal’ life. A successful businessman, a well balanced human being with good relationships, he did at times feel ‘intuition’ but did not examine or linger on its meaning. Many parents have felt the same “intuitive sense,” whether or not ‘psychic ability’ is something they examine or believe in. The Saturday his son Brandon went hiking, Ireland writes of his own feeling of imminent danger. Anyone who has felt that sort of unexplained yet urgent intuition can identify with the helpless feeling: Ireland tried to change events of that day but it was not to be.
The author speaks of his attempts to understand the question of life and death and life beyond death, in a studious manner. He began to “pile books” upon his desk, reading what the great minds have had to say on the topic. Religion, philosophy, he devoured it all. Also, he began to pore over a manuscript his father, Richard Ireland, had left unpublished. The synchronicity of events became apparent: the student was ready. Teachers appeared. Mark Ireland made contact with those who had known his father, and each new meeting led to another. Each person seemed to have insight into the great mystery the author was attempting to broach. Standing before the wide harsh valley that is literally the mystery of life itself, the author does not seem to have shirked this journey’s demands but rather to have in utmost bravery gone ahead. The seeming resolution: to solve this question as best he could, and share those results with others for their own comfort.
This is a very brave book. It is also scrupulous. Each meeting with a psychic was approached as a skeptic might: No information was given beforehand. No ‘hints’ were given during a ‘reading’. Results were afterward compared, here. Allison DuBois, the psychic and medium whose life inspired television’s Medium is one psychic consulted. The final ‘reading’, with Laurie Campbell of Tru Tv’s Sensing Murder, is done under scientific controls. A skeptic could read this book and note, if they had any largesse at all, that the results from each psychic were the same. Those who are more open minded about spiritual and psychic matters will find reassurance and guidance in its pages: There are some sections which provide gentle guides as to how to refine one’s own intuitive senses. But everyone reading this book will feel the sensitivity and integrity with which it has been written – one father’s journey to address the seeming senseless loss of a beloved youngest son. What could have been tragic and personal has become illuminated, understood as best as humans can, and then, carefully written to be shared with those willing to read these pages.
Soul Shift: Finding Where the Dead Go is worth reading on several levels. We have all felt loss in our own journey throughout life. We all will some day face that great question ourselves: Where do the dead go? Will someone wait there for us? Will there be comfort? Will we be able to see, and talk with, those who still are in life as we knew it? And for those who miss someone, right now – are those little glimmers we feel or see, indication that there is something more than our five senses tell us? Each person must answer this, finally, for themselves: it is the most universal yet utterly personal of issues. One man has faced this journey devoutly and with courage; read and be comforted.