Book Club Channel
The Angel Effect: Read an Excerpt
"There are no answers to these questions. Only a terrible void, a pain that we will carry all of the rest of our lives. That, along with the memory of a beautiful little boy dying in our arms."
In our grief, we then set out to try to mend our terribly damaged family, and to focus our attention on our two, beautiful, healthy, surviving sons.
The days passed, and then the weeks. I buried myself in my work, hoping that when I finally put my head up again the pain would be gone, but it wasn't. I must be more brittle than I had supposed.
One evening, I was up late in my study working, with the rest of the household asleep. I remember taking a break, and walking upstairs to the rooftop deck. A wind had come up, in advance of a thunderstorm. I sat for a few minutes on a lounge chair, at once sad and exhilarated by the fresh and cool air. I then went back down to my computer and resumed writing. My old border collie, Kirby, sauntered in and laid down by my feet.
Maybe an hour after that, I had a powerful sense that someone was watching me, literally standing close behind my right shoulder. I felt I could see someone in my peripheral vision. It was not eerie, or unsettling in any way, because I knew who it was. I surprised myself by saying aloud, "James?" but didn't need to turn and look. It was a powerful, vivid awareness. Kirby looked up. James was not as he was, seared into my memory, an infant laying connected with tubes and monitors, a pair of cardboard "sunglasses" to protect his closed eyes from the bright hospital lights. He impressed me now as full-grown, or at least I had the sense that he was at the height of an older child or adult. Finally, I turned fully expecting to see him, and saw nothing, yet I knew he was there.
It did not last long, perhaps only a few minutes. There was no communication, as such. But it was powerful, and remains to this day in my mind something profound. It was as if I had a glimpse into a different world of possibilities, for James, and for me. I didn't feel surprised, or sad, or experience a longing for what might have been, but instead had a feeling as if I had been embraced by a love greater than any. I felt better for the encounter, almost like I knew him—a child I could not possibly have known—and somehow more at peace than I had been for a long time. It was him, but it was greater than him.
This was very emotional, and also very personal. I wanted to include something in the book I was writing at the time, but the experience felt too raw and to share it was simply not something I could bring myself to do, even with those very close to me. It wasn't that I was concerned about what they would think, that didn't matter to me. But I did feel like it was something intimate, something I needed to protect. I also wondered whether the fact I was writing a book about the third man, about sensed presence experiences, might have contributed to what happened to me in some way. Was it only the power of suggestion? To be honest, I didn't know what to do with it, so I put it, along with James' few possessions, including his blanket, in a little box that I keep in my office. I opted to dedicate The Third Man Factor to James, and leave it at that.
It was only after that book was published, and hundreds of other people stepped forward with their own stories and shared with me deeply personal experiences—and doubtless also after the healing that comes with the passage of time—that I felt I could open up that little box.
I began to look at the phenomenon with fresh eyes. After all, it had not happened to me on a mountain top, or in the barrens of Arctic Canada, but in my own home. I had so many questions. To begin with, why me? I was not in mortal danger when it happened, certainly in emotional distress, but nothing of the scale of climbers clinging to life in the Death Zone of Everest. And why then? It had not happened during the worst of the trauma, in the days leading up to, or at the time of James' death. It happened later, though I was still grappling with what I, we, had been through.
And finally I opened the box because I wanted to understand the fundamental mystery: Was it a religious experience? Does James exist in an afterlife? Or was this some process of the brain to help me cope with what I have been through? This book is my journey of understanding.