In November 1994, Jennifer Hill was accompanying her grandmother home after her grandfather’s funeral. At the entrance to the house, she spotted a single gardenia in bloom next to the entrance. It was November, not a time for gardenias to bloom.
Gardenias were her grandmother’s favorite flower. When her grandmother saw it, the tears she had not yet allowed to flow spilled forth. It was like a message for her from her husband.
She spotted a single gardenia in bloom next to the entrance. It was November, not a time for gardenias to bloom.
Was it “just a coincidence” that this flower bloomed unseasonably at this precise time? For her grandmother, it was a meaningful coincidence. The gardenia was a sign, a symbol of their 40 years of marriage.
In January 2005, Hill again experienced a coincidence that provided comfort in grief. It was the seventh anniversary of her daughter’s death. It was an annual day of mourning for her. Before she could get out of bed to face the day, her phone rang. Her sister was in labor. After a long day at her sister’s side, she held a healthy baby in her arms.
“Birth and death are sisters. I am forever healed,” Hill wrote in her PhD thesis, titled “Synchronicity and grief: the phenomenology of meaningful coincidence as it arises during bereavement.”
These personal coincidences encouraged Hill, who studied psychology, to investigate this phenomenon more closely.
Jennifer Hill wrote her Ph.D. thesis on meaningful coincidences during bereavement, finding they often help mourners heal.
She reviewed the scientific literature available on coincidences related to grieving. She also conducted her own research, questioning people who had recently lost loved ones about the coincidences they experienced.
Hill found that experiencing coincidences often helps people who are grieving. It can help them feel connected to the person who died. It can provide closure. It can reinforce or transform their spiritual beliefs.
People often attribute the cause of the coincidence to God, the universe, the spirit of the deceased, or to their own minds. Hill wrote: “While they worried that their experience might be looked on by others as just a coincidence, each relayed the firm belief that it was more than a simple coincidence. It was a meaningful coincidence that occurred while they were emotionally fragile, and it provided them with feelings of peace, healing, and well-being.”
In her thesis, Hill didn’t focus on proving that the coincidences are messages from the afterlife or something more than chance at work. Instead, she focused on the meaningfulness of those coincidences to the experiencers.
Nonetheless, the coincidences beg the question: do the deceased send messages to those who mourn them?
A widely reported coincidence happened after the Orlando nightclub mass-shooting.
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) June 15, 2016
During a vigil for the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, last year, a coincidence appeared from above. A photographer at the vigil saw a flock of birds flying overhead as the names of the victims were being read.
She counted exactly 49 birds.
“I then showed everyone around me and had them count,” she told CNN. “We were all stunned.”
“Seeing the birds made me feel a sense of peace about the tragedy,” she said.
The coincidences often seem to include birds.
Dr. Bernard Beitman, a Yale-educated psychiatrist who studies coincidences, shared with The Epoch Times a list of “condolence coincidences” he has collected. A lot of them included birds. Similarly, the coincidences explored in most depth by Hill all have to do with birds.
Ducks line up to pay their respects.
For example, one coincidence cited by Beitman involved a man who habitually fed ducks at a lake near his home for some 30 years. Even when he was sick, he never forgot them, recalled his wife in the book “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart: Extraordinary Coincidences from Yesterday and Today.”
As his funeral procession passed by the lake, it halted, “For there, lined up across the road, in a procession of their own that stretched from the lake to my home on the other side of the street, was a long column of ducks that had closed ranks, standing in solemnity and silence.
“How had they broken out of the barricade that had enclosed them all these years? The fence used by the county to protect their enclosure appeared undamaged and intact; during all those decades the ducks had never before attempted to breach it.”
Was it just a coincidences that the ducks appeared on the road at this time?
For the wife, it was a sign: “As unlikely as it seemed, as mysterious and inexplicable a cosmic puzzle it was, I knew in my heart that there was only one conceivable explanation for the unprecedented presence of the ducks on the road that fateful day. Like their human counterparts, they were there for the funeral and to pay their respects.”
A bird flies into the house as a widow shuts the door on the family home for the last time.
One of Hill’s study participants, a 61-year-old woman whom she called Patricia (a pseudonym), was packing up her house to move. She had shared the home with her husband, Jim, who had died six months before; it was where they had raised their son, Jacob.
As she was leaving the house for the last time, a bird flew in and directly up the stairs to Jacob’s old room. Patricia told Hill: “Sobbing and transfixed, I knew in an instant it was Jim.”
“[The bird] seemed to love its surroundings—as though it was the most natural place in the world to be. And of course, it was. It was Jacob’s room where he [Jim] had spent many a night reading a story to him, many a Saturday on the carpeted floor playing Army with him, and many a moment realizing he was one happy father.”
Hill explained that, “Patricia believed her experience was a sign from her dead husband that he wanted her to continue on with her life and find a way to be happy again.”
The symbol of the bird helped Patricia feel close to her husband for years thereafter. She continued to notice birds at significant moments in her life and to honor the symbol with bird décor in her home. Hill noted that grief research indicates it can be beneficial to continue a bond with the deceased, rather than withdrawing from the relationship.
Coincidences can be used by psychiatrists to help their patients.
Both Beitman and Hill, as well as other scientists who have studied this phenomenon, say condolence coincidences can help with counseling.
In a paper on the healing effects of coincidences, Beitman wrote: “psychotherapy paradigms, while quite useful, are generally limited cause-effect models of Freudian psychoanalysis and Cognitive-Behavior therapy, and might benefit from an expansion of current paradigm limits.
He continued: “Integrative medicine often incorporates principles, concepts, and philosophies of ancient times and healing approaches from non-Western lands, many of which embrace the idea that a single human mind is not distinctly separate from other minds or from its surroundings. Furthermore, integrative medicine recognizes the importance of spirituality as a component of health and wellness.
“We consider the possibility that the everyday occurrence of meaningful coincidences provides a useful means of helping us to navigate the often troublesome waters of daily life and can add a vital transpersonal dimension to the practice of psychotherapy.”
Similarly, Dr. Vidette Todaro-Franceschi of the City University of New York conducted group sessions with bereaved people who had experienced coincidences. She reported after her 2006 study that this “helped them to reconcile paradoxical feelings about life, living, death, and dying.”
After a local newspaper reporter covered one of the sessions, interested in this esoteric approach to grief healing, Todaro-Franceschi said: “I received an overwhelming number of calls from grieving individuals who wanted to come to group meetings in the weeks that followed.”
In Beyond Science, The Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.