Uncanny: Danny Robins Meets A Woman Who Saw The Ghost Of Her Best Friend
In the fourth episode of the paranormal podcast series, 'Uncanny', Danny Robins talks to Laura, who experienced a strange series of events that began with her seeing the ghost of her best friend, a case that took listeners into that much-disputed territory of what happens after we die.
Danny welcomes listeners to Laura's story and tells us, "when I first read her email it sent on the biggest shivers down my spine I think I've ever had. I believe that this is possibly the strangest and the hardest to explain story that we have had so far."
Despite being a level-headed atheist who doesn't believe in ghosts or the prospect of life after death, Laura has seen a ghost. Now in her 40s and living in Devon, Laura told Danny about the chilling experience that happened to her when she was in her early-20s after leaving home at a young age and moving into a shared house where she met her best friend, Anna.
Speaking on the podcast, Laura described Anna as having "clouds, is the only way I can describe it, of red hair that didn't grow down, it grew out. It seemed to defy gravity. She generally had a cigarette on the go and with glasses. She was just the best person I'd ever met at that point in my life. She was someone who would always look out for me. Make sure that the worst didn't happen to me."
Three years later Laura and Anna are now living in separate places, when Anna is diagnosed with cancer. Laura said, "she had lots of treatment and spent time in the hospice but was eventually sent home from hospice." She continues, "she was in bed and she was hooked up to morphine for pain relief, but she asked me to pass her a cigarette. We chatted, it became time for me to leave and I said I'll see you in a few days. I love you. And Anna said 'keep partying, Laura bear'. That was the kind of thing Anna said all the time, she always called me Laura bear."
Little did Laura know, that this would be her last conversation with Anna, but it wasn't the last time she saw her, as Laura explains, "I was walking through the park a few days later, finished work walking home. So the sun was getting quite low shining through the trees. It's not very big park and there's a very steep hill. I looked up to my right and Anna was stood on that hill on a pathway near the trees."
Of course at this moment Anna was ill in bed, but Laura says the figure was unmistakable even at 30 or 40 meters distance. Laura said, "she was holding a cigarette and she had a way of flicking her head constantly because of this cloud of hair. I could see the light on her glasses, the sunlight on her glasses, and as I said to you before, Anna didn't look like anybody else. It was Anna."
Despite seeing her friend, Laura didn't approach her and continued home. Laura told Danny, "as I walked into my flat, the phone was ringing, and I picked it up and it was Anna's dad calling to say that she'd passed away."
The story then jumps forward six years to a time when Laura is working on the high street. She says, "one of the girls I worked with in the clothes shop, her mum had got tickets to go and see a medium in a nearby town and somebody had had to pull out, they couldn't go and so I was offered the ticket. So I thought well, why not? It's a night out and it's not gonna cost me anything."
Laura went along to the event, having never been to see a medium before. It's fair to say that she wasn't convinced by the performance, but at the end of the night experienced something she couldn't explain.
She remembers, "the mum of the girl I'd gone with who'd arranged for us to go approached the stage with quite a few other people, presumably to thank the medium."
After a while Laura approached the group as she needed them to leave. She said, "as I approached the group that was stood around this medium by the edge of the stage, I tapped my friend on the shoulder, and said 'if we're going for a drink, we need to go now' and the medium looked up and looked at me and said 'ah, I'm really glad you've come back. There was a woman with red hair here for you, but she told me not to reach out to you during the show because you would have rejected it, but she told me to tell you keep partying, Laura bear.'"
Speaking to Danny on the podcast, Laura said, "I'm getting the same reaction now as I got at the time, and I was absolutely furious. And I didn't say anything. I didn't say a word. I just turned around and walked outside and waited for my friends."
Laura explained why she felt this anger, "I didn't go to the show thinking Anna's going to talk to me and to have the memory of her brought back so suddenly so out of the blue was totally unexpected, totally unwelcome."
What The Experts Think
In the episode, Danny was joined by psychologist and skeptic Chris French. Danny asked Chris if he thinks that Laura really saw Anna at the moment of her death. Chris said, "well, that's the $64,000 question." The psychologist continued, " what we might be dealing with here is something called a crisis apparition. This refers to a situation where people report that they see an apparition of a loved one at a time of crisis for that other person."
Speaking about Laura's experience, Chris said "there are a number of possibilities. I mean, one is that there was someone there who actually looked very much like her friend, and then what we need to bear in mind here is that the conditions under which Laura thinks she saw Anna were kind of far from ideal. She was what, was it, 40 metres away up a steep slope, the sun was in the sky. It's possible that Laura actually mistook someone who looked very like Anna."
Studies have found that after receiving bad news, we can be prone to conjure up false memories that seem totally real. So in reality Laura may have had an uneventful walk home from work, but when she heard the sad news about Anna, a false memory was planted in her mind convincing her she had seen Anna on the way home.
This could explain why Laura didn't approach Anna during the experience, because it never really happened. Danny picked up on this, he said to Chris, "one thing that I was struck by with her even though she sees Anna on the hill, she doesn't go up and talk to her. If I saw my best friend in the park I think I would go and talk to them, especially if at that moment it was really surprising to see them because I knew they were ill."
Chris agreed, "this is exactly my feeling as well," he adds, "we know false memories can occur spontaneously. We all have these, what feels like genuine memories often quite detailed and vivid in our heads that we're very confident about, but for things that never actually happened. Now, is it possible that around about this time, Laura had a dream about seeing her friend in a park, and now she's thinking it's something that actually really did happen."
But can Chris explain away the psychic repeating Anna's dying words to Laura? After explaining various ways that mediums sometimes trick their audience, Chris admitted, "it is so specific I think we can rule out cold reading. We're either dealing here with a genuine spirit communication, or we're dealing with hot reading." A hot reading is when the medium has done their research on a person and then passes the information off as messages from the spirits.
Chris explained, "I think hot reading is a distinct possibility. Bear in mind that the kind of way that Laura describes the situation, her friends were actually gathered around the medium. I think it's possible that one of those friends did misjudge Laura and maybe thought that she would find it comforting to get some kind of message from this beloved friend who had passed away."
In response to Chris' theory, Laura told Danny, "what would be the purpose of doing that to me? It was after the show she wasn't getting any accolades for it." She added, "the non-supernatural explanation is that all the people that I went to that show with are vial, and they're not." But this isn't necessarily true as Danny points out, "so many people go to mediums desperate to get a message like yours you get it and you hate it."
Every person in the audience that night had gone along in the hopes that they would receive a message from a loved one. Laura's friends would have been hoping they might hear from their own family too, and they would have seen this as a positive experience. So it wouldn't have been vile of them to manipulate the situation in order to give Laura the experience that they might have genuinely though it would be good for her.
Danny then challenges Chris' theory, he says "when I look at the sceptic explanation, it requires so many ifs - if Laura told her friends were Anna said, if they then told the medium, if Laura came back into the hall, and then if the medium remember those exact words correctly." Chris says, "the classic cases in all areas of the paranormal are the ones where it can't be explained away easily, but that doesn't mean it can't necessarily be explained away at all."
Chris is right, the very reason that Danny is discussing Laura's story on this podcast is because all of these ifs did lineup. There will be countless situations where there's less of these chance happenings, but Laura's case has so many that it makes it compelling and extraordinary.
In the episode Danny also spoke to Ashley Darkwood, a medium based at High Wycombe spiritualist church just outside of London, where he and others claim to contact the dead on a regular basis. He was a little less skeptical about Laura's experience and told Danny, "there could be a number of things going on here. Now, of course it could be that Anna chose to turn up in that park and stand on that hill, or it could be that by some form of telepathy, to give it a basic name, Anna imprinted that image into Laura's mind just to say, 'hey, here I am'. But nonetheless, I totally believe that Anna chose to communicate with Laura on that day when she was close to or had just passed over."
Danny ended the podcast by telling listeners, "it's such a powerful story, you can hear how convinced Laura is both that she saw Anna in the park and that she had not told anybody else about Anna's last words. Is there any other possible explanation?" Like all the cases on the series, Danny might return to this one in a future episode.
More episodes of Radio 4's 'Uncanny' are available on BBC Sounds now and will also be broadcast on Saturday nights at 11:30pm on Radio 4 from October 23.
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