by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff
Passings - Death, Dying and Unexplained Phenomenon
by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff  •  Foreword by Dr. Garniss H. Curtis


by Dr. Garniss H. Curtis - Was a professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley, geochronologist, volcanologist, geophysicist, and founder of the Berkeley Geochronology Center.

I awakened with my heart pounding. "Did she call? Does she need me?" Seconds later, as I awakened more fully, the awful truth came to me: Dorette hadn’t called me. She would never call to me again. Dorette was dead. To myself, I said, "Garniss, she is dead. Do you understand? Dead!" The words reverberated through my head over and over again.

I had fallen asleep in a chair several hours after my wife, Dorette, had died of cancer with our daughter, Ann, and me by her side. I had been unaware of falling asleep. I had sat down from total emotional exhaustion, thinking I could never sleep again. Now an empty, hollow feeling gripped me, "Forty-seven years together, and it’s over? No, no, no, it cannot be over!"

Following Dorette’s final moment, my daughter and I had held and hugged one another for a long while. Tears had come to our eyes and sobs were heard, but we were unable to really cry. We simply could not release the huge pressure of grief we both felt. In fact, I was not able to let out these pent-up emotions for several weeks, and only then at a time I least expected.

Among our friends, the author of this book, Carole Travis, was the youngest. We had been attracted to her through her love of gourmet cooking, as Carole is the author of a superb cookbook entitled Star Food Revisited, a collection of favorite dishes from two famous Los Angeles restaurants, one of which belonged to her family. Recently widowed, Carole was past the grieving stage for her second husband, but still working through the pain caused by the loss of many other family members when I phoned her regarding a recipe, several weeks after the death of my wife. Carole was very familiar with the stages one goes through in the grieving process. I was a neophyte. Until I lost Dorette, I was completely unaware of what happens inside of you when you lose someone very close and dear to you. Even though I had known of my wife’s impending death months before it occurred, I had not anticipated all of the effects her death would have on me.

Once over the immediate and terrible shock of her death, which lasted two or three days, I went into a phase during which I appeared outwardly calm and more or less normal. My friends saw me laughing and joking with them and accepting their sympathies with an air of "Yes, Dorette is gone and I feel very badly about it, but life goes on." Inside I knew it was an act, inside I felt nothing—no pain, no sorrow, no joy, no emotions of any kind. I felt empty, hollow. After several weeks of this, I began to wonder if anything would ever truly give me pleasure again. Those things that had given me so much enjoyment in the past—classical music, travel, camping, swimming, small parties with close friends, scientific research—seemed now to hold no meaning for me.

Carole, who had gone through the grieving process over and over again, knew exactly where I was in that most lonesome of processes. Moreover, she had read the same books as I concerning death and dying and understood my negative reaction to them, and thus could help me understand that I was not abnormal in my inability to feel anything but a vast emptiness. I recall well how quickly Carole was able to see through the lie of my outward calm and joviality over the phone.

"Cut the nonsense, Garniss," she exclaimed after a few minutes of conversation.

"It doesn’t wash with me. Have you been able to cry yet? I mean really cry?"

"No," I confessed. "I have not been able to."

"I didn't think so. I can hear how dead you are inside. Believe me, Garniss, you will not begin to feel again, to live again, until you really cry, and I mean cry and cry and cry. Not just once, but over and over again, today, next week, and next month. The grief that is bottled up inside of you is so intense that it is keeping you from feeling any other emotion. You can’t live until you relieve the tension. Get it out. Get it all out. It’s a catharsis that you must go through."

Carole’s injunction broke down the monstrous dam that had been holding in my grief and I cried as I had never cried before. How long I cried I have no idea, but afterward I did feel greatly relieved, and, to my amazement, Carole was still on the phone.

"Feeling better? I hope so, but you are a long way from being out of the woods. It will be easier, though, next time."

And she was right; that first immense outpouring of grief was a beginning for me, which would lead me back to the wholeness we all need in order to be truly alive.

I learned at this time that Carole’s tragic experiences had motivated her to begin a unique autobiography, which focused mainly on the deaths that had so recently punctuated her life. Surrounding these deaths were anomalous occurrences that begged for explanation. Carole, not intimidated by the opinions of scientists and psychologists, pressed forward with years of research into metaphysical and paranormal experiences that have been recorded throughout all of human history. Carole offered me parts of her manuscript. The pages she sent affected me deeply. I found myself relating fully to both the occurrences of death and the people who populated her pages, which in turn helped me through my own grief as no other book on this subject had managed to do. I’d been completely turned off by books encouraging me to join the local church or bridge club. Those books had failed to speak to the grief I was feeling. As I read through Carole’s pages, I realized that her book was not as much about death as about life. And that death is a part of life, not a separate experience.

Carole, a deeply compassionate and feeling person, more so than anyone I have ever known, is like people I’ve met in the scientific community. As a professor and scientist for most of my 70 years, I have found great intelligence and a huge emotional capacity in all of the great scientists I have known and in all of my best students. Like them, Carole is highly motivated, imaginative, and a keen observer. From our first meeting, I was attracted to her obvious mental alacrity.

Carole knew death well. She had experienced five deaths within a span of three and a half years. Accompanying each of those deaths were metaphysical phenomena that most psychologists and skeptical scientists have, through the years, attributed to a mixture of coincidence or the highly emotional and disturbed condition of the grieving observer. Carole was fully aware of her grief and the trauma that each successive death had presented to her, yet investigation of the anomalous occurrences she had experienced stood as evidence of something real and significant as opposed to hallucinations brought on by emotional trauma. And after deep consideration, Carole rejected the plausible conclusions put forth by the soft science of psychology and the rigid refusals put forth by the hard sciences. In their place, she sought more logical and reasonable conclusions, citing the fact that many of the phenomena occurred at a time when death was not a consideration! Through her mental need for understanding, she decided on a course of logical inquiry.

Carole is neither a religious person (in the conventional meaning) nor a mystic (in any sense of the word). From the time she was a young child, she has been interested in science and has been an omnivorous reader of science throughout her life, subscribing to, and devouring, several scientific journals on a continual basis, and attending classes, symposia, and paleoanthropological digs in a consistent reaching out for knowledge.

Carole’s experiences with death opened a huge collection of questions concerning the occurrence we call "death." Her immutable curiosity plagued her and she began to look for explanations for the phenomena she had observed in the regular scientific literature (phenomena that have been observed by others throughout recorded history). Nothing! The vast majority of today’s scientists are not interested in precognitive dreams of death or electrical phenomena accompanying death. These phenomena cannot be weighed, measured or reproduced in the laboratory. And, as for dreams, everyone has had thousands of them that are of no consequence whatsoever. Thus, a dream that accurately predicts an event to come in minute detail must be coincidence—amazing coincidence, perhaps, but coincidence all the same. For many, no other explanation is acceptable. After all, scientists have proved that time flows only in one direction, forward, and time warps and precognition are subjects for science fiction and the tabloids, not for scientific investigation!

Carole felt differently, and as she does not have a prestigious scientific reputation to worry about, she has stepped into a field of investigation where angels (scientists) fear to tread, certain in her mind that there are time-transgressive metaphysical phenomena that are related to the very important experience we call "death."

As Carole told me, the data seemed scarce and very difficult to find, but as the scientist who finds what he is looking for, she, with her knowledge of the reality of her experiences, found more and more information as her research progressed. Many people opened up to her and added their own private experiences to an ever-growing stack of unexplainable occurrences. She told me, "It’s like looking for needles in a haystack; however, it should be noted that the needles are made of steel, easily discernable against an abundance of straw."

Carole has done a remarkable job of sorting out and investigating the needles from the stacks of straw, and an even more remarkable job of trying to find explanations that either fit into the body of science we know today or into the body of science we will know tomorrow. Most of all, she has opened her eyes to death and she leads us, unafraid, to a place of understanding and acceptance of that which is the most personal experience in all of life: death.