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Dissertation research

The purpose of this dissertation research was to investigate and illustrate how Finnish people describe their Post Death Contact (PDC) experiences and how they interpret the PDC effects on their perceptions about life and death. The results of this study were reflected through the framework of the Continuing Bonds grief theory (later CB-theory). According to Walter (1996) and Klass (2006b) the CB-theory’s PDC experiences are an intrinsic part of the grief process, which aim to re-design a deceased one’s biography by talking about the deceased one and by talking to the deceased one. The PDC experiences based on this research were investigated from the above mentioned point of view. 

The theoretical framework was derived from a synthesis of the earlier respected research about PDC experiences and the Continuing Bonds grief theory. The goal of the research was to disclose information, create concepts about and classification of the PDC experiences so that they could be recognised, handled and understood. The research questions were the following: 1) What kind of PDC experiences do Finnish people describe having had, 2) how do Finnish people say these experiences influence their perceptions about life and death, and 3) how do the PDC experiences of this research appear through the framework of the Continuing Bonds grief theory? 

Research data collection was based on the 613 documented narratives about the PDC experiences written by 195 Finnish people of which 83% were women and 17% were men, age range varying between 19 and 97 years. The data were collected at the end of 2013 and at the beginning of 2014. This research represents an empirical research data and it was conducted as a qualitative case research concerning the PDC experience narratives that were described. As to methodological decisions, content analysis was executed both as a data based and as a theory driven method. This research qualifies as a study of religion due to its appreciative approach. 

 As an answer to the research question, a typological classification with distinguishable descriptions was created. It classified the PDC experiences into direct concrete experiences and indirect symbolically interpreted ones. In addition, the direct experiences were further classified by the way an experience was received into three main categories; external perceptions, internal feelings and a state of sleep experiences. Based on the classification of the 613 documented stories, 13 types of PDC experiences were found. 

 According to the research results, the PDC experiences were regarded as natural and mainly positive. They were said to influence considerably and in many ways people’s perceptions on life and death by changing people’s conceptions about life continuing in death, and the presence of the deceased one after his or her death. The PDC experiences also diminished people’s fear of death or totally removed it. Additionally the PDC experiences reported to have an influence on people’s beliefs and choices. The results received of the PDC experiences were mainly in line with the CB-theory regarding continuing bonds in human relations in grief. However, based on this data, the main difference was that people also had PDC experiences outside of the so-called grief time; before the death, at the time of the death or a long time after the death. Furthermore, it was recognised that the PDC experiences had a significant impact on the re-design of a deceased one’s biography.