follows Claire Bidwell Smith around. So does her
3-year-old daughter, Jules. One asks Smith to bring a
greater understanding of it into the world. The other
asks her to wipe her bottom.
these two mysterious entities represent the grand
duality of the existence that Smith tries to parse in
her new book, "After This: When Life Is Over, Where
Do We Go?" (Hudson Street Press, $25.95). Although
Smith doesnít profess to know the answer to the
question the title proposes, she is firm on one thing:
You canít have the beautiful messiness of humanity
without the promise of the unfathomable other side.
think there are as many ways to be dead as there are to
be alive," says Smith, 36, sitting on the sofa in
the breezy living room of her Santa Monica home while
towheaded Jules plays on the carpet beside her. "Iíve
come to understand that Iím having a very human
experience, and it will not be my only experience. Itís
very humbling and comforting to me in some ways."
lost her mother and father to cancer by the time she was
25 ó something she documented in her 2012 memoir,
"The Rules of Inheritance." Both were sick for
years, and Smith spent high school in hospitals while
her peers were chasing dates and going to the mall. One
of her best friends died of leukemia when she was in
college, and last summer another dear friend died of
examines these staggering losses with the clarity of
vision of one on a mission. Over the course of the five
years it took Smith to write and research her new book,
she dove into the hereafter in every way she could in
order to honor those she lost and to find them again ó
in one way or another.
saw mediums; tried past-life regression and astrology;
went on a shamanic journey in Bozeman, Mont.;
interviewed rabbis, priests and hospice workers;
attended an afterlife conference; and traveled to the
famous spiritual camp of Cassadaga in Florida.
began her journey as a skeptic and ended it a believer.
obsessed with Gahl [Sasson, a past-life regressionist]
and astrology," Smith jokes. "Iím such a
California flake now. Itís really embarrassing."
previous night, she had spent the evening sitting around
her dining room table talking spiritual shop with a
medium named Fleur; Jonas Elrod, a filmmaker and host of
a spiritual series called "In Deep Shift" on
the Oprah Winfrey Network; and author Christa Parravani,
whose memoir, "Her," examines the death of
Parravaniís twin sister.
all tattooed and thirtysomething, and Iím a mom, and I
spend half my time going to Target ó but Iím really
interested in the afterlife, and I believe in it,"
says Smith, who also works as a grief counselor with a
private practice in Beverly Hills. "I do feel like
I have a path and a calling. A lot of the mystical
people Iíve seen have reiterated to me that this is my
work." Those same people call her a psychopomp ó
someone who acts as a link between this world and the
next for others.
now Iím a bridge between all these gurus and religions
and the layman," she says of her work writing the
book, adding that she now hopes to open a center for
death and dying. "I wanted to bring this stuff down
to a certain level where you can take bits and pieces of
it and explore it to decide" whatís what.
broke through her own sense of disbelief after seeing
mediums who told her unknowable things about those she
had lost. She then became convinced that those who have
passed are still there in some way.
readers freak out, wondering just what exactly their
loved ones have seen, Smith wants to make something
clear: Theyíre not watching you go to the bathroom.
inevitably ask that question, or something like it, when
she talks about her beliefs, and the answer is always
not watching us because thatís creepy," says
Smith, laughing. "My sense is that the other realm
is too hard for us to imagine because it doesnít use
the same kind of time and space dimensions that we have
here. We think about everything linearly, but I donít
think itís like that. I think theyíre connected to
us in a way that we canít perceive because weíre
having this really limited human experience."
if on cue, Jules stands up on wobbly toddler legs and
asks to whisper something in her motherís ear. She
wants to make it clear that she is potty trained and now
wears underwear instead of diapers. Not that anyone up
there is watching.