Hospice nurse Elissa Al-Chokhachy says the more she works with the dying and bereaved, the more she believes in life after death.
In her decades in the field, the Amesbury woman says she has encountered numerous stories of awareness by people as they near their deaths, after-death communication and near-death experiences.
She has compiled almost 90 of those firsthand accounts, experienced by both herself and 72 other authorsö into a collection titled "Miraculous Moments: True Stories Affirming That Life Goes On." She'll be sharing some of those stories during a reading and book-signing at The Book Rack in downtown Newburyport tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Al-Chokhachy says her book serves to help people coping with the loss of a loved one and tries to answer such questions as whether life continues beyond physical death and whether love ever dies.
"The (contributing writers) are of all different belief systems and ethnic backgrounds," she says. "They are just sharing their experiences that give them hope that life goes on."
Many of the people who contributed stories to the book talk about signs they have received reinforcing their belief that life exists after death. In one story titled "The Quarter Man," a man remembers his father, a man who collected state quarters as a hobby. Immediately after his father passed away, the son found a state quarter in his shoe and had no idea how it got there.
In another story, a Vermont man who loved to watch for moose, keeping a journal of when and where he spotted the animals, passed away one winter. His family delayed burying his ashes until the snow melted. That Easter, they gathered to say their goodbyes. Later that day, a moose was spotted on the family's lawn, the first they had seen since the previous fall.
One of Al-Chokhachy's favorite stories, "An Angel in Uniform," is from a man mourning the loss of his wife who gets pulled over by a police officer for driving recklessly because he is crying. While the sympathetic officer says he is required to write a ticket, he gives the man his name and badge number and instructs him to write to the state to have the ticket revoked.
Ultimately thankful for being pulled over, for fear he may have crashed, killing himself or someone else, the man calls the state police when he returns home. But there's no officer by that name or badge number, and the man suddenly imagines his wife must have been watching out for him that day.
Denise Kahn of Newburyport contributed a few of her own stories. In one, she shares how after her father's death, she has a vision of him standing on the altar at church, talking to her.
"There are some things that are unexplainable, that you cannot deny," Al-Chokhachy says.
A graduate of New England Baptist Hospital School of Nursing and Boston College School of Nursing, Al-Chokhachy has worked as a hospice nurse, private-duty nurse and health care counselor. She is also board-certified in hospice and palliative care nursing. In 2009, she earned her master's in thanatology, the study of death, from Hood College in Maryland.
"As a nurse, my goal is to improve the time that (the dying have), on both a physical level, as well as giving them emotional support and offering spiritual support," she says.
She currently works as a health care counselor at North Shore Community College and for Merrimack Valley Hospice.
In addition to "Miraculous Moments," she has written two children's books, including "The Angel with the Golden Glow" about a 14-month-old boy she cared for who had a life-threatening neurological illness that prevented him from ever talking, walking or sitting up by himself.
"He was a really beautiful soul and this family showered him with love," she said. "These were the most incredible experiences of unconditional love that I've ever experienced. Knowing he was going to pass, and making every moment count."
But no matter how much she helps people through the difficult times in their lives, Al-Chokhacy feels that it is never enough.
"I feel like I've got a lot more to do, so I hope God grants me good health," she says. "This book is a dream come true."
IF YOU GO
What: Reading and book-signing for Elissa Al Chokhachy's "Miraculous Moments: True Stories Affirming That Life Goes On"
When: Tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Where: The Book Rack, 52 State St., Newburyport
How: Free admission. Call The Book Rack at 978-462-8615 or visit www.hugobookstores.com. For more on Al-Chokhachy visit www.miraclousmoments.com.