How Death Teaches Us To Live: An Interview With Author Karen Frances McCarthy

The greatest teacher of how to live, love and thrive in life, both professionally and personally, is death. This was the lesson Karen Frances McCarthy learned after hearing her fiancé had collapsed and died back in New York while she was on assignment in Virginia.  

McCarthy had seen pain and death before. She was hardnosed and pragmatic — an atheist reporter once embedded with troops in Iraq. 

But this was different. Bereft and inconsolable, McCarthy locked herself in a hotel room for two days when a friend convinced her to take her grief to an empty house near Chesapeake Bay.

There, a series of inexplicable incidents and many interviews and much research finally convinced the writer that her fiancé was communicating with her — trying to console her — from beyond the grave.

This transformative experience from skeptic to believer, which she has written about in Till Death Don’t Us Part: A True Story of Awakening to Love After Life (White Crow Books 2020), a top-ranked new release in its category on Amazon AMZN -2%, is full of surprising turns and unexpected destinations. 

Today, her focus is not on what happens in the afterlife, but how removing our fear of death helps us live more fully in the reality of this life. 

McCarthy is now a PhD candidate at the prestigious Russell Group’s University of Birmingham in the UK, as well as a practicing medium with certificates from the Spiritualist National Union governing body of the Arthur Findlay College in London.

McCarthy talks about her new perspective on what death can teaches about living, loving, thriving, and her newly released book.

In Till Death Don’t Us PartA True Story of Awakening to Love After Life, you write about talking with the spirit world as a child in a Roman Catholic family, but then stopped. What happened?

Karen Frances McCarthy: Many children naturally see spirits and just outgrow it – at least that’s how it was for me. I wasn’t told that talking to spirits was wrong. We never spoke about it at home, so it wasn’t an issue. As a child, there really wasn’t that big of a difference between a person in his body and a person standing at the end of the bed. Adults usually write these things off as imaginary friends. By the time I got into my teens, I joined them. I stopped paying attention and became concerned with other things. What seemed very natural as a child was easy to rationalize away as a teen and young adult. 

You seemed to turn away from the faith of your childhood as you grew older.

Karen Frances McCarthy: Yes, I did. Pretty much everybody in Ireland went to Catholic school when I was a kid. By the time I was seventeen, I was more interested in getting out of school and away from what I thought at the time was nonsense. That may have had more to do with how critical the Catholic school environment was and how elevated priests were in society at that time. At seventeen, I decided priests weren’t king of the world and over time, atheism began to make more sense to me. I really didn’t see a divine presence as the creator of the world. I didn’t want to be told how to think.

We live in a society that places substantially more emphasis on scientific evidence, on plausibility, and tangibility. It was easy to walk away from Catholicism and into atheism and into what I considered the real, pragmatic world.

Your life has taken 180-degree turn. You went from being a hardnosed, atheist war correspondent who was named one of the top Irish female broadcasters to have made an international impact to accepting life after death and your own mediumistic abilities. That’s a radical shift. How did that transformation happen? 

Karen Frances McCarthy: In 2010, when my fiancé passed away quite suddenly. Days later, strange phenomena, which I describe in this book, started to happen. Being a rationalist, I started investigating them. The first third of the book is about me as a skeptic grappling with the phenomena and trying to understand them. I did a ton of reading and bumped into some very helpful people, including psychologists, scientists, and ironically, the local Catholic priest and a nearby Spiritualist church. 

What were the phenomena?

Karen Frances McCarthy: At first it was quite a lot of small things, like lying in bed and feeling a hand press between my shoulder blades or feeling the bed sink with the weight of someone sitting on it. I saw a solid black man-shaped figure standing in the kitchen one afternoon. I smelled my fiancés smell very strongly one day. I thought it was an olfactory hallucination, but smells trigger memories. Memories don’t trigger smells. This went on and on, challenging everything I thought I understood about the real world. 

In the book, you show how this led to an awakening? 

Karen Frances McCarthy: Yes, the awakening, or realization, or acceptance came about gradually. At first, I thought the strange phenomena must have a rational explanation, even if that was that I was delirious. But over time, the most rational explanation was consistent with Occam’s Razor, that is, there exists two explanations for an occurrence and the one that requires the smallest number of assumptions is usually correct. Eventually, it was clear that simplest explanation for these phenomena was that consciousness survives death. That was the epiphany that changed my entire perspective on life and death. 

These experiences also reawakened the mediumship ability that you had in childhood.

Karen Frances McCarthy: Yes, after a series of “visits” from other people’s loved ones, I eventually had to accept that I needed to do something with this and do something responsible. I decided to undergo a lot of rigorous training, mostly at the Arthur Findlay College in England. I had met some unscrupulous people calling themselves mediums and others who were incredibly dogmatic in delivering their belief systems as truths. It did a lot of harm. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and could be sensitive to people who were deeply bereaved as I had done. 

a book cover with a woman and man holding hands
In her latest book, McCarthy writes about her journey from being a hard-nosed, atheist war … [+] KAREN MCCARTHY

You talk about how understanding there is no death, has transformed how you live this life. Can you explain?

Karen Frances McCarthy: Experiencing the incredible sense of connection to something greater than ourselves ­– whether you want to call that consciousness, the Brahman, Spirit, God, the Divine – is transformative. It shows us how small we are and that there is something bigger than us at play. This offers us a chance to be bigger people in our lives, whether that’s in business, or creatively, or in relationships. I believe it can help us get past pettiness, and allow us be bigger, nobler, in how we conduct all facets of life. 

In many ways, this is something the yogis have known for millennia – feeling connected to something greater can help us flow better in life. Meditation, simply being present, whether that’s on your meditation cushion or in a board room, brings a greater sense of composure, confidence, and clarity to all interactions. In this we can learn to be non-reactive, to stop taking things personally, which can reduce confrontation or aggression. 

It helps us stop trying to control everything and allow what is natural and right for us to unfold. It’s an incredibly creative process that applies across the board, to writing, music, a painting, managing a team, negotiating deals. 

Being able to relinquish this need to control everything means we can take right action and trust the outcome to unfold. We can treat people with more respect, compassion, and positivity, and in turn receive more respect, compassion, and positivity. It helps to bring out what’s best in us and in others. This leads to success on multiple levels. 

What’s the main takeaway for readers of Till Death Don’t Us Part?

Karen Frances McCarthy: I’d like people to understand that they are part of something greater, that they are loved by those in spirit form who still walk with them—and also by the Divine. I also hope people can see that while we’re surrounded by challenges in this life, these are also opportunities for growth and healing and compassion. We don’t have to wait until we get to the afterlife to heal. Eternity is now; it’s not something that happens when we die. This means we can work on our own healing and on our own growth right now to become better people and contribute better to our society. 

Becoming aware of the continuity of consciousness can alleviate our fear of death. This helps us with our grief, and it also removes the angst that fear of death can bring, and the aggression that can instinctively kick in when our survival is threatened, whether that be physical, socially, or financially. Our survival in the greater sense is never threatened. 

Ironically, in alleviating existential anxieties, it can give us a new appreciation for how precious and how beautiful is each moment. Understanding how much we are loved, and loved eternally and unconditionally, helps us live with more compassion for those around us and helps us become present in the here and now.

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