What happens to us after we die? This is a question that has plagued humankind since we were able to ponder such things, and there are many ideas for answers. One of these is the concept of reincarnation, of being reborn into a new body to start a new life. Usually this entails forgetting what you have left behind, and your new identity never knows what it lost in the past, accepting everything now as reality. Yet, what if you did remember, and not only that, were able to go and get in touch with those loved ones from a past life? This is what happened to one woman in England, who reached out past the boundaries of death to be reborn and meet with her past.
For Jenny Cockell, a seemingly normal mother and housewife in Northamptonshire, England, it all started when she was just a young girl. Right around her fourth birthday, in 1957, Jenny began having very vivid, realistic, and often frightening dreams. In these dreams she was someone else, seeing places that she felt she had been to before, even though she never had. At first, they were just fragments and pieces, but as the dreams continued more details started coming through. In these dreams she was an Irishwoman sometime in the 1930s named Mary, she was married with eight children, had a drunk and abusive husband, and she even remembered details of the street and town where she lived. This was all very scary for such a young girl, but the most unsettling dreams were the ones in which she died. She had recurring nightmares in which she was giving birth to her eighth child and died in childbirth, and these visions would cause her toThis is what happened to one woman in England, who reached out past the boundaries of death to be reborn and meet with her past.This is what happened to one woman in England, who reached out past the boundaries of death to be reborn and meet with her past.This is what happened to one woman in England, who reached out past the boundaries of death to be reborn and meet with her past. wake up sobbing and ridden with a sort of empty, desolate sadness and guilt that she had left her family in these dreams behind and couldn’t be with them.
These “memories” began to seep into her waking life as well, little clips and images superimposed on her reality that she couldn’t shake off, but she never said anything about it to anyone because she assumed that this was normal and that everyone went through this. As she grew older it continued, she would make sketches of this town of her dreams and the people she saw there, and she began to suspect that in fact not everyone did have these experiences, but it wasn’t until she was an adult and married with her own family that she decided to do anything about it. She began looking at maps and pictures of Ireland, a place she had never been to, and was strangely drawn to a place called Malahide, just north of Dublin, which stuck in her mind like a splinter. Pictures of the town were instantly familiar, and she was hit with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. She felt that she knew this place intimately, and she underwent hypnosis in 1988 that brought to the surface even more memories. She would say of her hypnosis session:
I cried as she cried. I knew her pain as my own. I was Mary, and the past had become very real. I could smell the grass on the slopes outside a large farmhouse, and I breathed in the fresh spring air. As the questions were being asked and answered in this strange, mechanical way, I seemed to be free to wander through the places I saw — tangible, vivid places. I felt the wind in my hair; I could touch and smell the air as though I were there.
Armed with all of this, in 1989 she decided to do a little research into what she was sure now were visions of a past life. She made the journey to Ireland to see the town firsthand and immediately recognized it as somewhere she had been before. She claims that she remembered details of the town and the layout of streets, despite never having been there in her new life as Jenny Cockell. So vivid were her memories of this place as she tried to locate the house from her dreams that she says she even was able to see parts of the landscape that had changed and were now different from what she remembered. She would say of this bizarre experience:
I noticed things that had changed -- like the builder's yard being replaced by a supermarket and the old jetty being updated to a nice new concrete jetty. I knew the house was grouped with a few other houses, opposite a boggy meadow. When I walked to where I thought the house was, there were just ruins there. I had got there just in time because the ruins were only there for a short time afterwards until a development was built on the land.
She began asking around to locals about the people who had lived in that house, checking church and hospital records as well, and finally tracked down the surname of “Mary,” which had up until then been elusive. It seemed that a woman had once lived there named Mary Sutton, who indeed had eight children and had died in childbirth at around the time specified in her dreams. She also found that these children had all been sent to live with relatives or at orphanages after Mary’s death, and most amazingly of all, that most of them were still alive, now in their 70s and old enough to be her parents. This was groundbreaking information for Jenny, as she felt compelled to reach out to the children of her past self, but wasn’t sure how to approach it. She says:
I did worry for a long time about contacting Mary's children. I was concerned that by approaching them, it might do some harm. But ultimately I thought I would make contact and leave the decision to them on whether they wanted to talk to me.
Jenny first made sure that what she remembered matched up with what the children knew, contacting the a BBC researcher to interview her about the details of her past life, which they would then verify and fact check. There were seen to be quite a few details that matched up perfectly, and so Jenny decided that it was time to try and talk to them. She first made contact with Mary’s son, Sonny Sutton, who was willing to meet with her and came away very impressed by her knowledge of his mother and their family experiences. Jenny knew little details that only Mary would know, and to him this really was his long-lost mother. His sister, Phyllis Clinton, agreed, saying:
She knew the pictures on the wall, what was in the house, how it was built, it is unbelievable. I still find it hard to believe, even though I know she is telling the truth. Mammy passed her soul over to this unborn person.
Not all of the surviving children were convinced that Jenny was the reincarnation of their dead mother, but most of them believed that their mother was at least speaking through her with the help of God in order to bring the family back together again. All of them were apparently very unsettled by it all, but believed in some way that their mother had somehow contacted them from beyond the grave. The story of a dead mother being reincarnated and tracking down the family she left behind captured the public imagination. It was featured heavily in the news and on TV shows such as Strange But True and Unsolved Mysteries, and Jenny would write books on her experience, Across Time and Death: A Mother’s Search for Her Past Life Children, which was made into the TV film Yesterday’s Children, as well as several other books about other past lives she believes she has had and on reincarnation in general. Of course, there are many skeptics who are not as convinced by her case, which they see as an elaborate fantasy she has subconsciously constructed, and that she is employing circular reasoning. Yet, Jenny stands by her story, and says to her critics:
I don't really need to respond to those criticisms. I can only explain what happened to me. I grew up with people telling me that what I was quite sure was real wasn't real and I wouldn't want to do that to other people. I understand skeptics are uncomfortable with the idea of reincarnation but they haven't experienced what I have. It feels lovely now that I have re-traced more about my past lives through writing the book. I've found out answers to things that seemed unresolved in my mind. While a lot of the memories are still there if I want to access them, I feel at last that I'm able to live my own life more fully.
Is this all for real? Did Jenny Cockell actually get reborn into a new life, only to remember the old one and reunite with the children that had been taken from her in death? Or is this all tricks of the mind, illusion, or even a hoax? Whatever one may think, reincarnation is still very much talked about, and it is really amazing to think that our present life could collide with a past one in such a dramatic fashion. In the end, we will probably never know what the truth is here until we take that final step, and find out what happens after death once and for all.