Janis Heaphy Durham walked into the bathroom of her California home one day and was shocked to see a large handprint on the mirror. It didn’t look as if someone had just leaned on the mirror and pushed their hand upon it. This was seemingly made of a soft, white powdery substance, and it even showed the bone structure of the hand—as if looking at an x-ray. It was large and masculine, with a wide base at the palm. It had not been there just an hour earlier.
Durham instantly felt chills.
“Tanner, come here. Hurry!” she yelled for her teenage son. Maybe someone was playing a trick on her.
Her son came running over, and she pointed the handprint out. He didn’t do it, and he hadn’t seen anyone else in the house either. She knew it couldn’t have been Tanner anyway, even as she asked him to hold up his hand next to the print to check. The shape was completely different.
In fact, the shape was eerily similar to her late husband’s hands. And it happened exactly one year after his death.
Durham and her husband Max Besler were married for four years before, tragically, Durham lost her husband to esophageal cancer in 2004 when he was 56.
They only had six months together after the discovery of his cancer, and Besler insisted Durham continue working. She was the publisher of the Sacramento Bee and has quite the career in journalism, so she continued to work at the office, but would come home for lunch every day.
In the last few months, Besler had many long talks with their housekeeper, Helen.
Finding this handprint on her mirror, Durham recalled one conversation she’d stumbled upon during lunch.
“I know you don’t believe in God,” Helen had said to Besler. “[But] after you’re gone, if you can find a way, let us know that there’s something out there, that it just doesn’t end.”
And then Besler said he would try.
“But it will be up to you two to see it,” he said, referring to Helen and Durham.
Thinking about it, Durham realized the handprint wasn’t the first time she’d seen something of a “sign” from her late husband. It was just the first time that it stopped her in her tracks and forced her to take notice.
After that day, her life was never the same again.
Durham grabbed her camera and took several photographs of the print on the mirror.
“I’ve always been open in life, and I wanted to be open now. But I was scared too. Entering the unknown was intimidating,” she wrote.
When Besler passed away, he was surrounded by family and friends in their living room. Durham remembers the sound of the heavy wind chimes in their backyard, and how they rang together the moment of Besler’s death—especially since there had been no wind.
One week later, she took their dog, Casey, out for a walk early morning. When she returned home, the big clock in the living room had stopped—at 12:44, exactly the time of Besler’s death a week ago.
Durham didn’t think too much of these events at the time, but seeing this handprint was like witnessing an undeniable truth that there was something more to the coincidence-like events happening around her. She later also learned that Helen had been able to clean the handprint off the mirror with some Windex—but she had to really scrub.
Durham had showed her son the stopped clock, who understood the significance of the time immediately, but they both chalked it up to coincidence at the time.
It wasn’t until a few days later when Helen arrived that the lights flickered on and off—and the clock restarted.
“I think Max may have paid us a visit,” Helen wrote to Durham on a note she stuck to the clock.
A few days after Durham saw the print, she and Tanner were set to go on a trip to Italy. The trip had been planned before Besler’s diagnosis, but they decided to go together in honor of his memory.
Durham said she tried to relax, but there were times where she craved Besler’s presence.
One day on the trip, she and her son took a walk by the Italian Riviera, and the afternoon sun was casting a magical glow. She asked someone to take a photo of the two of them, on film.
When they got home from the trip, she developed the photos, and saw that there was a boat anchored about 30 yards away, and the name of it lined up just between her shoulder’s and Tanner’s.
There were three visible letters: MAX.
Durham then decided she was going to find out everything there was to know about life beyond death.
“My journey would span eight years and take me across the United States to speak to different scientists, professors, and spiritual practitioners,” she wrote. She has since documented this journey in a book titled “The Hand on the Mirror.”
One of the things Durham found in her research was that what she had seen on the mirror was definitely out of the ordinary—and that psychic and out of the ordinary experiences happen to more people than we would expect.
Andrew Greeley, a Catholic priest and sociologist, did a study and found that two-thirds of American adults have reported psychic experiences at some points in their lives.
“People who’ve tasted the paranormal, whether they accept it intellectually or not, are anything but religious nuts or psychiatric cases. They are, for the most part, ordinary Americans, somewhat above the norm in education and intelligence and somewhat less than average in religious involvement,” Greeley wrote.
Durham continued to pursue the topic both for herself, and with the hope that she could illuminate something for others. She started out as a skeptic herself—as a journalist, her entire career was built on facts. But she determined she could use this background to approach an extraordinary topic the same way, backing it up with beneficial information, but not shying away from the fact that this is her beautiful love story.
“I think the topic of life after death is something people are immensely interested in,” she said. “I think it offers hope, and people are curious about this topic. It’s curiosity and hope that drives it.”