Death as change, not endpoint: stories from Ken Ross

Ken Ross and I did not have the opportunity for an interview, but he kindly offered to write about two of his experiences in relation to death. I find them moving, and they confirm my sense that death is not an endpoint, but a change.


On Easter Monday 1983, I was in charge of two vessels in the Marlborough Sounds, one a 38-foot launch and the other a 32-foot cutter that was strapped alongside. I was in the mouth of the Queen Charlotte Sound, having just dropped a group of Outward Bound Students at Ship Cove. I was cruising slowly because of the cutter alongside and a rising chop, waiting to hear a marine weather bulletin (due at 1117hrs), because the weather report would determine which bay and mooring I would use to shelter the vessels on. At approx. 1115hrs I realised my watch had stopped at 1110hrs. I stopped the vessels, turned the marine radio up, listened to the weather forecast, decided I would use our Tawa Bay mooring in Endeavour Inlet to sit out the weather, and proceeded to Tawa Bay.

An hour or so later I was sitting on the mooring, making a cup of tea when I received a marine radio message to proceed to the nearest telephone and call my parents in Wellington.  I left the cutter on the mooring and proceeded to the home of a person I knew at Snake Point, approximately 25 minutes away. I called my parents, and when my mother answered the phone I said, “It’s Nan, isn’t it?” She asked me how I knew, and I said, “I’ll tell you when she died – she died at 11.10am”. My mother confirmed I was right. 

How did I know? For most of my life my grandmother had been the family matriarch, a terrifying Victorian figure of grim countenance and little humour. In the last 5 years of her life I had regular, monthly one-to-one contact with her, and began to see a very different side, a softer person who cared deeply for her friends, family and neighbourhood. I was consciously developing in a spiritual manner, and our conversations often went to spiritual matters. She wasn’t a church-goer but she was ‘Christian’ (Christ like) in her outlook toward others, plus she had lost a lot of her judgemental behavior. On the day she died, I ‘knew’ it was her, in the way I ‘know’ I am me, from deep within. We had never discussed post-death contact, but I understood she wanted to connect with me at that moment, and did.

Some years later when I was living in Kerikeri, I was asked/tasked to form a ‘Spiritual Development Group’. Some time through 1988, five of us from the group travelled to Whangarei to a presentation from a woman from the Spiritualist Church in the UK. This woman was an internationally renowned Spiritual Medium. The woman spoke for an hour or so about her life, and then started giving messages (from ‘the other side’) to people in the audience (approximately 70 people). I silently asked that she pick one of our ‘group’ to give a message to, so we could discuss it and check its veracity on the way home. I had no sooner posed that thought when she turned and said she had a message for the man with the beard in the second row, and indicated me.

She described an older woman and what she was wearing, who could only have been my grandmother. She described a biscuit tin the woman was holding that was my childhood joy, my grandmother’s shortbread tin with a picture of Edinburgh Castle and a pipe band on it.  She passed on some personal messages to me and then said, “She is giving me a date, and says, “You will know what it means”.  It was 6.11.28, my father’s birth date.

She then said, “There is another person here, a man. They seem to know each other”. (In ‘life on earth’ my Grandmother and this man, Murray, had not met, to my knowledge.) She then went on to describe a friend of mine, a man by the name of Murray Charles. Murray was an outdoors friend; we had climbed together. He taught at Marlborough Boys College in Blenheim and I worked at the Cobham Outward Bound School in Anakiwa. One day, in ’83, he phoned me and asked if I wanted to climb Mount Tapuaenuku in the inland Kaikouras with him. I was keen because it is a decent climb and peak. He said he was taking the family for a trip to the glaciers in South Westland in the next week, and would make contact on his return on the following Thursday. We aimed to start our climb on the Saturday. Murray never phoned on the Thursday evening, and on the Friday a friend, who was also a teacher at the school, came to Anakiwa to break the news that Murray and one of his sons had been killed by rock fall as they descended the glacier track.

The medium described the climbing breeches and boots Murray used to wear, described his appearance, and then said, “He wants you to know, he tried to save John, but couldn’t”. Just prior to the accident, Murray’s two sons, Graham and John, had been ahead of Murray and his wife on the track. Murray saw a huge rock dislodge from the mountain and rushed forward to throw the boys away from its path. He saved Graham, but the rock got Murray and John. Murray was a wonderful man and his loss was devastating to many people. That he wanted to convey his failure to save John even though he gave his life, said so much to me.

Thank you, Ken.


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