In this post I want to describe a common feature of past-life memory, especially in the cases of children who remember premature natural deaths (usually from disease), and that is some sort of unfinished business left over from the previous life. There are various types of unfinished business and they form part of a larger category of continuing (or ongoing) business. For instance, some children recall the lives of women who died leaving young children in need of care. Jenny Cockell’s Irish life is a famous example of this. Several boys have shown the previous person’s widow where they left buried treasure that no one had known about. Other children recall having left debts that need to be paid or collected.
Memories classified as involving continuing business are often those of merchants or other entrepreneurs who died in the prime of life. In these cases, it is as if the unfinished or continuing business made the memories especially salient and helped to force them into the child’s conscious awareness so that they could be acted upon. Ian Stevenson noted that almost all his natural-death cases featured some sort of continuing business. They also appear in many cases with violent deaths.
An example of a case with unfinished business is a Syrian Druze case from Wortabet’s Researches into the Religions of Syria (pp. 308-309), published in 1860. It is the earliest detailed account of the sort of case we study today to be published in English.
“A child, five years old, in Djebel el A’ala, complained of the life of poverty which his parents led, and alleged that he had been a rich man of Damascus; that on his death he was born in another place, but had lived only six months; that he was born again among his present friends; and desired to be carried to that city [Damascus]. He was taken there by his relatives; and on the way astonished them by his correct knowledge of the names of the different places they passed. On reaching the city he led the way through various streets to a house which he said had been his own. He knocked, and called the woman of the house by her name; and on being admitted told her that he had been her husband, and asked about the welfare of their several children, relatives, and acquaintances whom he had left. The Druses of the place soon met to inquire into the truth of the matter. The boy gave them a full account of his past life among them, of the names of his acquaintances, the property which he had possessed, and the debts which he had left. All was found to be strictly true, except for a small sum which he said a certain weaver owed him. The man was called, and on the claim being mentioned to him, he acknowledged it, pleading his poverty for not having paid it to the children of the deceased. The child then asked the woman who had been his wife, whether she had found a sum of money which he had hid in the cellar; and on her replying in the negative, he went directly to the place, dug up the treasure, and counted it before them. The money was found to be of exactly the amount and kind of specie which he had specified. His wife and children, who had become considerably older than himself, then gave him some money, and he returned with his new friends to his mountain home.”
Some sort of unfinished business turns up so often in reincarnation cases that I think it must be an important factor in why the lives are recalled. It is as if the need to express the memory is retained in the subconscious mind after reincarnation and this helps it to make its way into the conscious awareness of the subject. Associational triggers are often evident on the subject’s side, but unfinished business appears to be an important—perhaps a crucial—factor on the previous person’s side.