When my dear friend Jim was dying in August 2012, his brother Joe visited him.
Which is completely understandable, except for one thing: Joe had been dead for several years.
Still, Jim told his wife Jodie that Joe was there. She couldn’t see him, but said the idea that Joe was in the room, in one form or another, comforted Jim. They were extremely close, and I know Jim missed him. Did he come back to guide his big brother to the next life, to the other side?
Was it merely a wishful dream, an illusion caused by pain-masking drugs and a brain slowly winding down?
Dr. Christopher Kerr, CEO of The Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, N.Y., said he once was skeptical, but has come to accept the fact that in their final days, people see dead family members and friends. Is it a dream, since the study shows dying people have more dreams, often involving their missing loved ones?
Many of the dreams also involve travel, and dying people are known to prepare for one final trip, so it makes sense that someone would be there to guide them on this new path.
Veteran nurses, who witness a great many deaths, told Dr. Kerr they knew when people are near the end. Their late relatives appear to them, the nurses said, and it’s a sign that death is approaching.
Are their spirits actually there? Dr. Kerr is not sure, but he is well aware of it, and said it is a positive occurrence.
“Instead of having this fear of death,” he said in a recent newspaper story. “It almost transcends the fear of death to something bigger.”
When our dad had a major heart attack in January 2013, we were told he had days to live. He was 92 and his health had been declining, but his will to live was still strong. He tried to recover despite the great injury to his heart, and lived for more than a month.
But in February, he started to fail. He was just too weak. Five of his kids, including me, took turns spending time with Dad, talking, reading newspapers ... dealing with the looming reality that he would soon be gone.
Dad noted several times a man in a hat was seated in a corner of the room, although we could not see anyone. Was it his father, who often wore a fedora? Did he come back to bring his last child home?
Dad told other family members that he was seeing long-dead relatives. We could not see anyone, but he did.
They gave him comfort. He recognized them, and knew them.
Grace told me her maternal grandmother in the Philippines had a similar experience, but it lasted a lot longer. In her final years, as she dealt with encroaching dementia, she told family members that her late father and son were in the room.
At times, she admonished Grace to be quiet, since her husband and son were asleep. Grace says family members came to ask if anyone was present in her room, wanting not to intrude on their time together.
Is this an illusion? A hallucination? A wish, as someone dying hopes to see loved ones?
Dr. Kerr said he doesn’t know if it can be explained in spiritual or scientific ways. Instead, he just chooses to record the incidents.
“When they wake up crying because they’ve been so deeply moved by something,” said Dr. Kerr. “That just should be respected. Period.”
That makes sense to me. There are enough report of this happening, it does seem to be real, in one way or another. Who will be there to escort you through that mysterious door? Who do you want to see again?
I’m in no hurry to find out, but I would be glad to see my mother, father and sister Anita again. But not yet, not yet.
South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.
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