What It Means When People See Ghosts Before Death

We often think of death most vividly when we lose someone close to us. Before death becomes that real, it's more or less a distant idea that is shaped by our beliefs, cultural background, and the society we live in. 

When you hear of people who see ghosts before their death, you might be inclined to shake the thought off like a bad cold. However, according to various palliative care professionals, authors, researchers, and even psychologists, neuroscientists, and critical care health professionals, it is not uncommon for people nearing death to speak of seeing and talking to loved ones they've lost. In fact, the mystery of what happens in the final moments before death remains largely unsolved. When scientists from New York's Canisius College interviewed 66 patients receiving end-of-life care at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, New York, for a 2014 study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, they found that the most common end-of-life dreams and visions (ELDVs) experienced by the participants had to do with deceased relatives or friends. 

What does this mean? According to North Carolina's Winston-Salem psychiatrist, Rebecca Valla per The Washington Post, "Those who are dying and seem to be in and out of this world and the 'next' one often find their deceased loved ones present, and they communicate with them. In many cases, the predeceased loved ones seem [to the dying person] to be aiding them in their 'transition' to the next world."

Is there a scientific explanation?

According to the Director of Critical Care and Resuscitation Research at NYU School of Medicine, Dr. Sam Parnia (via Times Radio), the workings of a dying person's consciousness (or consciousness in general) is a largely undiscovered area in science. So there's no telling what thoughts, brain workings, or cell activity (or if any at all) are causing these experiences that link between this world and the one beyond. 

Scientist Christof Koch, who admitted to the difficulty of studying near-death experiences (NDEs) within a laboratory setting, supposes that these experiences may have to do with electrical activity within the brain that breaks down during the process of death (via Scientific American). "Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline one after another. The mind, whose substrate is whichever neurons remain capable of generating electrical activity, does what it always does: it tells a story shaped by the person's experience, memory, and cultural expectations," he shared. 

Psychiatrist Bruce Greyson and philosopher Raymond Moody have long been interested in searching for answers for this hitherto unexplained phenomenon. In fact, Greyson's interest in the topic has resulted in a book, titled "After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond." Regardless of what science has to or doesn't have to say, there's no denying the existence of such experiences. What can you do if a loved one is telling you of them?

How to respond to someone who tells you they're seeing ghosts on their death bed

Ghosts visiting a loved one on their death bed may sound frightful to someone who hasn't experienced it. But to the many people who have, such visits and conversations actually bring an immense sense of peace, love, and joy. As hospital chaplain, David Harrison wrote in the The Guardian, "So many people have told me about seeing a dead relative as they were going for an operation or were close to death, and feeling reassured that things would be okay. Relatives have told me how the dying person behaved as if they could see someone else in the room. It wasn't a look of fear, but of curiosity or even recognition and pleasure."

According to neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist Dr. Peter Fenwick (via iSpirit), near-death experiences of this nature may have to do with very strong and positive heart-driven wishes on the part of those who are dying. So perhaps, the focus on the part of other loved ones surrounding someone who's dying is not to scientifically decode what people are seeing and hearing before they die, but to help them through the transition. 

According to grief and death researcher, David Kessler (via Oprah), you could try asking them to explain what the ghost is saying to them or show interest in their visions. "Denying their reality will only separate you from your loved one. So join and explore this profound time of life."