By Celia Coates
Once upon a time (that means more than twenty-five years ago) part of my training involved working at a mental health agency that served a great variety of people with a wide range of problems. During my first week there, a young man came in for an appointment he’d scheduled. As usual I met him by the front desk and showed him into the office I’d been assigned. He sat down, put his motorcycle helmet on the floor beside his chair, and we began to talk. We started with ordinary questions designed to help somebody say what has brought them in but, until the last few minutes of the hour, he did not describe any strong concerns. Then he began talking about an aunt he had really loved who had died recently. That was not his problem – he was not talking about a struggle with grief. He said instead that he could not make sense of why she had appeared a few nights after her death and he had seen her sitting on the end of his bed. He’d been driven to make that appointment because he was afraid he was crazy.
I don’t remember exactly what I said but I did know he wasn’t crazy and that’s what I told him. This kind of experience is more common than most people know. When there has been a loving bond with someone who dies, at times they come back to say a kind of farewell before going on ahead.
There is another, much more dramatic kind of spirit visit that is sometimes called a crisis apparition. Psychologist Lawrence LeShan told this story about three English friends in his 2009 book, A NEW SCIENCE OF THE PARANORMAL:
“In 1930, a one-eyed pilot named Hinchcliffe was attempting the first east-west transatlantic flight. He had intended to fly alone. Unexpectedly, at the last moment, his financial sponsor insisted on a woman co-pilot. Several hundred miles away, on an ocean liner, unaware that Hinchcliffe was making a crossing attempt at this time, or that there were any plans for anyone to be with him, two old friends of his, Air Force Colonel Henderson and Squadron Leader Rivers Oldmeadow were asleep. In the middle of the night, Henderson, in his pajamas, opened the door of Oldmeadow’s cabin and said, ‘God Rivers, something ghastly has just happened. Hinch has just been in my cabin. Eyepatch and all. It was ghastly. He kept repeating over and over again. ‘Hendy, what am I going to do? I’ve got the woman with me and I’m lost. I’m lost.’ Then he disappeared in front of my eyes. Just disappeared.’
It was during that very night that Hinchcliffe’s plane crashed and he and the woman copilot were killed. “
This kind of event in which the details can be confirmed and there’s more than one witness is not common, but enough of them have been documented that they have become a legitimate area for study.
Much more common – and so non-dramatic that they are easy to dismiss – are the times when spirits appear in dreams. Most people don’t have vivid and shocking nighttime visions like Henderson’s, but many have experiences involving loved ones who have died that are more than “just” dreams. I’ve heard experiences like these many times:
One woman had several dreams of her mother in the year after she died. Her mother would appear right next to her in some ordinary life scene and the experience would last for a few moments. At first she had felt a little surprise at seeing her mother but then it seemed normal and natural to be with her while asleep. The dreams were clear and comforting in their ordinariness. Then one day she came in for her hour and reported that the dreams of her mother had changed – her mother was no longer right next to her. She was a distance away “doing other things” and now the daughter had to “squint” to see her.
Then there is another kind of dream. A woman dreamed she went to Heaven with her mother and her grandmother. She dearly loved both of these women and both had died that year. She said that in Heaven they could go anywhere together – to a beach or to a park – and other people she knew were there too. She was especially glad to be with her mother who no longer felt any pain or fatigue and was like her “younger old self.” Then the dreamer became worried that if she stayed too long she might not see her children again. She sensed that she “didn’t belong” there. Although she had found it great fun to “be the three of us” and now misses heaven, she “felt relieved because I am not ready to be there.”
When you look at your own dreams are there any that feel different from the ones you usually have or that seem especially meaningful? Have you dreamed about loved ones who have died? I haven’t had spirit dreams myself but have had nighttime visions of other dimensions of reality that arrive with the same sense of truth and usefulness – an unusual but solid kind of “knowing” – that can be found in spirit dreams.
It really doesn’t matter whether these dreams are factual or provable – it’s enough to explore what we’ve seen and felt so we can widen our sense of what could be real. I suggest that we neither get caught up in the specialness of these experiences nor dismiss them as meaningless. Instead, live with the comfort, meaning, and information that they can bring and keep on exploring with a clear and open mind our not-usual experiences whether we are awake or sleep.
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A NEW SCIENCE OF THE PARANORMAL: The Promise of Psychical Research, Lawrence LeShan, Ph.D., Quest Books, 2009.
The image of an eye in the night sky accompanying this post is by David Lewis, an artist and photographer who now lives in Uruguay.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.