Reports were released last week of taxi drivers in Japan telling of how they had picked up “ghost passengers” in areas heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A disaster in which more than 25,000 people died.
Drivers described stopping for fares who requested to be taken to the areas that were devastated by the tsunami; then enroute, the person simply vanished from the cab. One driver was telling his customer about losing a loved one in the tsunami when he realized no one was there. Cabbies reported that most of these “passengers” were young, and seemed not to know that they had died.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a hallucination is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present: a delusion, illusion or figment of the imagination.”
MedicineNet.com, describes a hallucination as “a profound distortion in a person’s perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there.”
So could these occurrences be considered “grief hallucinations?” Some psychiatrists believe that grief, or post-bereavement hallucinations are common for those who have lost a loved one. Some in the industry say that they are beneficial.
Although grief is a profoundly individual experience, the majority of us tend to have an “encounter” with a loved one soon after their death. These incidents can involve seeing, hearing, smelling and/or being touched by a loved one.
The academic term for this experience is known as “idionecrophany” – a combination of the Greek words idios (private), nekros (dead), and phainestai (to appear). The word was coined in 1992 by American sociologist William L. Macdonald to explain a sensory experience of claimed contact with the dead.
Scientific American reported that 82% of subjects studied for grief hallucinations had admitted to at least one idionecrophanic experience, which occurred during the first month after the death of someone close; 71% told of an experience three months following the death, and 52% still experienced some sort of occurrence 12 months after the death.
These visits may occur through a dream, getting a whiff of a familiar perfume or pipe tobacco, hearing otherworldly music, or laughter. But no one reports of being afraid during these “visits.” In fact, most who experience them, welcome them and find them comforting. And those in the psychiatric field will quickly clarify that bereavement hallucinations do not indicate psychosis.
Of course, there are those who will claim that it’s your mind’s way of keeping someone dear close to you because you’re not quite ready to let go. Possibly. But it’s also possible that we do make that contact across the void because of the real emotional connection we’ve had before death.
I have had several experiences with idionecrophany. I have been “visited” by my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, a sister from another life, and the man who was like a father to me. All of them delivering variations of the same message, “I made it, I’ve found my loved ones, I’m happy.”
Our pets also send a similar message if we are open to receiving it. Last week, we lost our Poodle to old age. Evie has been my constant companion for well into fifteen years. But saying good bye is never easy, and having to make that decision not to let her suffer was tough, simply because you don’t want to say goodbye.
But last evening, as I sat working on family genealogy, I heard her snoring at my feet, as usual. It was only a beat later that I realized it couldn’t be her. I walked the room, checking her favorite pillows for … something – an indentation, an appearance. Nothing, only the gentle snoring, which continued until I said her name. Then the sound stopped as if I had awakened her.
Was she there with me, spending another evening by the fire? Or did I hallucinate the sound of her snoring as my mind grappled with ancestors?
I prefer to believe that, yes, she dropped by for a visit and a rest, before heading out into that great unknown. And one night, she’ll visit me in a dream to let me know that she’s made it to the other side, and that she’s happy.
Isn’t that we’re all seeking? Reassurances that our loved ones are finally free from burdens, are happy, and ready to continue on in another realm? I believe so, and since they take the time to let us know, that just let’s us know how much we mattered to them, too.