Last night a close family friend told a member of my family that she struggled over whether or not to say anything but, well, Ruthie visited her the night before. This friend, N., said she’s not the sort of person to remember her dreams, and she’s not sure if what she experienced was a dream or something between waking and a dream, but in it, my dead sister appeared to her, fully restored to health (“She even had all her hair back”) looking joyful and radiant. She had no message; the message was her appearance in full health again. The experience was so unusual and so intense that it shook the dreamer up a bit. My family was grateful for the story, and took comfort in it. That this happened to someone who is not the sort of person given over to supernaturalist enthusiasm makes it believable to us.

About a month or less before she died, my sister had a series of dreams in which three dead relatives — our paternal grandparents, and our aunt — came to her in the same way. They said nothing; they only looked radiant and happy. I asked my sister if she thought they had come to her to prepare her to die. Ruthie always was extremely commonsense about these things. She said no, she didn’t think so. Ruthie was a religious believer, but she was not at all given over to thinking of “woo-woo” stuff like the meaning of dreams and spectral appearances. But these dreams were so unprecedented and intense that they’d made an impression on her. Interestingly, I’d dreamed of our late grandfather at the same time (I don’t know if I’d ever dreamed of him; he died in 1994), and all I can say is that he said nothing, only appeared to me full of light and love and joy. I didn’t think of it as having any possible special meaning until Ruthie told me of her dreams.

Once, back in the early 1990s, as my Aunt Julia lay dying of cancer in the hospital, I had one of these intense dreams in which my grandmother (who was unrelated to Julia) appeared and told me to go to Julia and let her know that death is nothing to fear. I thought it was quite strange, but never having had a dream like that, and not knowing how to react, I did as I was told in the dream. Two days later, Julia was dead. I have no idea if that dream was something entirely from my own subconscious, or if it was some sort of authentic communication. I believe it could have been either. I’ll never know.

Over the years, I’ve heard from a few friends who have mentioned similar experiences with the dead, though in the most memorable instances, they’ve actually seen the dead. A friend of mine who was very close to his grandfather knew his grandfather was dead when he woke up in the middle of the night and saw the old man standing at the foot of his bed, smiling. Of course the old man’s body was far from my friend’s bed. Just this afternoon I was speaking with a friend in Philadelphia, a non-religious woman who had just heard that my sister had died. She told me that her Italian grandmother immigrated to the US and lived with them while she was growing up. Nonna spoke no English, and couldn’t communicate with my friend’s mom, who was not Italian and couldn’t speak the language. My friend’s mom is a religiously observant Catholic, and kept a prayer vigil at Nonna’s bed as she lay dying. At one point, as she prayed quietly, she felt a hand clasp her right shoulder. She turned, thinking she was going to see her husband, Nonna’s son, but there stood Nonna at her side — even though Nonna’s body lay in front of her.

“Nonna told Mom, in perfect English, ‘Please don’t worry; everything’s going to be all right.’ And then she walked out the bedroom door,” said my friend. “Mom didn’t even know until that moment that Nonna had just died.”

Anything like this ever happened to you, or to anyone you know?