A Ghost or a Kind Brain?

This is an old photograph of my Great-Uncle, Sam. He was my Gran’s brother. I found it recently whilst sorting through my grandparents’ photographs. My Gran died a few years ago; she was in hospital at the very end after suffering from dementia. About a week before she died, we were visiting, worrying how far she may have deteoriarated since the last visit, but we were surprised to find her sat up in bed, quite lucid and talkative. “You’ll never guess who’s just been to see me?” she said, happily. “Our Sam! I’ve not seen him for years. He couldn’t stay for long, but he said he’ll be back soon to see me again.” I’d never heard Gran talk about her brother before and on the way home I asked Mam about him, she’d gone very quiet. She explained that Sam had died many years before.

Had Gran simply forgot? Her memory had become confused, especially recent memories (she’d forget that you’d been to see her only the day before or even what she’d had for lunch). Had her dementia began to reach the precious recesses of memories of the long gone past and began to distort them too?

Or had Sam actually come to visit? Had he crossed some spectral void to come to see his sister and prepare her for her own departure? Gran died a week later. I never got to ask her if she’d seen Sam again, as he’d promised, days later. Perhaps he did.

Some scientists claim that, when approaching death, the brain begins to enter a ‘closing down’ stage and prepares the body for death. Many people who have claimed to have had ‘near death experiences’ talk about visions, tunnels, lights and even long-dead relatives appearing to them, to guide them to the ‘other side’. Scientists have said this could be the result of the brain flooding the body with endorphins, to reduce trauma to the brain, to make the ‘passing’ easier and painless. Could it be that, despite Gran’s dementia, her brain was slowly preparing her for the inevitable, kindly showing a glimpse of an ‘after-life’, whether real or not, to reduce the stress of what was coming only days later?

Or had Sam kept his promise? Had he really materialised and sat at the end of that bed and smiled? I like to keep an open mind. If I do, maybe my own brain will be as kind to me when the time comes.


About Ian O'Brien

I am a teacher and scribbler, living in Manchester, UK.
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5 Responses to A Ghost or a Kind Brain?

  1. frangipani says:

    Your account of your Gran’s last week is remarkable. In my part of the world (I don’t know if it is common elsewhere, but it might), we believe that unexpected clear-mindedness in the very ill means that the end is imminent. It’s almost like the last burst from a flame, suddenly brightening, before it extinguishes.

  2. I am going through a similar time with my grandmother right now. This post really touched me. Thank you.

  3. Pseu says:

    It is quite common for a lucid period fairly shortly before death: quite strange sometimes. And some people at that point say they are ready to go now, as if they know.

    I don’t believe in ghosts, but a while after a friend died she came to me very clearly in a dream, allowing me to see her again as she was before she was ill, rather than in her ill health. I feel this was my brain helping me to accept that she had gone. Other’s may have interpreted the ‘visit’ as a ghost.

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