hand being held by doctor
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 24, 2024 ·  3 min read

What It Means When People See Ghosts Before Death

When it comes to end-of-life experiences, having visions or seeing ghosts before death is an extremely common one. Contrary to popular belief, these encounters aren’t always scary like often seen in films. Rather, they often bring a sense of peace to the person approaching the end of their life. According to a study conducted at Canisius College in New York, most people report being visited by deceased friends or family as they get close to death. These encounters usually come in the form of dreams, with the frequency increasing the closer to death a person is.1

Understanding the Phenomenon

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Seeing ghosts before death is an experience that cannot be ignored. As one member of the study put it, “As participants approached death, comforting dreams/visions of the deceased became more prevalent.” These encounters often make passing less stressful for an individual, making the journey more manageable for them and their loved ones.

Vision or Delusion?

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These visions aren’t isolated occurrences, either; they are part of a broader spectrum of end-of-life phenomena. There are countless reports of people seeing the heavens or being in the presence of divine entities in their final days. Colton Burpo, whose experiences were famously depicted in the film “Heaven Is for Real,” recounted seeing Jesus and being given profound information about his family and the afterlife. Colton’s experience echoes the sentiments of many others that describe heaven as a place of calm and peace.

Comfort in the Final Moments

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For those nearing the end of their time here, the encounters can often feel strikingly real. They’ve been described as offering a sense of closure, allowing individuals to connect with departed loved ones one last time. Participants in the Canisius College study emphasized a feeling of authenticity during their experiences, stating that their visions “felt so real”.

Full Sensory Experience

woman smelling flower
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The encounters extend beyond being mere ghosts before death; they include dreams, smells, and a felt sense of presence. Carolyn Quach-Huynh, a nurse specializing in end-of-life care, can attest to the diverse nature of these visions. She notes that patients “may encounter familiar scents or feel as though they are embarking on a journey with a deceased loved one”. Such experiences, while intangible to the rest of us, hold profound significance for those undergoing them.2

What Does it Mean?

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The significance of seeing ghosts before death extends beyond personal comfort; they play a major role in shaping the perception of death and dying. Research published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care highlights the impact of these encounters, with patients often describing being at peace near the end. This peace may come in the form of gaining a new perspective on life and death or in finding acceptance in the face of their mortality.

Navigating The Phenomenon of Seeing Ghosts Before Death

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Caregivers and family members need to take extra care to approach these encounters with sensitivity and understanding. End-of-life visions are not hallucinations or symptoms of an illness; rather, they are deeply personal experiences that warrant acknowledgment and support. Hospice worker Chaplain Ann O’Shea emphasizes the importance of validating these experiences, stating, “It is not our job to prove, disprove, or do experiments. We are there to provide support and comfort”.

For those experiencing visions that create fear or agitation, compassionate intervention is essential. Hospice care teams should be equipped with the right training and resources to offer guidance and reassurance through the troubling affairs, but having family around is often the most helpful.


A girl holds the hand what appears to be the spirit of his dead mother. The image has been selectively blurred to give a touch of mystery. Can see some birds in the horizon
Credit: Shutterstock

Seeing any ghosts before death is a phenomenon much bigger than this world. It offers a look into the mysteries of existence and (hopefully) provides solace to those embarking on the next part of life. As we try to better understand and embrace these experiences, we pave the way for a more compassionate approach to end-of-life care, and honor the life and significance of every individual’s journey into the unknown.


  1. Understanding End-of-Life Visions.” Cross Road Hospice.  July 19, 2017
  2. New study reveals who you’re most likely to see before you die.” Deseret. October 2015