As is obvious, my writings are primarily geared towards asking what evidentiary grounds we have for discussing any possible reality of ghosts. But, what can also be found in my scribblings are my allusions to my affinity for relaying compassion when it comes to commentating on belief in ghostly interactions. Thanks to an article written about mourning related visions in, “Scientific American,” by psychiatrist, Vaughan Bell, I now have a chance to pen something in relation to ghosts in a way that I hope is congenial to all. The article dates back to 2008, but any added data since then should only enhance the thoughts I have included here versus augmenting the important points then made by the article.
The data cited by Dr. Bell suggest that the grief induced vision is far more common than we might expect. Apparently, we not only retain loved ones memorially, but many still also experience them postmortem in a more experiential fashion. Because many cultures can stigmatize an admission of such an order, it may not be suspected that this type of event happens much more frequently with those left behind to grieve.
What I am referring to as a grief apparition is described by Bell more along the lines of definition as that of a hallucination. The experiences are incredibly real, and based on data reported by his article, they are not at all rare. He cites the work contained in Agneta Grimby’s research, where in her pool of interviewees, 80% of senior couples had involved the survivor claiming to have experienced their dead partner a few weeks after their passing. The way the trends are explained, it appears that the brain of the spouse left behind has to eventually catch up to the fact that their spouse is no longer present. And, in order to better understand how vivid these experiences can be, Grimby’s data indicate that almost one-third of those she interviewed even claimed to have spoken back to their encountered apparitions. The experiences described are so real that the actual person might almost as well be there. And, whereas some of the experiences can be of an unwanted kind, with some agitation involved, by and large, the incursions are usually deemed as being comforting. At the time of publication, Bell pointed out the fact that these hallucinations are so common as to be considered normal as a part of the grieving process, but that research, as of 2008, was still in a stage of infancy.
C.S. Lewis, upon losing his wife, Joy Davidman, came to eventually pen a work called, “A Grief Observed.” In the short book, Lewis captures his reactions while going through such an intense period of grieving. As one who has undergone a personal loss in recent weeks (not bereavement, but of permanent physical separation), my response to grief is like that of Lewis. I need to take it and put it on a laboratory table and dissect it, while coming to understand it for what it is. And, somewhat defiantly, like Lewis, I have to resist any waffling surrender to the process. I will always echo Lewis’ words as follows that he wrote under a pen name when his work first came to publication:
“What pitiable cant to say, ‘She will live forever in my memory!’ Live? That is exactly what she won’t do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them. Will nothing persuade us that they are gone? What’s left? A corpse, a memory, and (in some versions) a ghost. All mockeries or horrors. Three more ways of spelling the word, “dead.” It was H. (Joy Davidman) I loved. As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her, an image in my own mind!”
Lewis’ words are remarkably appropriate to pair with Bell’s article. In his, “A Grief Observed,” we see the protestation and comparison of having the person with us versus the brain stored memory. Unfortunately, when it comes to coping, the brain can do little else but to offer a mechanism of bearing with the colder side of reality. Though not all will experience it, there are supposed to be numerous instances whereby the brain has a way of providing, ‘a grief deserved,’ to those who are dealing with the death of a loved one. These experiences are a way for the brain to add some gentleness to the burdening trauma, and of the types of grief possible, I would always prefer it be the peaceful kind on behalf of the bearer, which is much more deserved when weighed against the pain already present from loss. Bell goes on to say,
“Only a minority of people reading this article are likely to experience grief without re-experiencing the dead. We often fall back on the cultural catch all of the, “ghost,” while the reality is, in many ways, more profound. Our perception is so tuned to their presence that when they are not their to fill that gap, we unconsciously try to mold the world into what we have lived with for so long and so badly long for…..”
Bell’s commentary is a case specific example of where science indicates that it is the brain driving our preservation. The brain generated hallucinatory experience can become a self defense mode for the person enduring tremendous grief. But, whatever one’s opinions about the ultimate question over whether ghosts exist realistically and independent of any hallucinatory transpirations, our brain is still centrally involved in any exchanges involving the discussion. They are givens in neuroscience that we must understand not only how the brain works internally, but also how it relates to and translates the external. However, a simple and more rudimentary truth exists at the heart of this particular discussion, and it is fundamentally human in its reduction. I will close down below with Bell’s last sentence, as there is no possible way I could sum things up any better.
I always said I would want any partaking of mine in a discussion about ghosts to be based on goodwill, and to hopefully further compassion when and where human grief is addressed. I hope this article has allowed me to confirm this dedicated pledge of mine. So, I will conclude with Bell’s very last sentence in his article, which says,
“Even reality is no match for our love.”