This year we have had several deaths in the family. The most curious thing is that some of these people, while on their deathbed, claim to have seen relatives who had passed on earlier coming to collect them and calling out their names to follow them.
An example is an elderly relative who kept calling out the names of my late grandfather, cousin and other deceased relatives. My own grandmother also claimed to have been visited by her deceased relatives before she passed on.
I’m using the word “claimed” as I take these stories with a pinch of salt but please explain whether this is real and if so, what should one do.
– Peter from Unknown City
Common experiences (Part 1)
What you described is quite a common experience; I’m sure it is to many families. Before I delve into it from a theological viewpoint let me share a kindred story from my own family. While my Aunt Helen was in the hospital after surgery and but a few days before her death, she told my mother that she saw her brothers Paul and Mack (both deceased for many years) in her room and they were in suits and looked really good. They did not speak to her – just stood there. My Aunt Helen was one of the godliest women I ever knew and she was not given to either lying or imaginations. I have no doubt that she gave an accurate account of what she saw and experienced. Okay, now what do we do about that and the cases you present in your question? How does that fit what is in the Bible, our gold standard of truth?
First let’s start by remembering that the Bible clearly forbids us from attempting to contact the dead. Listen to this from Deuteronomy 18, “There shall not be found among you …one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” (Verse 11) Since God’s prohibition is so strong, do the deathbed visitations violate this command? NO. These are not cases where the dying person is seeking contact and there is no association here with the abomination of witchcraft. These incidents came to them; they did not go after it.
There is another example from scripture where the dead were seen by the living unsolicited. Here is part of the description of the scene after Jesus died on the cross: “And the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53) We don’t know exactly why this happened but it DID happen.
That leads to the next point: the MYSTERY surrounding death.
Mystery surrounding death (Part 2)
The truth is that we know very little about the spiritual mechanics of death and dying. We don’t have any earthly experience to match it so we can’t remember back and say, “Well this is how it goes.” As we approach our physical end of days we are preparing to cross over into eternity. Close to death, does the line between the two dimensions begin to blur a little? Is there a bit of an overlap? Accordingly, to see those who have gone on before us is not so far out of line. Scripturally, there is nothing that says NO to that possibility.
From the viewpoint of God’s mercy and compassion I can also accept such deathbed visitations. If you moved to a brand new city, how delighted and relieved would you be to open the door of your new home and find several of your dearest relatives there to welcome you, greet you and help you unpack? As we arrive at our new eternal home, why would it be so strange for God to provide similar comfort for unfamiliar surroundings?
I have no way to prove or disprove any of the many antidotes of people who say they see departed ones or see or hear angels at the time of death. Since the Bible is silent on many matters regarding the practicality of death we may choose to accept or reject them depending on our viewpoint.
Regarding the incidents with your relatives you asked: “What should one do?” I think you want to know how to process something your mind finds so difficult and unusual. But honestly, there are probably more mysteries than there are clear-cut answers to spiritual issues. God himself tells us that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) It will be one of the really interesting things to ask about when we get to the other side. Or maybe by then, having experienced it for ourselves, we won’t need to wonder any longer.