It Seems a Lot of Dying People See Visions of Their Mothers

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It’s a Hollywood trope, that the dying are greeted by their own deceased loved ones. (Think of Harry Potter, who, every time he creeps perilously close to death, seems to have an extended visit with his parents.) This may be one of those rare examples of a pop-culture cliché that turns out to be true. In an interview with “Fresh Air,” hospice chaplain Kerry Egan said this really is something that happens to many dying people, who tend to see one person in particular: their mother.

“Anybody who works in hospice will tell you … that it’s really common,” said Egan, whose new book, On Living, details what she’s learned from working with the dying. It doesn’t happen to everybody — it’s “not a necessary step,” she says — but it does happen quite a lot. “They come to them, they wave at them, sometimes they talk to them, and it’s really, really comforting to people,” Egan said.

Whether those visions are “real” or not seems beside the point to Egan; she’s long since given up trying to wrap her mind around the rationality of the phenomenon. “You know, I’ve come to this place where I don’t know and I’m okay with that,” she said. “I wasn’t like that before. I think there are going to be a lot of things in life, whether you’ve experienced them yet or not, that we cannot fully understand, that we can’t fully make meaning of — we can try, and that at some point, you have to be okay saying, ‘I don’t know that I really know what that means, but it’s part of my experience and I need to accept it.’”