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Spirits: Are they Near?

Part I of II 

by Maggie Thompson & Polly Giantonio



During her 27-years as a hospice nurse, Maggie Callanan has witnessed more than 2,000 deaths. Her intimate conversations with the dying form the basis of the book she co-authored with Patricia Kelley titled, Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. Callanan describes how the dying often spoke in almost identical ways.

In their own words, they said they had someplace important to go, or had to go home. They often saw family members waiting for them who had died. Callanan believes these patients were immersed in what she calls the “nearing death experience.” From this vantage point before dying, they experienced a space where two states – life and death – coexist. In communications that were often confusing and misinterpreted or ignored by family and caregivers, the dying communicated their needs, wisdom, and even foretold their passing.

Many patients spoke of where they were going – although the descriptions of the place varies from “a place of light and warmth” to a more specific description. One patient told, “that light would come closer and I could get to know all these people” [around the bed where no one was]. “Well, there’s my father,” the patient said. Callanan knew that the patient’s father had died less than one year prior. In many similar instances, other patients see or speak with relatives or friends who had passed. Often such visitations are unsettling to family members or caregivers. This experience is commonly misunderstood as a patient’s hallucination resulting from medication, rather than a meaningful experience.

But perhaps these patients really are in touch with spirits who have crossed over. Is it possible that we might also communicate with our loved ones’ spirits?

A story of communicating with spirits

Last year Maggie Thompson had her first ever session with a medium. This is her experience.

I was most curious about messages that might come from my father or mother, who died decades ago. I’ve always imagined that the spirit world is an active place that lies just beyond my radar. I hoped the medium could tune into the right frequency. She knew no specific details about my parents, so I was able to make objective sense of her words through my more familiar filter.

I’m happy to report it was a loving and affirming interaction. My mother’s presence was strong and abiding. My father provided encouragement and positivity regarding some challenges I was facing and some choices ahead. My favorite aunt showed up too, wearing her ever-present apron in her role as abundant nourisher. Prior to this session with a medium, I liked to think that my loved ones were near, but this session confirmed it. My loved ones are present with me.

Do you believe spirits from dead loved ones are near?

Karen Noe, a psychic medium, says yes. And furthermore, the spirits can provide signs, letting us know they are around, such as:

  • They come through as an animal, insect or bird that acts in an unusual way, catching our attention briefly.
  • They give off fragrances, with no logical reason for the odor.
  • They make certain songs come on at meaningful moments, with lyrics that are comforting or helpful.
  • They come in dreams. A true visitation will be peaceful and thus is a sign it is truly our loved one.
  • They allow us to feel peaceful for no apparent reason, in the midst of an unlikely time to feel so loved.
  • They place telepathic messages in our head that just pop up, unrelated to the context of our thoughts at the time.
  • They play with electricity – make lights flicker, turn devices on and off, make appliances beep, unaccountably.

Can we experience death before dying?

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), in his book Heaven and Hell, says he was allowed to experience dying and being awakened in the spirit world so that he could tell people on earth what it was like.  Here is what he found:

  • All human beings arrive in the spiritual world [after death] as equals, regardless of religious background, personal beliefs, nationality, gender, or race. All have an equal choice to go to heaven or hell.
  • Once Swedenborg crossed over, he became aware of three sorting out states that people might pass through in the spirit realm.
    • In the first state, people are essentially the same as they were in life, with the same beliefs and attitudes. [Deceased] Friends and relatives become the new arrival’s guide to the spiritual world where a person’s inner nature becomes the whole of their being.
    • Second, people become aware of their deeper values, and act accordingly, be they kind and generous, or cruel and evil.
    • The third state for people ready for heaven is a time of instruction - learning about love and wisdom, what happens in the heavenly community of angels, and how the individual can contribute to it.
    • People who have chosen to join a community of evil spirits will continue to descend into hell until they reach those others who are most similar to them.

What happens to spirits after death?

Psychic George Anderson says that spirits work their way up through levels of consciousness.

  • Upon death, spirits first go into a tunnel representing the darker levels of hell and purgatory.
  • On the third and fourth levels of consciousness, relatives and friends are at the end of the tunnel, leading us into the light.
  • Most spirits Anderson has heard from seem to be happy and content, learning and growing into deeper understanding.

Given the amount of experiences and communications reported between the living and spirits, we might feel comforted to explore the presence of spirits more in depth. With regards to cremation, the idea poses the question of a loved one’s ashes and how they might or might not invoke their spirit.

Keeping ashes in the house: a way to keep a loved one’s spirit close?

This is a highly personal consideration. Some families feel comfort keeping a loved one’s ashes at home in thoughtfully chosen memorial urns for ashes. Some wear special necklaces for ashes, such as the Lattice Heart Cremation Pendant that holds a very small portion of cremation ashes. Others prefer visiting a burial site to communicate with spirits. In a host of ways, many discover tangible cues or rituals that evoke closeness to a loved one’s spirit.

We continue with Part II (to be published on a later date) of this series on spirits by turning to world religions and how they view the spirit-life and afterlife.

Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.

Polly Giantonio is a freelance writer and editor in Vermont. Her poems have appeared in various journals. She has taught students of all ages, and developed and co-facilitated workshops on creativity and on poetry. She holds an MFA in creative writing.