The dead stay with us

Scientific American Mind Matter’s blog has just published an article I wrote on grief hallucinations, the remarkably common experience of seeing, hearing, touching or sensing our loved ones after they’ve passed away.

Grief hallucinations are a normal reaction to having someone close to you die and are a common part of the mourning process, but it’s remarkable how often people are embarrassed to say they’ve had the experience because they worry what others might think.

I was inspired to write the piece after reading a wonderful paper, published in Transcultural Psychiatry, by psychiatrist Carlos Sluzki on the cultural significance of one Hispanic lady’s post-grief hallucinations.

My reference to the shadow cat draws on the intro to Sluzki’s article which must be one of the most beautiful openings to an academic article I’ve ever read.

I note that there’s not a great deal of research on grief hallucinations, despite how common they are, although I picked up on a study during the last few days which addressed these curious phenomena in a study on psychotic symptoms.

A thorough population survey in France that appeared earlier this year found that grief hallucinations were the most frequent ‘psychotic’ symptom in individuals without mental illness.

It’s also interesting to read the comments that the article has generated. I really seemed to have pushed a few buttons.

I’m quite proud of the piece though, and it’s a vastly under-discussed and under-researched topic that affects huge numbers of people.

Link to SciAm piece ‘Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased’.
Link to Carlos Sluzki’s excellent article.
Link to DOI for same.

2 Comments

  1. Scientific Skepticism FTW!
    Posted December 3, 2008 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    I had already read the article you authored before running into this piece. When you said the comments pushed a few buttons you weren’t kidding! I went back to the article and read the comments… Wow. Who would have guessed so many non-materialists frequented Scientific American?!

  2. Posted December 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    This happened to my mother when my stepfather passed away suddenly a couple of years ago. She kept thinking that she had seen him in crowds or walking down the street.
    Fortunately I had read up on the psychology of grief before flying out to be with her (she was abroad at the time) meaning that I had some knowledge of the psychology of the greiving process, which helped me to counsell her and help her to come to terms with her feelings.


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