One of my favorite lecture series all year is the “mystery and awe in medicine” talk. Very informally we sit around telling stories about the things we daily encounter that we can’t explain.
It is very common for people to see deceased relatives in the last hours and days of life. Usually a comfort to families and patients it is unknown what this phenomenon is. Some say it has to do with cultural expectations, and that it’s natural for someone close to death to talk about their mother or someone who has gone on. Could it be possible that someone is actually there? How would we prove it?
One of our great social workers told the story of Eddy. He was young and at our house dying of cancer. The day before he died he began to tell others that he’d been visited by his deceased grandmother in the company of a stranger. He told our social worker, “It was great to see my grandmother, but that other one was a bit scary. I don’t know who grannie was with, but it looked almost like Jabba the Hutt”.
This surely would point to the theory that these visions are delusional; made up dreams in our minds. And this is precisely what our social worker thought as she kindly listened to him tell again about his “visitors”.
The next day Eddy was unconscious and no longer able to communicate. Eddy’s mom sat by his side when our social worker visited. Eddy’s mom had missed the stories of the day before, and our social worker gently retold Eddy’s vision, including this account of “jabba the hutt”. Instead of chuckling or smiling as our social worker expected, her face turned white and her mouth dropped.
“I don’t believe it” she gasped. She went on to tell our social worker that Eddy’s grandmother had a dear sister who died years before Eddy was born. The two older woman had been inseparable. This great aunt of Eddy’s always struck people for her overweight, bald-headed, eyes larger than life look about her. Though she’d never considered it before, she looked exactly like Jabba the Hutt.
Eddy then was seeing someone he’d never met, not even seen pictures of, and absolutely didn’t recognize. Now explain that one