THE BLOG

Seeing the Dead

02/25/2012 07:15 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2012

As the preacher-man got up to leave, the widow put her hand on his arm, saying, "Don't go, I got one more thing." The kitchen quieted. Her boy said, "Ma, don't tell him." The preacher-man said, "Don't tell me what?" Ma whispered, "Last night, 'bout midnight, I heard a noise in this here kitchen, and so I come in to take a look around. I flicked on the overhead light, and right there front of the sink, right there, standing looking right at me, big as life -- was my dead Stan, the love of my life. He always washed the dishes after supper. I know he's dead, but it was him. He was looking at me with those lovin' eyes, and smiling, like he was telling me he was OK. That's the warm feeling I got -- that he's OK. He's OK. Isn't he? Preacher? He was smiling so sweetly, and I felt loved and good. My kids think I was either dreaming or crazy. Sadness can make you crazy. I read that. I ain't never seen nothin' like that, preacher. Nothin'."

The preacher-man stilled himself and said, "No, you're not crazy, Mrs. Kolinsky. Can't tell you how many times I've heard similar stories on days like today, sitting around kitchen tables just like this, talking about death and funerals. What you saw happens to many people, all types of people, only people don't talk about their experiences publicly, except to folks like me, because it sounds crazy, but it's common. It's a gift, Mrs. Kolinsky. Stan was telling you he's OK. And so are you."

Mrs. Kolinsky is not her real name, but I was the preacher-man. The first time I heard whispers of the grieving seeing the dead was when I was a boy, and I have heard such stories a hundred times since, almost always whispered. My dad told me that when he was a boy of 12, he had a bedroom in the third floor attic of his family home. One night, in the middle of the night, suddenly he awoke to see his grandmother standing at the end of his bed. She was just standing there, smiling at him, and then she vanished, and he knew, deep down inside, that she was dead. My dad jumped out of bed, pulled on his pants and a shirt over his pajamas, and ran barefooted down the three flights, out the front door and down the concrete sidewalk. It was 1942. There were no cars on the street that late at night. He ran across the street, opened the unlocked front door of his aunt and grandmother's house, and rushed inside. The kitchen light was on. He found his aunt who said that her mother, his grandmother, had just died.

Over the years as a community pastor, like most pastors, I attended to death, funerals and grieving in my town. Over the years, many times, the grieving would pull me aside and say, "Preacher, I had this dream..." or "Maybe I'm going crazy, but I saw him standing there..." Sometimes when such a story was told in the company of other family members, someone's eyes would widen and he or she would say, "I saw her, too. She came to me, too." And everybody would cry, smile and believe, maybe for the first time, in the afterlife. Most often in such circumstances, there was direct communication from the dead to the grieving, with words spoken ("Mom, I'm OK."), or loving smiles, or soft eyes, or a warm feeling, all telling the living that the loved one, now dead, was all right and at peace.

True? Or crazy? I leave that for you to decide. Too many times I've seen the grieving find comfort, find solace, in such visions. Over the years, I've come to understand that the human soul is real, just like the rest of my body is real -- a reality of physics -- only the soul is somehow quantum, for lack of a more accurate word. I pray that someday science will measure the soul, see the soul, and understand what common people and mystics have known for centuries, across cultures that the dead are living, and sometimes they come to us to give us solace. Or maybe that's just crazy talk.

St. Paul wrote that we are imperishable, and will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye.

Sources: 1 Corinthians 15:50-56; Luke 24:39