Apparitions of the Grim Reaper 

Some individuals describe seeing the "Grim Reaper" at the foot of their bed or during a near-death experience (NDE). The figure is described as wearing a hooded cloak, often faceless but occasionally a skeletal figure is visible underneath. The figure often makes individuals feel cold. Undoubtedly, this is a frightening experience. Most report that the figure simply fades away when told to leave.

Ralph had an encounter with the Grim Reaper after being admitted to the hospital because of a heart attack. He reported suddenly feeling very cold, below freezing.

Nurses also have reported seeing the Grim Reaper. Here is an example:

I was running down the hall to my patient’s room so I could relieve the nurse in charge. I ran past this room, across from the central floor nurses’ station and had run past five rooms before it registered what I saw. I did not believe it! I went back down the hall and stopped at the room. I glanced into it. On the bed was a little gray-haired lady dressed in lace, propped up with pillows.

Beside the bed stood this tall figure dressed in a monk’s robe with its head covered. It looked up at me when I appeared in the door. His face was a skull with tiny red fires for eyes. His hands, skeletal, were patiently folded over each other inside the dark sleeves. My impression was he was just patiently waiting (Chorvinsky, 1997).

The Grim Reaper is not always reported as a frightening figure. Sometimes he is helpful. A man reported being on his couch one evening watching television. He saw the cloaked figure of the Grim Reaper, realizing someone was close to death. He ran upstairs and found his wife had attempted suicide. He was able to call an ambulance in time to save his wife (Chorvinsky, 1992).

In her book, Dancing past the dark: Distressing near-death experiences, the author, Nancy Bush, describes not only distressing near-death experiences but also distressing death-bed visions. Based on the information in this book, these Grim Reaper experiences could well be called distressing near-death visits, as described in this course. These experiences are similar to the previously described near-death visits but felt as distressing.

In these cases of distressing near-death visits, the patients perceive a figure as frightening, thus naming it the Grim Reaper. A parallel could be made with a patient who saw a hooded faceless figure but instead of being distressed interpreted the image positively believing the figure to be Jesus. From the research about distressing experiences, we now believe there are distressing near-death experiences, distressing death-bed visions and distressing near-death visits. In all three cases the distress can come from the way a person interprets the image and/or experience not necessarily what is said or done.