While unconscious, some people perceive the presence of close friends or relatives who have died. These apparitions are generally understood by the patients to be there to comfort them or take them to the afterlife. Patients' reactions to these experiences vary between comfort and fear. Often patients feel it is not their time, and tell the visions to go away. Although difficult to comprehend, to the patient these are very real experiences. The moments do not resemble the dream state at all, but seem to occur in complete consciousness.
This experience is not unlike phenomena called death-bed visions, first reported in the late 19th century. Often terminally ill patients have reported seeing friends and relatives who had preceded them in death. The dying patient's belief is that these people are still alive, but living in other realm, and they are there to take them with them. For the terminally ill patient this is often a great comfort and greatly reduces the anxiety associated with dying. Research is ongoing in this area.
One of the interesting aspects of this phenomenon is the ability of patients to see people who have died when their death was not consciously known to them. In the past, when communication was so much slower than it is now, it could take days or weeks for a family to know about a death of one of its members. Yet sometimes a terminally ill person would report seeing them and knowing they were ill. In current times, to avoid upsetting the dying person, family members sometimes choose not to tell him/her of the death of another family member. Yet this person may report seeing them anyway. In one instance, a patient reported seeing his sister, who had died, in his hospital room. The family had requested that he not be told of her death because of the severity of his illness. Yet he knew she was dead because he saw her with another family member who had also died previously.
Near-death visions are different from death-bed visions in that the subject is not dying and often reports telling the family members to "go away."