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September 30, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Is Talking to My Dead Loved One Normal?

Grief can make even the most grounded individuals feel unstable

Is Talking to My Dead Loved One Normal?
Grief sparks reactions nobody can anticipate. Many grievers speak aloud to their loved ones, without understanding exactly why. (Unsplash/Christopher Lemercier)

"I still sometimes talk to my dead mom — am I going crazy?"

You're not going crazy

Most grievers do some version of talking to their dead loved ones. When a loved ones dies, our relationship with them does not. Over time, the connection is likely to get less pronounced, but the bond we have with our closest friends and relatives never dies. Whether verbally or nonverbally, keeping a dialogue going with one who has passed is not an uncommon occurrence for those who have suffered a recent loss. For many, this habit continues for years, and some even keep the conversation alive indefinitely. 

These conversations may take the form of chats that happened while the person was alive, or grow into a different format. Sometimes, it's a daily check-in; for others, a more rare occurrence. Many report consulting the dead on personal matters that arise, like relationship struggles, financial issues, or the deaths of other loved ones. 

Tools for grievers

There are those who are comfortable speaking aloud to their mom, dad, sibling, friend, or other deceased loved one; there are also those who find it difficult. Physical reminders of a loved one — their favorite book, a special photo, or an article of their clothing — can be used to tap into the emotional connection shared with them. It may be odd to 'talk' to thin air, but having a physical prop or stand-in for a loved one is a good way to facilitate a conversation. 

Here are some tools grievers use to make communication easier:

  • Photos and reminders

Having a physical reminder of a loved one helps grievers speak openly to them. Photos are particularly helpful, as they can remind the person grieving of their friend or relative's personality and presence.

  • Gravesite or urn

Speaking directly to a deceased person while visiting their grave contributes to the sense of visiting them there. Cemeteries are the traditional place to converse with the dead, but with the rise in the popularity of cremation, grieving families can visit their loved ones where the cremated remains are at rest. 

  • Written communication

Comfort may also be found in writing letters to loved ones who have passed. For those who find speaking aloud to a dead person awkward, writing a letter or email might serve the same purpose. Though no written answer will be returned, a dead loved one can continue to act as both company and confidante in a one-sided pen pal relationship.

Benefits of speaking to deceased loved ones

There are several potential benefits for those who speak to their deceased loved ones. 

  • Better mental health 

Those who speak with their dead friends and relatives may have better mental health than those who don't. Experts interviewed by Teen Vogue said that talking to a dead loved one is a "completely valid and healthy way to cope with loss" as it provides the griever time and space to be present in their bereavement. Getting closure on issues that were left unresolved can help people move forward in grief. Confronting the difficult emotions that arise in grief is generally considered a healthy approach, and sometimes the most direct way to do this is by talking it out.

  • Improved problem-solving processes

Consulting a dead loved one for advice or a listening ear can be a way of independently solving problems. Going through the motions of asking for advice, and hearing what a trusted friend or relative would say if they were here is an effective way to make thoughtful decisions. A deceased loved one can become the voice of reason to consult when life presents challenges. 

  • Healthy expressions of spirituality

For billions of people worldwide, belief in an afterlife is a significant factor when it comes to death. Speaking to a departed loved one is a comfort for grievers hoping to join them in heaven. Akin to prayer, verbalizing inner thoughts to those who have died can be centering and meditative. 

  • Reduced loneliness and isolation

Losing a loved one brings a deep sense of loneliness to most grievers, leaving them without their support person, confidante, and company. This can also cause some people to unintentionally isolate themselves from others because they are feeling lost. 

Being able to envision a conversation with a deceased person is difficult. At first, these 'talks' might be overwhelmed with tears and grief, but can help reduce loneliness over time. Having an inner voice can be described as having a guardian angel. Knowing someone is always looking out for you can be a source of internal strength.  

Easier grief transition

There's no wrong way to grieve. However, people who openly acknowledge, confront, and move through grief tend to end up more emotionally satisfied than those who avoid, ignore, and repress the feelings they experience following a loss. A person who talks to their loved one aloud understands that they are gone, yet still draws strength from the relationship. It's a sign that the person is beginning to accept the death, yet still sees value in the continued conversation. 

Worden's Four Tasks of Mourning is a model of grief that uses emotional tasks, rather than stages, to identify and assess a person's progression through grief. The fourth and final task says the griever's job is as follows: 

To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, J. William Worden

For many, part of finding an enduring connection is maintaining the dialogue, even beyond death.

When does talking to the dead become unhealthy?

Although it's perfectly healthy to talk to a deceased loved one, there are ways this can become unhealthy. Grief can complicate underlying mental health issues, and accepting death can be a breaking point. If the griever has difficulty differentiating reality, can't accept that their loved one is really dead, experiences hallucinations, or is in crisis, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.

Talking to the dead in public, or in a manner that exposes strangers to private family talk, can make others uncomfortable and become an unhealthy habit. Speaking decisively on behalf of the dead person based on meditative post-death conversations may be another sign that the continued relationship has moved outside of the realm of what is healthy.

New technology that brings the living closer to conversations with the dead

Several death tech companies have been working on digital solutions for those who've always wished they could speak to their loved ones beyond the grave. Here After is one such company that allows people to record their stories. By building a voice avatar, the app allows descendants and others to interact with the person who has passed. 

The world's first "AndyBot" is also being developed, with an entire person's life experience making up the content of of an advanced chat-bot that will be able to communicate with relatives after the subject's death: "The author Andrew Kaplan’s life will be an open book for future generations, his loved ones will be able to speak with him and even get advice after death." (NBC Palm Springs).

With all of the recent developments in conversational AI, there's no telling what the future may hold. More powerful technology may one day lead to grieving people being able to participate in meaningful back-and-forth conversations with their dearly missed loved ones. 

The takeaway

There's no blueprint for grief, but even well-adjusted grievers typically waver between many intense emotions. Talking to the dead is one way to continue a relationship with a person who has passed, but this approach isn't for everyone. Making use of modern tools and techniques can help those in mourning move through their grief process in the healthiest way possible. 


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