Phantom Doorbells

Jacqueline Doyle

She’s swimming, deep underwater. Shafts of light pierce the dark. Below her she can see ripples on the sandy ocean floor, small fish suspended in the aqueous depths, plants swaying in slow motion. She hears a sound from far away, extends her arms and pushes them apart, kicks her legs harder, and as she ascends to the surface—so slowly!—the sound becomes louder and more insistent.

She sits bolt upright in bed, heart pounding. The doorbell again. Who could it be?

The front door to her apartment is so far away. She swings her legs over the side of the bed, groping for her slippers and walker. She’s sure that when she gets to the door there will be no one there. It’s happened before. She thought it was over.

This time she calls out, her voice quavering. “Who’s there?”

No answer.

She clumps through the dark bedroom and dining room, leaning heavily on the walker.

“Who’s at the door?” She strains to hear. Is that children scampering, suppressed giggles?

She remembers a game they played on Kenilworth Road, almost eighty years ago now, ringing doorbells and then hiding in the bushes to await the grownup that would open the door. “Who’s there?” Irritated, maybe angry. “Who is it?”

When the door closed, they would scatter, legs pumping, hearts pounding, breathless with laughter.

But there are no children here. Just an empty hall. And everyone in Sylvan Glen is old, with walkers, and wheelchairs, some of them carting oxygen tanks. She hates them all. She wishes they’d never moved here, and now Jim is gone, and she’s alone, with all these old people.

“We’re all waiting here to die,” she tells me on the phone, and I don’t know what to say.


 Andrea, Dream Visions Blog

I’m glad to read everyone’s story because I have thought I’ve been losing it! It started 2yrs ago. I wake to the doorbell, sometimes it rings once … ding dong, and sometimes it’s a frantic ringing like 10 times fast. Also, I hear knocking at the door 3 times. I feel like it’s a warning because I’m always startled. I think its my guides trying to warn me. Does anyone know what this all means? It happens once a week or more.


 Some time after my father died, my eighty-year-old mother began to hear the doorbell ringing in the night. Once every two weeks or so, usually between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., the doorbell would ring, but by the time she got to the door there was no one there.

I’m not sure how long it was after my father’s death. I didn’t make the connection until later. At first I thought it was a confused resident of her retirement complex, which was enormous and labyrinthine, with many levels, and rows and rows of identical doors. It was easy to get lost there. I used to get lost there. I figured it was some insomniac night owl on a walk, looking for his own apartment. Or possibly an intruder, but Sylvan Glen’s security was pretty tight. Like many residents, my mother wore a necklace with a call button to summon a nurse at any hour, so I wasn’t too worried.

Never one to suffer without complaining, my mother lodged angry protests with the administration of the upscale retirement complex. “You’d think for what I’m paying here I could get a good night’s sleep.” They mounted a camera outside her door. The hall was empty every night, including the nights when the doorbell rang. They dismantled the doorbell. It continued to ring.


 Anonymous, Mind-Body Thoughts Blogspot

Just awoke to the doorbell 8:40am 12/18/12. Ding dong. And i thought to get up but i realized my doorbell doesn’t chime like that. So i laid and thought, then i remember it had happend b4. So i took to do a google search and expected to find nothing. But wow haha. I wasn’t dreaming because i immediately Awoke. I pride myself at finding soulutions. When i dream, i track backwards in the day or two and can normally find a relation. But this is different. And has to be a phenomena that can only go back to the creation of the doorbell. Unless prior to that it was something different. Either way it is strange!


 I wrote a narrative essay about my mother hearing doorbells, first just dramatizing our phone calls, then stretching my imagination to encompass her consciousness and even what might exceed the boundaries of her consciousness. It wasn’t until later, when a reader wrote to me about her own mother’s similar experiences, that I discovered hearing doorbells was not uncommon. At the time it never occurred to me to investigate the phenomenon on the Internet. Her doctors had never encountered ringing doorbells in their extensive geriatric practice before, so there didn’t appear to be a medical explanation that I could research. It seemed to be an experience peculiar to my mother, who was having other difficulties as well. Her calculators were always breaking. The power button on the remote control for the TV didn’t work. They’d changed the channel for “Dancing with the Stars.” Though I’d installed five telephone handsets in her two-bedroom apartment the last time I’d visited, she couldn’t find them, or there was no dial tone.


 Anonymous, Mind-Body Thoughts Blogspot

Greetings, I do not think any of us is crazy; we just don’t know what it means yet. Last night I was watching t.v. when the doorbell rang and my dog started barking. I did not see anyone outside … The date does hold significance for me, though. Very sad memory.


 “It happened again last night,” my mother tells me. “I’m keeping a list and writing down every time it happens.”

“Are you sure you aren’t dreaming, Mom?”

Impatient sigh. A clatter as she moves off the step stool by her kitchen phone.

Yes, I’m sure I’m not dreaming. All I can say is I want something done about it. I need to sleep.”


 Richard Restak (neurologist and neuropsychiatrist), “Going Haywire,” The American Scholar (Autumn 2014)

In order for a delusion to form, one must make the decision to give greater credence to an anomalous perception … than to long-held beliefs about causation … The person prone to delusions adopts a “seeing is believing” approach. This choice of perception over logic, of intuition over reasoning forms the nidus (origination point) for the delusion. As one delusional patient described her experience, “If I’m mad, so be it, but this is the most real thing I’ve ever known.”


 Don Shetterly, Mind-Body Thoughts Blogspot

At one time I might have believed that I just simply dreamt it as you say but I know that isn’t the case. There is a difference between dreaming and having something actually happen. They aren’t the same thing.


 She opens the door to a snowy landscape instead of the dim hall she expected. The air is bone chillingly cold. Who could it be at this hour of the night? Wind sweeps over the surface of the snow, which swirls and resettles, and she shivers in her thin bathrobe. No footprints anywhere. Not a soul in sight. Just miles and miles of glistening, white snow. Overhead, a dark sky scattered with stars and hazy wisps of clouds.

If she closes the door, will there be yards of plush blue carpet on the other side again, an overheated corridor with framed paintings on the walls? The carpet is thick. She won’t be able to hear his footsteps if he returns.

The doorbell dangles on loose wires where the maintenance man pulled it out. She’s sure it’s still working though. It just chimed. She’s so tired of this. So exhausted from these interrupted nights. Before she knows it, it will be time to get up.

Lately she’s been napping on and off all day. She never knows what time it is any more.

It’s not him, is it? It couldn’t be him. Why would he play a trick like this?


 G4LKID, Discussion Board Forum, The Vestibule

Why would your ghost dad return just to ring your doorbell?


 My mother’s health team of doctors and nurses and social workers remained baffled by the doorbells. Her general practitioner hypothesized that hallucinations might be a side effect of one of her many medications. Later she began to have more alarming hallucinations. Her room was a sea of fire. A ghostly figure in a hooded cape walked beside her in the corridor. She wrestled with her caregiver Sherry Lee and banged her against the wall because she had to get out of the apartment. It was urgent. Her mother was waiting outside in her car in the dark. She told my brother and me that she’d married Sherry Lee’s son Bubba and hadn’t had time to invite us to the wedding. He was rich. Everybody loved him. She was twenty years old again, a nurse in the hospital and my father was courting her. She was angry at the head nurse. The family history my father wrote was going to sell for a million dollars. Publishers from all over were putting in bids. She was pregnant. A woman down the hall had given birth to six babies. Six! They were all surprised.

Some of her delusions lasted for weeks. Her doctor tentatively diagnosed Lewy Body dementia. She moved from Independent Living to Assisted Living. She deteriorated further and moved to the dementia wing of the Skilled Nursing Facility. Less than a year later, she died. It seemed that the doorbells were an early sign of her condition.


 Anonymous, Mind-Body Thoughts Blogspot

It happens daily/ nightly in the winter to me… one ring, one knock… it has followed me from every house I have ever lived in. I [don’t know] what to do, if I am going crazy… or if someone is trying to speak to me from the other side.


 When my mother’s health team was assessing her fitness to remain in Independent Living, the hallucinatory doorbells kept coming up in our bimonthly phone conferences. The psychiatrist they brought in for an evaluation mentioned unresolved grief, but like her physician, he primarily focused on the side effects of her medications. Her social worker advised that she have a dementia workup, but my mother refused the extensive testing, stating flatly, “We’ve never had any of that in our family.” She refused the follow up visits with the psychiatrist, dismissing him as a witch doctor. She insisted that the dismantled doorbell must still have a faulty electrical connection.

It was a long time before it occurred to me that my father might be on the other side of the door. No one ever suggested that. My mother herself never voiced that possibility. At least not to me.

My father died in the hospital in the early hours of the morning. He didn’t want to be there. The tumor in his mouth had metastasized and they knew the end was near. He repeated over and over, “I want to go home,” “I want to go home,” but the doctors advised against it.

My mother was back in their apartment when he died, exhausted by her vigil at his bedside. How soon did the doorbell start ringing, waking her night after night? Did it ring at the hour of his death? Did she conjure his ghost out of guilt that he’d died alone while she slept at home in their bed?

I still wonder whether that’s the explanation, though after learning how widespread the phenomenon of hearing doorbells seems to be, most frequently in the early morning hours or the middle of the night, I’m no longer sure. Looking up “Mom hears doorbells” on the Internet has opened an astonishing array of possibilities.


 Blair Robertson (Psychic Medium), “5 Common Signs from Our Deceased Loved Ones,” Blair Robertson Blog

You aren’t imagining it. You really can (and do) get messages and receive signs from our deceased loved ones. It’s irrefutable. According to Bill and Judy Guggenheim in their book Hello From Heaven!, 125 MILLION American’s have experienced after death communications. And that’s just the USA alone.


 I can’t stop reading the doorbell blogs, hundreds and hundreds of posts, some of the blog response series stretching over years. Everyone searching for an explanation, often something that relates to a current problem or anxiety. One confesses that he has a “wayward son” and imagines the police at the door. Another has “neighbors from hell” and imagines a report of vandalism. One notes that it was the anniversary of his parents’ marriage. I’m struck by the human desire to incorporate mysterious phenomena into a personal narrative that makes sense. The doorbell becomes an augury. “An opportunity . . . coming your way such as a job.” “A spiritual wake up call.” “A wake up call to a medical condition.” Or a warning that can only be understood in retrospect. “2 weeks ago i was almost killed in a car accident. … EVER SINCE MY ACCIDENT the doorbells STOPPED Completely!! I know this was a sign and I had angels or something watching over me.”

Many believe they are being contacted by the dead. I’m skeptical of such openly wishful thinking. And yet I’m also unsettled by the sheer volume of paranormal experience on the Web. I wonder if it might be possible that there are times in our lives when the membrane between the material and spiritual worlds thins.


 Doug, Dream Visions Blog

I hear the doorbell only on occasion now and sometimes the knocking on the door. I do hear whispering and often I see things flash by in the corner of my eye. I do get the occasion where I just about see someone beside me but they are gone before my eye can catch them or it.


 A whisper, a sigh, a faint disturbance of the air. A spark of light at the periphery of her vision.

Imagine my father pressing the doorbell. Was it my mother’s longing for expiation that conjured his ghostly presence? Her loneliness and desire for his return? If it was a phantom summoned from the depths of her unconscious on the other side of the door, does that make him any less real?

Or could it have been his desire and not hers that brought him there? If the revenant was my father, it’s hard to know what he wanted. To forgive my mother? Blame her? Invite her to join him? He wanted to come home. He kept saying that in the hospital. “I want to go home.” It was the doorbell in their shared Independent Living apartment that kept ringing. I don’t remember my mother complaining in Assisted Living, where there was a door she could lock, but no doorbell. Or in the Skilled Nursing Facility, where the door had no lock or doorbell.

Maybe it was Death at the door. She talked about death constantly. Wanted death. Feared death. Expected death.


 Liz, Dream Visions Blog

So relieved to have found this site. Right after my mother died in 1995 I would hear the doorbell ring just one ring on several different occasions during the early morning. I have gone to the door and no one was there. I thought it was children playing a prank. I heard a lady on several talk shows claim to be able to make contact with the dead and she claims that if you hear bells of any kind it means that some one you loved very much who is deceased is trying to contact you. My father died last year and now once in a while I hear the phone by my bed ring one time. It scares me to death.… I am an only child and we were all very close. I wish I knew if they were trying to warn me or to tell me they were fine. I have never told anyone about this.


 “Sherry Lee says she has a lump the size of an egg on her head,” I tell my mother. “You’re lucky she doesn’t want to sue.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“According to her, you were trying to get out of the apartment and shoved her.”

“Oh that.” My mother laughs, unconcerned. “My mother was outside in her car in the dark. She was waiting for me.”

“Are you okay, Mom?”

“Of course I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? What’s happening with the doorbell? Are you still hearing the doorbell at night?”

“Once in a while. ‘We’ve done everything we can, Mrs. Doyle.’ That’s what Ginny in the front office told me.”

“No explanation?”

“They have no idea why it’s ringing. Ginny rolls her eyes like I’m crazy. I told them I might have to move out if they can’t fix it. You can bet that got their attention.”


 Lord_Conflict, Discussion Board, The Vestibule

Doorbell malfunction is the most likely explanation.


 Crimson Toast, Discussion Board Forum, The Vestibule

I remember the day after my dad died the garage light kept turning off and on. I went out there to look through some of his old things or something like that. I associated the malfunctioning light as a signal from him because I was in grief. Later I found out that the light’s timer was just set incorrectly. There is a non supernatural reason for all phenomena and it’s important to remember that and not torture yourself with false hope.


 E. Amero, Dream Visions Blog

Our doorbell was ringing for no reason. When we checked there was a spider inside the mechanism.


 It’s been a year since my mother died, over seven years since she started hearing the doorbell in her apartment at Sylvan Glen. I’m not sure what I believe, but at the very least I believe she really heard the doorbell ringing. She really heard it, but it wasn’t really her doorbell. Some doorbells might ring because of spiders in the mechanism, or faulty wiring, but not a dismantled doorbell. Hearing doorbells doesn’t seem to be a symptom of dawning senility either, though my mother’s later dementia was real enough. The blogs and discussion boards attest to a collectively experienced phenomenon in all age groups, but no agreed-upon interpretation or shared reality. Is hearing doorbells paranormal? Psychological? Physiological? Like so many in the chorus of voices online, I keep searching for answers, groping in the dark.

While my mother was still alive, our telephone rang frequently in the middle of the night. Usually it was a call from the Emergency Room at the hospital in North Carolina, asking permission to admit my mother. Often an ER doctor asking about her mental state. “Does she usually make more sense than this?” Sometimes there was no one on the phone.

We’ve never had the doorbell ring at night. No one has ever knocked on the door. Some part of me longs for contact from the spirit world, evidence that it exists. It’s not something I’d admit to others, or very often to myself.

It’s undoubtedly someone’s fax machine, the phone calls we get at odd hours. The phone rings and there’s clicking on the line, no other background noise. My mother never called me anyway. She couldn’t get the buttons on her phone to work. But the last time the telephone rang in the middle of the night, I stumbled across the room, still half asleep when I picked up the receiver. “Mom? Is that you, Mom?”


 Soul Arcanum, Soul Arcanum: Spiritual Counseling, Intuitive Development Blog

Dear Katharina:

I first heard about this phenomenon some twenty years ago when my mother told me she would sometimes hear the doorbell ring in the middle of the night and no one would be there. For a number of reasons, she believed this was someone in Spirit visiting her.… Since most of the time the sound isn’t physical in nature, we have to be in an altered state of consciousness in order to be able to hear it. When we’re in between awake and asleep, we’re able to perceive things that are between this world and other dimensions. I wouldn’t be surprised if you do have sleep apnea, for if you are frequently waking up and falling back asleep, you would be in alpha a lot, which is the perfect state of consciousness for extrasensory perception..…

Soul Arcanum


 Trent Ayers, Dream Visions Blog

While I was talking with the sleep specialist he asked me if I was hearing telephones or bells chiming or gongs/cymbals banging. When I told him I was hearing a doorbell, he told me that it was common for people who are drowning or suffocating to hear those sounds as a way to keep us conscious and fighting for breath. It also happens when we are asleep to rouse us enough to switch sleeping positions for better airflow or to get us to awaken and take a breath.


 “He’s waiting for me,” my mother says. “I can feel it.”

It’s one of her lucid moments. Most of the time she’s lost in elaborate fantasies, or angry at the nurses in the Skilled Nursing Facility, or one of the aides, or her current roommate. Or furious with me for some irreparable transgression, often involving the possessions she lost in the move from her Independent Living apartment to her room in Assisted Living.

“Who’s waiting for you?”

“Your father. He’s waiting.”


 Jenny Boully, “The Mourning Suit” (nonfiction), Passages North (Winter 2013)

The doorbell rang at four in the morning, and that is how I knew to call to see if [my husband’s father] had died and he had died and I said I know and he asked how I knew and I said that the doorbell rang and I knew that he was coming home.


She hears the sound of the doorbell, followed by knocking, gentle but insistent.

“Who’s there? Who’s at the door?”

No one answers, but the knocking stops. She decides not to get out of bed this time to look. She has a dizzying sense that the bed is turning as she tries to orient herself. Where is she? Where is the door? This is a different place. A room. There is no doorbell. She’s so sleepy. Did she lock the door last night? She can’t remember whether she locked the door. Whether there’s a lock on the door. There’s no lock on the door.

“Come in,” she murmurs.

She slumbers for a while and wakes, slumbers and wakes, shifts and turns and throws her arm over the pillow next to her. Is it him? She can hear his slow breathing and her breathing slows and deepens to synchronize with his. It’s been so long. She’s been alone in this bed for so long and now he’s opened the door and he’s here with her. She wants to stay awake to savor the warmth of his body beside her but she’s still so sleepy.

She drifts. Floats. She hears voices from far away but she can’t make out what they’re saying. She turns. Floats. She falls into a long, deep sleep. She sleeps for a week before she stops breathing.





  1. Maggie May · December 1, 2015

    Creative, spooky work!!


  2. Pingback: December 2015 Online Issue Blog Post | Bluestem Magazine
  3. Sergio Arguelles · June 9, 2017

    are you manufacturer of Portable Wireless Doorbell ?


  4. Gail · October 29, 2017

    I changed my door bell to play songs. Every once in a while, I will heard the ding dong of the original door bell. I have sleep apnea. I now believe it’s my body way of waking me up when not breathing. Thank you for explaining it.


  5. Debbie · January 7, 2020

    WOW. I’m so glad I finally asked. My husband past in 2011. I moved in 2012. I began to awake with the doorbell. I would look out the window and no one was there. The frequency and times were different. I had my child go down and ring the door bell while I was in my room. It did not sound like my door bell. I lived there for 6 years. I have since moved to TN I’ve been here 4 months. For the first 3 months nothing. Now I have ding dong and knocking. I’m going to start logging it to see if date or time means anything.


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