Mark Hillary/CC by 2.0
Source: Mark Hillary/CC by 2.0

“I’ve seen patients die with their dead relatives standing by and I have seen patients die with only their living relatives in the room. I prefer those deaths where you know someone has come to get them. Then you know there is something more than what you get in this realm, it adds to the mystery of life and death. At least for me, it keeps me hopeful that when it is my time to go, someone I love will come back to get me.”

These are the words of a hospice nurse talking about patients experiencing deathbed visions at the end of life.

A deathbed vision (DBV) is a vision or experience that the individual has before dying. It may occur immediately before death or days or even weeks prior. Patients have reported visions of dead family members, religious figures and/or beautiful scenery. In my own study of these experiences, I found that 57 percent of the visions were of deceased relatives. Those working with the dying report that these experiences have a calming and peaceful effect on the patients and those around them.

“A patient dying of cancer had been very restless throughout the night. In the early morning, she opened her eyes and stared fixedly into the corner of the room where no one was standing. She said, ‘Mom, I’m so glad to see you.’ She smiled. After saying this, the tension in the room from the family eased. After her comment, the patient died peacefully.”

“A 52-year-old woman was dying of a failed transplant. She was terrified of dying and often spoke about how she was never going to give into death. Two days before her death, she kept looking over my shoulder and laughing and smiling at someone standing behind me. There was no one there. I asked the patient who she was talking to and she told me her dead father. Then she said ‘Okay, all right. It’s ok, I’m not afraid.’ She then died very peacefully, smiling. It was such a relief to see the poor woman finally at peace.”

Mothers tend to be the most frequently appearing figure in deathbed visions. Many times it is the mother who comes to retrieve her child, no matter how old that child may be. Perhaps it is true when they say that a mother’s work is never done. Nurses have reported to me that when the dying start to call for their mothers that death is not far behind.

At times, multiple deceased family members might appear as in the following account:

“An elderly woman kept talking to her mother and her brother. Both of whom were deceased. She carried on several conversations with them. She would smile and drift off to sleep. Finally in a conversation with them she agreed that it was time to go home. She died peacefully.”

Sometimes family members will come to help the dying transition and are accompanied by a deceased pet.

“A 67-year-old woman saw her husband who had died four years previously with her 22-year-old deceased dog. She stated that her husband had taken her hand and along with the old dog told her he would show her the path to follow to be able to die peacefully.”

The second most frequently appearing figures are angels or religious icons. Just as with the accounts of deceased family members, these visitations bring the same sense of comfort and peace to the dying and their families.

“An elderly female who was alert and oriented spoke to me of how angels had gathered in around her hospital bed and were ready to take her home. She died peacefully a short time after.”

“A non-religious man kept looking at the ceiling. I asked him what he was looking at and he replied ‘Jesus.’ I asked him what Jesus was saying to him and he said, ‘Nothing.’ He is just looking at me. ‘What should I do?’ I told him to tell Jesus what was in his heart. Minutes later he said Jesus had left. He had spoken to Jesus and asked him for help and Jesus had said he would be there when the man crosses over. The patient died comfortably two days later."

The above examples are just a few of the various types of deathbed experiences the dying can have. In upcoming posts, other types will be explored as well as the theories surrounding their occurrences. Regardless, whether you believe these events are hallucinations from a dying brain or are true spiritual experiences, the impact on the dying, the medical staff and family can be profound and help soften the grieving process.

All quotes in this article are excerpts from We Do Not Die Alone: Jesus Is Coming to Get Me in a White Pickup Truck.

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Understanding Grief