Bernard Spragg/CC0 1.0
Source: Bernard Spragg/CC0 1.0

In Deathbed Visions Part l, the visions were defined as experiences the dying have in which a deceased loved one and/or spiritual being appears to them before death. Patients almost always describe these figures as coming to “take them home.” In addition to seeing deceased relatives or angels, the dying also talk about places of incredible beauty. Colors are described as vibrant, intense and gardens that are beautiful beyond anything seen on earth. Indeed, Thomas Edison’s last words were “It is very beautiful over there.” It may be that Steve Jobs saw something similar as his last words were “Oh wow, oh wow.”

“My aunt told me of a large white porch filled with beautiful fragrant flowers and a yard of flowers too beautiful to describe.”

“A man had been speaking to his deceased parents on and off for days. Then one afternoon, he turned to me and smiled looking so peaceful. He looked up at the ceiling and said, ‘I’m coming home. This place is so beautiful with all the lights and clouds everywhere.’ Then he died.”

A hospice nurse stated the following:

“Family members of patients speak to me about visions seen by their loved ones. Mostly they see relatives or bright lights. Sometimes they see figures without a face or someone they do not recognize. Sometimes they talk about seeing children playing or beautiful gardens. In my experience, the patients have been comforted and at ease with their visions.”

Bright lights are certainly the hallmark of many death related experiences, the lights representing a heavenly realm or a spiritual being. Patients often say they feel drawn to the light, as it is described as comforting, beautiful, and peaceful.

“An elderly woman had become increasingly weak for several days. One day she sat up and opened her eyes and said, ‘The lights are so beautiful.’ Her family had been at her bedside and told her to go to the lights. They told her they wanted her to go. She did and died a few minutes later.”

For some, the experience is not visual but auditory. Those near death often describe hearing heavenly choirs, harps, and beautiful music.

“I had a 90 year old woman who spoke numerous times of hearing a beautiful choir singing and the brushing of angel wings. When she spoke of these things she became calm, peaceful and smiled.”

There are other non-verbal indicators that the patient is experiencing a deathbed vision. Some patients will stare into the upper corner of the room while others may move their eyes back and forth as though following something across the ceiling. At times patients appear to be looking straight through the person in front of them at someone behind them. They may speak or mouth words as if having a conversation with someone unseen to us. Reaching out with open arms to bring someone closer or to give a hug is also frequently observed. These experiences seem to make the dying happy, as they may smile and have a peaceful look on their faces.

The mystery has always been how these things happen and what do they mean. There are three basic theories as to how and why these events occur. The first is the body- based explanations in which changes in the dying brain and body produce these experiences. The lack of oxygen, the release of endorphins and other chemicals are said to account for these visions. The second is the psychological explanation in which the fear of death is what creates the experience. It is a form of wish fulfillment where the person sees what she wants to see as a way of providing comfort when dying. Pleasant visions are a psychological defense against dying. Lastly, there is the spiritual theory in which these events indicate that there is a soul and an afterlife.

Deathbed visions are complex experiences that are multi-determined. They cannot be adequately explained as coming from any one source. If you have been around the dying for any length of time, it is clear that physical explanations are only one part of the experience. These can be profound and life- altering experiences for those who are present for them. For the dying, they lose their fear of death, are comforted, and are at peace. In our final moments, is that not what we all want?

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