Convincing Deathbed Phenomena
Posted on 08 May 2017, 7:31
The night before my 87-year-old mother died, she couldn’t stop talking. Outside of a few unintelligible mumbles, she had said nothing before that during her five-day visit. While seemingly asleep, she jabbered away through her last night in this realm. Because of her slurred speech resulting from several strokes, as well as advanced dementia, I couldn’t make out what she was saying. However, she seemed to be arguing with or desperately pleading with someone.
My wife and I had brought my mother up from her Berkeley, California rest home several days earlier to spend Thanksgiving 2003 with us at our Oregon home. We moved a spare bed into our bedroom so that we could better care for her. It was on the fifth night at our house, Thanksgiving night, that she began talking in her sleep. The next morning, as I was slowly carrying her 90-pound body from the bedroom downstairs to her wheelchair so that I could wheel her out to the car and drive her back to Berkeley, her eyes rolled back in her head and she “gave up the ghost.”
In retrospect, I suspect that all the “arguing” the prior night was with deceased loved ones who were trying to convince her that it was time to leave the physical world. Mom seemed very much afraid of dying when she was lucid. A lifelong Catholic, she no doubt expected to be burning in the “fires” of purgatory for a few decades before being admitted to heaven. Whether that fear remained with her in her demented state, I have no idea, but I have no other explanation for her all night chatter, other than the possibility that she was pleading with someone to help her disengage her spirit body from her weary physical shell.
I also wondered whether it was an act of providence or whether her higher-self simply found it more appropriate to die while cradled in my arms rather than return to the Berkeley rest home and die there.
A few years later, my mother’s sister passed on at age 81. My cousin informed me that her mother, my aunt, had many conversations with deceased loved-ones during the last week of her life. Whether or not my mother and aunt actually communicated with deceased loves before they died, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I do know that there is considerable evidence to suggest that such deathbed visits are not unusual.
Mediumship, near-death experiences, and past-life studies have all contributed significantly to the cumulative evidence suggesting that consciousness lives on after death. Deathbed phenomena, including both visions and verbiage, have also contributed to the large body of evidence, but it appears to be the area most in need of further research. Sir William Barrett’s 1926 book Death-Bed Visions is a classic in the field, while French astronomer Camille Flammarion’s Death and Its Mystery: Before Death, published in 1922, is another important reference. Others who have contributed to the field since Barrett and Flammarion include Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (At the Hour of Death) 1997, Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick (The Art of Dying, 2008) and Carla Wills Brandon (One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions, 2010 and Heavenly Hugs, 2012).
Add to that short list Words at the Threshold by Lisa Smartt, just recently released by New World Library. The book is subtitled What We Say as We’re Nearing Death. One area of deathbed phenomena that I find especially intriguing is that of “terminal lucidity,” or “sunset day,” as health-care providers call it, according to Smartt. “People I interviewed described how their loved ones who had been relatively nonresponsive suddenly emerged from their deeply internal and quiet state and spoke words of kindness, reassurance, or guidance for a short time before dying,” Smartt explains. “Several people described a kind of glow or lightness around their beloved.”
A linguist, educator, and poet, Smartt was motivated to undertake such research by what she saw and heard in the last three weeks of her father’s life in this realm. “We are all headed for the afterlife, six feet under,” Smartt quotes her non-believing father before he became terminal. But during those final weeks he talked about seeing and hearing angels, even stating that an angel told him he had only three days left, which turned out to be true.
Smartt tells of a man dying man who rejected both food and drink during his final weeks. However, three days before he died, he was awake and talking, asking for some pot roast and pineapple upside-down cake. He sat up with strength to eat it, the first time in weeks, carried on a conversation for some five hours, then returned to his slumber and was gone in a few days.
In another case reported by Smartt, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease who had not spoken lucidly in years began coherently telling her son about the location of certain files containing financial information a few days before her death. In still another case, a daughter said that her mother had been in a coma for three weeks. “One day, her eyes popped open. She looked at me and said, ‘Tell everyone I am okay and that I love them.’” She died five hours later.
In his 2016 book, When did you ever become less by dying?, Professor Stafford Betty tells of a 1913 case in which a woman named Kathe was retarded from birth and confined to an asylum. She had never spoken a single word during her lifetime, but just before she died, she began singing, “Where does the soul find its home, its peace? Peace, Peace, heavenly peace!” over and over again. She sang for about 30 minutes before quietly dying.
In his 2015 book, Afterlife Tracks, author Louis Villalba, M.D., tells of his father’s final “goodbye” during 2008. The 89-year-old family patriarch had been in a coma for two days when Villalba arrived at his bedside. On the afternoon of the third day of the coma, the dying man began a gradual awakening. That evening, he sat up in bed fully alert. “His face shone as resplendent as Moses’ might have looked when he came down from Mount Sinai after seeing God,” Villalba reported. “His eyes were wide open and his newly grown white beard made him look more handsome and younger. He smiled, recognized everyone. Happiness radiated from his countenance. He did not speak a word. He laughed, assenting with his head and raising his eyebrows. A soft cinnamon-like scent emanated from his skin.” Villalba asked his father if he had been sent back (from heaven). “He raised his eyebrows and smiled,” Villalba continued the story. “His eyes scanned each of us one by one.” However, he again drifted into deep unconsciousness and passed away the next morning.
Numerous other cases of terminal lucidity and other deathbed phenomena can be found in the references mentioned as well as in my book, The Afterlife Revealed. No doubt they represent only a small portion of the actual cases.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: May 22
Michael, this is to thank you for your mention of Dr. Villalba’s book, ‘Afterlife Tracks/Glimpse Into the Occult’ - actually, two terrific books in one. I enjoy Lisa Smartt’s work, so this article further stoked my curiosity.
Not only are Villalba’s stories unique, but I discovered an unexpected treasure in his talent as a writer. (That English is his second language makes it all the richer.)
Perhaps, one day, truth seekers won’t be the renegades they are today, but until then, here’s to brave observers and their way with words. Baba Ram Case was spot on: “We’re all just walking each other home.”
Peace & blessings to all.
Brett, Thu 20 Aug, 23:47
an interesting article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette at
Michael Tymn, Tue 3 Jul, 06:25
When my great grandmother was on her death bed she was brought into the hospital unconscious and had not regained it for days. The Dr. of course told us to prepare ourselves to say goodbye. The last day she was talking to people unseen by us. We could not understand her but she was looking at an area of the room where noone stood. All of a sudden she sat straight up, looked at my great aunt and clearly told her to get on her knees and pray for forgiveness immediately! All in the room were stunned to say the least. She promptly laid back down and went to sleep never to regain consciousness and passed that evening within hrs. Noone knew what she meant, whatever happened was between mother and daughter and noone asked.
DJ, Tue 15 Aug, 11:32
in response to Reverand John Marcon:
I am sure that this “being of light” or spiritual guide we encounter at the entrance to the spiritual dimension, takes many forms depending on our cultural beliefs. This phenomenon is a result of the absolutely ineffable nature of our experience. Our experience of this spiritual dimension, of this being of light, etc., is so beyond any category or ecstasy of description, that our unconscious mind uses whatever symbols, metaphors or archetypes is has available to it to make sense of it.
Roy Smith, Mon 10 Jul, 04:18
As an Anglican Priest in Parish ministry for over 30 years it has been both privilege and agony to be with the dying. A few people had vivid experiences of Jesus, others a great sense of peace in the presence of God. Not all them identified as Christians. Speaking with chaplains of other faiths I found they had similar experiences except that their dying had visions or dreams or other indications that their Hindu deity or the Prophet Mohammed or the Buddha was the one who was present with them or welcoming them. It is not that these experiences are not real but what does it tell us beyond our religious/cultural conditioning? to
John Marcon, Sun 9 Jul, 02:20
My mother passed away on April 7, 2014, with family around her. She had terminal restlessness for the previous 2 weeks and I had been administering strong dosage of phenobarbital daily. She had been incoherent anyway because of the brain tumor that killing her. But at this particular moment, on the very last day, as we were all gathered around, she came awake for the last time as we all watched her. Then my sister said, “go with gramma and grampa, do you see granma and granpa?” (her dead parents) Then my mother, who was suddenly awake, said,“yes!” took her last breath, and was dead.
Roy Smith, Thu 11 May, 03:48
If my passing is from natural causes—i.e., not because of an instantly fatal accident or crime, or totally debilitating illness—I hereby volunteer to have my last hours recorded on audio, video, or both. We need to objectively document these deathbed phenomena.
Rick Darby, Mon 8 May, 18:01
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