Departing Visions: An Interview with Dr. Carla Wills-Brandon
Posted on 23 September 2014, 10:30
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Carla Wills-Brandon (below) for the September issue of The Searchlight, a publication of The Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (http://ascsi.org/). Here is an abridged version of that interview.
A licensed marriage and family therapist, Carla Wills-Brandon is the author of twelve published books discussing topics ranging from relationships, healthy intimacy, sexual healing, self esteem, sexual trauma, addiction and recovery to grief, death, afterlife research and spirituality. Her latest book, Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope from the Afterlife, discusses heavenly visions the dying often encounter before physical death occurs. These comforting encounters strongly suggest the personality, soul, or consciousness continues after death.
Wills-Brandon has worked with individuals impacted by the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the bombing of the World Trade Center, Holocaust survivors, and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. She has researched nearly 2,000 after-death encounters over the past 30 years. I recently put some questions to her by e-mail.
How did you become interested in the subject of deathbed or departing visions?
“I’ve had contact with the Spirit World most of my life, and this began with a deathbed or departing vision when I was just 15. My mother, smart, funny and a Marilyn Monroe look alike, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at age 33. The illness then traveled to her liver and pancreas. I was at a ‘Sly and the Family Stone’ concert, when I suddenly felt really sick. I found an ambulance on the concert grounds, crawled in and promptly fell asleep. When I returned home I discovered my mother had been taken away by ambulance at the exact time I’d crawled into one. This empathetic experience was quickly shoved away because I had no one to talk about it with. Several weeks later, my mother made her transition. I woke up at the exact moment of her physical death and knew she had moved on. A phone call from the hospital minutes later validated this, but again, there was no one who would listen to me. Decades later I would learn four other family and friends also awoke at the exact moment of her crossing. As a practicing clinician in the field of psychology I tried to talk to several of my peers about this, but was brushed off again. There were numerous other Spirit World contacts after that, but I quickly learned not to talk. One year while in London presenting a paper, the IRA threatened to bomb the tube line I was on, so everyone was evacuated. Once above ground, I spotted a musty old used bookstore where I found an old book by Sir William Barrett on deathbed visions. Thrilled, I sat on the floor and read the whole work cover to cover. I wasn’t nuts!”
Of all the departing visions you have heard about, does any one or two really stand out above the others?
“I have witnessed and heard so many departing visions accounts. It really is hard to choose. That said, one of my very favorites comes from Robin Abrams. I have her full account in my first of three books on this topic, One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions. Briefly, Robin comes from a family of three siblings and is was close to her parents. Her father became ill and it was decided he needed more help than the family could offer. It’s important to know that he still had his intellect and sensibilities. While he was in a nursing home, Robin’s brother was murdered. This was a tragic event, but the family decided to not tell the father about this. They also instructed the staff at the facility to not let him watch television, listen to radio or look at a newspaper. One day Robin and her remaining sibling went to visit the ailing man. He said, ‘I think it’s so wonderful that all of my children are here. But wait, (the murdered brother) isn’t here. He’s over there!’ The father knew his son was in the Spirit World.
“Another great account comes from a Greek woman. Her mother was transitioning and close to making the move to the next life. Suddenly she started talking about all of the Greek relatives who had come to visit and demanded her daughter begin to put a party together. Though other living family members were in the room, the daughter realized her mother was talking in Greek to physically deceased family! Interestingly, I’ve found those preparing to move on, who do report visitors from the Spirit World will speak the language of their youth, be it English, Spanish, French, German, Polish or Hebrew or Swahili!”
Outside of yourself, Drs. Erlendur Haraldsson and Peter Fenwick, I can’t think of any other living researcher studying departing visions. Do you know of any? Do you feel the area is neglected or is it too difficult to find people who have had these experiences?
“When I first started investigating departing visions 30 years ago, the only decent research I could find was that of Sir William Barrett in the early 1900s, followed by Drs. Karl Osis, Erlunder Haraldsson and Peter Fenwick. Thank goodness for their ground- breaking work! These were the shoulders I stood upon. Individuals looking at after-death communications or near-death experiences continue to try incorporating these visions into their own research by describing the experience as an extension of their area of interest, but the experience is different. After the publication of my first couple books on departing visions I was flooded with accounts from around the world, including China, Israel, Holland, Italy, South Africa, Germany, and Russia. To say I was amazed and a bit humbled is an understatement. In most cases I was the first person these experiencers had ever shared their accounts with. After this I tried to find investigators, hospitals or mental healthcare organization interested in partnering up with me on research. Sadly, I came up empty. So here I was, sitting with all of these amazing accounts with nowhere to go. Those years were incredibly frustrating. More than a decade later interest has exploded. In my most recent book, Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support and Hope from the Afterlife, I actually discuss the research of investigators in England, Ireland, Holland and Italy. Along with this I also include data being collected by a veterans administration in California. Hospice now openly discusses such experiences with those transitioning and their families. Departing vision accounts have also been picked up by major newspapers. In spite of this, more work is needed to get the message out.”
A number of people have reported “soul mist” or some cloudy or vapory substance leaving the body at death. Have you encountered many of these reports? If so, can you give a general summary of these observations?
“I love this topic and feel it really needs more public attention. People from every walk of life, living around this magnificent globe of ours, have witnessed the pure essence of consciousness leaving the body as physical death draws near. Unfortunately, few experiencers will talk openly about this. It’s become more acceptable to be at a party with friends or family and openly share about afterlife contact or near-death experiences, but the departing vision still appears to be the stepchild left on the bench. When it comes to announcing, ‘I saw my father’s spirit leave his body and it looked like a glowing mist!’ the eyeballs continue to roll while concern for sanity is politely voiced. The Ancients described such accounts in historical literature, and even my one time, ‘You just die and become worm food,’ scientifically-minded clinical psychologist husband witnessed a pastel colored mist leaving his own father’s dying body. Since I was a child I’ve had spirit contact and in my second book on this topic, A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Transformative Experiences, I share my experience with spirit mist. For me, such encounters are chalked full of intense love. It’s an indescribable feeling. A surgery team out of Sweden composed of a number of hard core atheists witnessed a brilliant bluish white mist come out of their dying patient’s body and then float away. In a newspaper report several stated they’d had no belief in an afterlife or spiritual matters, but added this had turned their lives upside down. Witnessing this incredible Spirit mist forced them to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about life, death and the dying process. History has shown us the Ancients knew our physical body housed a Soul and thankfully modern Spiritualism continues to validate this.
Are you continuing your research in this area? Any other books planned?
I’m constantly researching because personally, spiritually and professionally I believe departing visions provide powerful validation for the continuation of the Spirit. Unlike afterlife communications or near-death experiences, departing visions come to both the one preparing to exit this dimension, and those who will remain. For the physically dying, visitations from deceased relatives, friends, and other world guides ‘check’ any fear of death. Research has also shown that difficult patients calm down while pain levels decrease. Believers and atheists can have similar experiences. Reunions with those individuals who are already in an afterlife existence can also be emotionally healing. My mother-in-law was visited by her mother who physically perished in Auschwitz. With this, years of grief melted away just before she transitioned. Receiving a ‘glimpse’ of the afterlife validates the notion that we take ourselves to the next level and that spiritual growth or unfoldment continues. The personality is retained. For those who remain, but are visited during dream or awake time by the departing Spirit of a physical dying loved one, the experience can be life altering. Highly death-phobic individuals, materialistic in their thinking and emotionally distressed, often begin their own personal spiritual exploration after encountering a departing vision. Also, the same visitation can occur within a group. As I mentioned, I wasn’t the only one to awake from a deep sleep as my mother shed her earthly remains. There were five of us in different locations who felt her reassuring touch as she moved on to the Spirit World. Today, when departing friends or relatives stop by in Spirit form to say all is well, I’m once again reminded that the bonds of love are never severed. My mission is to help make discussion of departing visions as common as near-death experiences.”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.
Next blog post: Oct. 6
Thanks for sharing that additional information. It sounds like you have nearly enough for a short book, at least a long article.
Thanks also for your interest in the blog.
Michael Tymn, Mon 6 Oct, 05:36
Michael, interesting re; the UFO. My son began having contact experiences when he was in Afghanistan. I thought this might be due to PTSD disassociation as he was an Army officer (1st Lt), in a combat unit, on a little forward operating base on the Afghan/Pakistan border. He saw a lot of action. After he was wounded and awaiting discharge at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, TX, he not only again saw a UFO, but was able to photograph it with his phone. It’s a pretty clear picture and it sure looks like a flying saucer. I believe my own son.
I visited a well recommended/well tested medium after my father died because there were numerous strange things happening in our house, loud bangs, objects moving around, etc. My father came though loud and clear at the sitting. He admitted responsibility for the phenomena in our house (trying get our attention). The medium supplied so much private detail, without fishing, and also presented with the unusual personality characteristics and mannerisms to the ‘T’. All hits and lots of them, no misses. I had disguised my identity when scheduling to ensure that information was not going to be gleaned via normal means. Like you, I work in the insurance industry and tend toward a very analytical approach. I could find no other explanation other than the paranormal.
Finally, I have had some full fledged OBEs, prophetic dreams, synchronicities and the like throughout my life.
Anyhow, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years or more and thought I’d toss in my two cents concerning the dying. I wish you the best and hope you continue your excellent work here.
Erich Avedisian, Thu 2 Oct, 14:45
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 30 Sep, 13:43
I think it is good that you are a true skeptic in these matters. You are wise to guard against trying to make something ‘fit’ into a paradigm of spirit survival. Sometimes, like the butterfly of happiness, if you turn your attention to other things it will come and sit quietly on your shoulder. That is to say, that sometimes if one does not try to force evidence of survival of consciousness it sometimes appears just when you least expect it. - AOD
Thanks for your additional comments. It sounds like you have witnessed or experienced quite a bit. However, I know what you mean. When I read about interesting paranormal experiences, I wonder how come I have never experienced anything like that. It sometimes seems that everyone but me is experiencing them, although I know that is not the case.
I wonder if I have not had the experiences because I really don’t need them. I went to a few mediums early on because I was curious, not because I was grieving. I think my subconscious has always believed even though my conscious self has doubted at times. On the other hand, I did see a UFO in 1952, no doubt about it.
Michael Tymn, Tue 30 Sep, 10:29
I understand what you guys are saying and, to clarify, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I think that everything Dr. Wills-Brandon writes about is bunk. I’m sure it happens; albeit perhaps less frequently and/or more subtly than the more dramatic instances that make for good reading in book. I guess my confusion and disappointment (for the residences’ sake) is that after much reading on the topic I came to expect it to be a frequent and obvious phenomena.
I should add that some folks that have volunteered at the home for much longer than I do have some stories about pronounced death bed visions.
I have definitely been present when residents appear to be communicating with people not physically in the room. Often though, these residents go in and out of states of confusion on a regular basis (e.g. cancer metastases of the brain). Again, it’s just that I have not personally encountered the “classic” sort of case that one tends to read about. I think it is rare.
Honestly, part of my issue is that I have saw a man die pretty hard and it has kind of rattled me. I wish he had been comforted by beings from the other side.
As an aside, I have, a few times, seen unusual things occur at or around the time of death; such as lights dimming, knocks and pings in the walls and, once, a defunct wall intercom come to life and emit static noise that could be interpreted by an open mind as containing an attempt at communication within the static.
Erich Avedisian, Mon 29 Sep, 16:43
I sympathize with your skepticism. It may be, though, that if near death visions are experienced by a dying patient, they may not want to share them with strangers and even with close family members there may be some reluctance to tell them. Also, I think that many death-bed visions are not spectacular enough to be worth telling or written-up in a book.
In my own family my grandfather reported to me two experiences he had when he was experiencing a health crises. Now, you would have to know my grandfather to appreciate his story for he was an uneducated cement finisher in his 90s, who smoked, drank and was generally pretty rough in his younger days; the last person I would expect to have these kinds of things occur. After he returned home from the hospital after a heart crisis, he motioned me over to him to tell me about his ‘dream’ when he was unconsciousness in the hospital. (Now he would NEVER discuss his dreams with me or anyone else before but apparently he thought that something was different about this one that made him want to tell me about it.) He said he was met by a woman dressed in white and he thought he was going to be married. There is not much to this story but it has something of a near-death vision to it in that he was met by a being in white. He also said that in the dream he was playing cards and he had to choose between a ‘heart’ and a ‘spade”. Not much to that either but for me this seemed similar to other near death visions in that a choice to live or die had to be made. He chose the heart and lived for a few more years. Considering his degree of spirituality (or lack of it) his story was significant to me but probably not to anyone else.
At the end, when he was in hospice care, he kept talking about something on the ceiling, pointing out to it. On that night I had left his bedside to go home and when I got home the light in my bedroom had switched on by itself and was burning brightly and the radio next to my bed was blaring loudly. Within a few minutes of my arrival home, my uncle George called to say that my grandfather had passed away after I had left.
Years later uncle George was in the hospital suffering from terminal prostate cancer when he roused to consciousness and said “Is that you God? Well, I’m ready to go.” And then he died.
None of these reports is good enough to put in a best-selling book but I think that they may be more representative of what many people experience but don’t report to their caregivers or relatives. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 25 Sep, 22:36
Thanks for your interesting report. I’d probably be skeptical as well if I had been around many death beds and never saw one such vision or experience. However, I have been at only one deathbed, that of my mother, and I did experience something unusual or strange. My mother had advanced dementia and had not spoken a word in days beyond a mumble here and there. In the hours before she expired, she carried on a continuous conversation with some invisible being. It was all gibberish because of her dementia, but she was clearly pleading with someone or arguing with someone. It went on for hours during the night and early morning. She died in my arms as I carried her from her bed down the stairs to put her in her wheel chair and drive her back to her rest home.
Clearly, DBVs are the exception rather than the rule.
Michael Tymn, Thu 25 Sep, 20:10
I am 100% convinced of the afterlife, psi and some other paranormal phenomena based on my own varied experiences and on the higher quality evidence.
That said, I have volunteered at a hospice home (it’s a very nice facility, free to those in need and staffed by volunteers for the most part) in my community for a few years and have, of course, been present as our residents have moved through the stages of dying to actual death.
In my experience, it is very rare for deathbed visions to occur. I had read plenty of material on the topic to prepare myself to interact appropriately/supportively with our residents when these things happened, but I just haven’t seen it.
I’ve really looked for signs of visions occurring in the residents’ behavior or statements. Again, it’s been absent; disappointingly so in a way. I had hoped for the residents’ sake that they would be comforted by the presence of departed loved ones, angels or what have you.
Maybe, we have a sample of residents that don’t talk about these things even though they experience them (I would never prompt a resident to bring it up. The resident would have to start the conversation totally on his/her own). Or, for some reason, are less prone to experiencing them at all. I find that hard to believe though.
At bottom, I’m now a little skeptical of these feel good kind of books.
Erich Avedisian, Wed 24 Sep, 19:55
I have known Carla since she was about 13 and am one of the friends that experienced the passing of her mother at the exact moment Carla did. I know of what she speaks.
Richard Asadoorian, Wed 24 Sep, 15:38
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