Dying Words: Steve Jobs Wasn’t the Only One
Posted on 23 January 2012, 14:03
At the October 16 memorial service for Apple founder Steve Jobs, Mona Simpson, his sister, delivered a eulogy in which she told of her brother’s final words: “Oh Wow! Oh Wow! Oh Wow!” The initial reports did not include the exclamation points, but one might infer them.
While “believers” see Jobs’s dying words as some indication that Jobs was seeing through the veil separating the earth realm from a spiritual realm, the skeptics shrug it off as perhaps a reaction to pain or the ramblings of a dying man. However, such dying words are not unprecedented. Thomas Edison, the great inventor, is said to have uttered, “It’s very beautiful over there” just before taking his last breath. “Joy!” were the very last words of English author and philantropist Hannah More, who died in 1833. “Victory! Eternal Victory!” were the dying words of Eunice Cobb. “O glory! O glory! O glory!” were the parting words of Susan C. Kirland of Burr Oak, Michigan before she passed on April 3, 1864. “It is beautiful,” were the dying words of the famous English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
In his 1926 book, Deathbed Visions, Sir William Barrett, a professor of physics at the Royal College of Science in Dublin, reported on a case told to him by his wife, an obstretic surgeon. A dying woman who had just given birth commented that the room was getting darker and darker. “Suddenly, she looked eagerly toward one part of the room, a radiant smile illuminating her whole countenance,” Lady (Dr.) Barrett recalled. “Oh, lovely, lovely,” the dying woman said. Lady Barrett asked her to what she was referring. “What I see,” the dying woman replied. “Lovely brightness, wonderful things.”
“Earth recedes – Heaven opens before me,” Dwight L. Moody told his sons minutes before he died. “I’m in the midst of glory!” When one son asked Moody if he had been dreaming, Moody replied, “No, this is no dream, Will. It is beautiful! It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here! God is calling me and I must go.”
May Wilcox of Marengo, Illinois died at the age of 21. Just before she gave up the ghost, she threw up her arms and exclaimed, “Oh! Do you hear the music?”
As 10-year-old Lillian Lee lay dying, she told her father that there were crowds of children waiting for her and were calling her by a new name, although she could not remember what it was. As she breathed her last, she whispered, “Yes, yes, I come, I come!”
In her book, They Walked Among Us, Louie Harris recalled the passing of her father. He whispered to his wife that it was time for him to leave and apologized for not being able to bid farewell to Ted, their son, who was serving in the British army in France. “Father was quiet for some time,” Harris wrote. “His eyes were closed. Then, quite unexpectedly, he sat up unaided, his eyes open, his face radiant. He stretched out his arms and joyfully exclaimed: ‘George! Austin!’ These were the names of his ‘dead’ brothers. A beautiful smile transformed his thin face. With a deep sigh of satisfaction he lay back on his pillow and passed peacefully to the spirit world.”
Just before Eleanor Herrick died of cancer in December, 1964, Arline Sexauer, her daughter, entered her hospital room. The patient in the bed next to Eleanor, told Arline that her mother had been talking to someone named Margaret all morning. Arline explained that Margaret was her mother’s sister who had died many years before. Just before Eleanor passed, she took her daughter’s hand and said, “Oh, Arline, it’s so strange here. I’m in a ‘never-never’ land. I’m halfway between two worlds. Ma and Pa are here and I can see them, but I can’t see you any more.”
Dr. W. T. O’Hara reported the case of a dying 10-year-old girl on a ship of which he was the medical officer. As he sat next to the girl, O’Hara sensed a presence in the room but was unable to see it. As he checked the girl’s pulse and determined that her heart was still beating, the room grew brighter and seemed to gather in waves of blue and white and gold over the child’s body. The girl looked up and murmured, “Oh, look! How beautiful!” at which time O’Hara saw a misty, luminous globe over her head. The girl then cried out, “Oh Mamma…I see…the way…and it is all bright and shining.” Then the light rose rapidly and disappeared at the ceiling, at which time the girl died. When the captain entered the cabin, he told O’Hara that he and four other officers, who came with him, had seen a ball of blue fire right over their heads in the smoking room. They observed it float to the door and turn toward the cabin occupied by O’Hara and the young girl.
Just this month, an Associated Press story by Tim Stonesifer told of a Hanover, Pennsylvania couple, Nancy and Richard Trimmer, who had died within 12 hours of each other after 61 years of marriage. Richard was in the hospital suffering from lung cancer when Nancy died in her sleep at home, at 12:25 a.m. Later that morning, family members went to the hospital to inform Richard of his wife’s passing. They noticed that the clock in his hospital room was stuck at 12:25. As one family member tried to give him ice with a spoon, Richard looked off toward the ceiling and whispered, “Pull me up.” He repeated the request, “Please pull me up.” after which there was a pause and he said, “Hold me tighter now,” a moment or so before he expired.
The skeptic would say that they were all hallucinating. That may be so, but a hallucination is simply something not detected by the five senses. It doesn’t mean it is not real.
In his 2010 book, Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms, David Kessler collected several dozen recent deathbed visions and utterances from various health-care workers, including physicians, nurses, and hospice volunteers. One social worker in hospice services reported that a patient named Maria who hadn’t said a word during the previous week suddenly became alert and began speaking in Czech, her native language. Maria’s daughters were present but didn’t understand what she was saying and beckoned their aunt, Maria’s sister. When Aunt Anna arrived, she explained that Maria was talking to people in their family who had alread died and was saying that she could also see them.
A doctor told of listening to his dying brother carry on a conversation with their deceased grandparents. “As a doctor, it’s very easy to dismiss this sort of thing until you see it firsthand,” he is quoted. “Could my brother’s vision have been a dream state? Was it a result of oxygen deprivation? A side effect of the medications? All were possible, but for my mother and me, none of those options felt right. It felt profound. Real. Neither one of us wanted to interfere, so we just observed.”
Author Kessler, himself a hospice volunteer, concludes the book with an interesting observation. “…I do know that the dying don’t say. ‘Here comes nothing. I now see nothing.’ And health-care professionals don’t report that the dying speak of entering a ‘nothingness.’ I’m going to believe the words of the dying over the beliefs and doubts of the living who haven’t lost a loved one or worked in a hospital or hospice setting.”
Michael Tymn’s book The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.
Deathbed Visions by Sir William Barrett is also published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other good online book stores.
Next blog post: Feb. 3
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The Problem with Spirituality Surveys
Posted on 09 January 2012, 16:49
Every time I read about some survey relative to spiritual beliefs, I have to question its validity, primarily because very few of them have clear-cut “yes” or “no” answers and because so many of the words used by the researchers have different meanings for different people.
One recent survey indicated that 90 percent of all Americans believe in life after death. Another survey put it at around 82 percent, but I recall seeing one as low as 62 percent. In her recent book, The Afterlife Survey, Maureen Milliken, a Maine journalist, cites the Pew Forum U.S. Religion Landscape Survey results from 2008 indicating that 74 percent of Americans believe in an afterlife. up from 69 percent in 1973. That doesn’t necessarily mean that 26 percent are atheists or are non-believers, however.
Milliken also cites an AARP survey among people over 50 in which 73 percent believe in life after death, but 86 percent believe in heaven. And a recent survey in the UK had 53 percent believing in life after death but 55 percent believing in heaven. I can’t recall the exact numbers, but I recall a survey among physicians not long ago in which something like 68 percent of the physicians believe in God, but only 57 percent believe in life after death. In effect, a number of people believe in God but not in an afterlife, while some who don’t believe in an afterlife believe in heaven. I don’t get it.
The first question that comes to mind when I read these surveys has to do with the meaning of the word “believe.” My dictionary definition of the word offers a fairly wide range of choices – from “having an opinion” to “accepting trustfully on faith” to “having a firm conviction.” With those definitions in mind, I would have no problem responding with a “yes” to whether I believe in an afterlife. But, if believing means accepting it with “absolute certainty,” as in one survey cited by Milliken, then I would have to say “no.” Absolute certainty to me means 100-percent certain – no doubt about it. My certainty goes to about 98.8 percent, but that leaves a 1.2 percent doubt factor in there. I try not to trip over the 1.2 percent doubt, but it would prevent me from giving a firm “yes” to any such survey. Therefore, I might be counted as a non-believer. On the other hand, I suspect that most people who say they “believe” really just “hope” there is an afterlife. Few seem aware of the strong evidence supporting a belief in consciousness surviving the death of the physical body.
If I were a survey respondent and the survey asked if I believe in God, I would first need “God” defined. If God is defined to mean an anthropomorphic being, a man with a beard who sits on a throne, I’d have to answer “no” to the survey. If, however, God is defined to mean some form of cosmic consciousness or creative intelligence beyond human comprehension, then I would respond with a “yes.”
Most other questions in these surveys would not lend themselves to “yes” or “no” answers for me. For example: “Do you believe in heaven?” Here again, I could not answer the question without a definition of heaven. I certainly don’t believe in the heaven of orthodoxy, but if heaven is defined to mean the “Godhead” or the “highest plane” in the spirit world, I would be able to answer in the affirmative.
“Do you believe in hell?” No, I don’t believe in the hell of orthodoxy, but I do believe in a “fire of the mind” on the lower planes of the afterlife, which might be referred to as hell. If, however, I answer “yes” to the question, I might be counted among those who believe in a fire and brimstone with devil holding a pitchfork type hell.
“Do you believe in purgatory?” If purgatory is defined to mean all of the many afterlife realms between the lowest and highest, I believe in purgatory, but I doubt that is what the researchers have in mind.
“Are you an atheist?” Going back to the definition of God, I might be considered an atheist by orthodoxy, but I would not call myself an atheist, not even a pantheist.
“Do you have a special day of worship?” I really hate the word “worship” and think it does more damage to the orthodox cause than any other word, as it suggests a God who demands constant adoration and praise. I’d have to answer “no” to that question and put a note that I don’t believe in worship, unless it is defined simply to mean “honoring goodness” or something along that line, in which I case I could say that I worship every day of the week.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” If the researchers have in mind apparitions of the dead or communication from the dead, I’d answer a definite “yes,” but if they are referring to “spooks,” not really.
“Do you believe in angels?” I’d really have a hard time with this one. I believe in advanced spirits and spirit guides, but I am 50-50 on angels who have never served time as humans.
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” I believe in reincarnation, but I don’t think it plays out like most people who believe in it seem to think it does. My belief is in the group soul/higher self area and for the most part beyond human comprehension. But if I say “yes” to the question, the researchers will count me as believing in the kind of reincarnation that most people who believe in it subscribe to. If I say “no,” I’ll be counted among the non-believers. How can I possibly answer that question?
“Do you believe that Jesus is God?” Since God is beyond my comprehension, I can’t begin to answer that question, any more than if asked if we are all part of God or all sons of God, whatever that means. I do believe that Jesus is something akin to Chairman of the Board on the Other Side, and that is enough for me.
One of the few things I might give a definite “no” to is a belief in the atonement doctrine as taught by orthodox Christianity along with the belief that one must accept Jesus as his savior if he is to be “saved.” I feel certain that Jesus shakes his head in disgust and despair at such a teaching.
Milliken interviewed a “cross-section” of 23 people to get their views on the afterlife or, in the case of non-believers, on the “extinction” they face. The 23 range from hard-core “born again” religious fundamentalists at one extreme to equally hard-core scientific fundamentalist at the other extreme. In between are people with varying degrees of faith, hopefulness, uncertainty, and skepticism. The 23 interviewees included a newspaper editor, a college professor, an office manager, a sheet metal worker, an engineer, a rabbi, a college student, a minister turned atheist, a bookseller, and sundry other occupations.
What especially struck me was how much greater the certainty of belief of the atheist or non-believer was than that of the believer.. Those interviewed by Milliken seem to fit the profile of the confirmed atheists that I have encountered over the years. They are former believers who have been rescued from the follies, superstitions, dogmatisms; tyrannies, and illusions of religion by rational thinkers and science. And while science has become their god, they apply non-science to spiritual matters with a smug closed-mindedness that is the antithesis of the open and searching scientific mind. They see themselves as “enlightened” individuals stoically facing up to their eventual extinction by “living in the moment” while assuming that believers do nothing but think about the next life. For the most part they are ignorant of spiritual beliefs that fall outside the dogma and doctrine of their old religions and they are totally ignorant of the mass of evidence in favor or the survival of consciousness at death. However, they have read that their rational-thinking gurus have all studied the evidence and have dismissed it as nothing but pseudoscience, and that is enough for them. They echo the claims of their gurus by saying that there is no “proof” of life after death and don’t appear to grasp the difference between proof and evidence. They dare not give the least bit of credence to any spiritual idea lest they be revert to their old “backward thinking.”
For non-believers, the surveys are pretty easy and straight forward – just check “no” all the way down the page. For others, even the religious fundamentalists, the surveys are not so easy.
Michael Tymn’s book The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores. Michael’s forthcoming book Transcending the Titanic: Beyond Death’s Door is published in March 2011 by White Crow.
Next blog entry: Jan. 23-24
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