What We See and Hear Before We Die
By Anna Olson (1130 words)
I was so glad to find David Kessler’s book, Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms: What the Near Dying Hear and See Before Death (Hay House, 2010), because it validated my experience with a friend who was dying. Beatrice was an older woman who was like a mother to me. Unfortunately, at age 73, she had a weak heart and had just had her fifth heart attack. I knew she could be nearing the end of her life, and when she told me, “My mother is here to see me,” I knew for sure she was going to die.
How did I know that the appearance of her deceased mother’s spirit meant that Beatrice was getting ready to transition to the “other side”? I forget; this happened thirty years ago. Perhaps I had read about such a phenomenon; perhaps someone had told me. But I’m glad I did know and didn’t think Beatrice was crazy. I respected her vision and stayed with her till the end.
The study of death
David Kessler is a modern-day thanatologist. That is, he's a student of death in all its aspects, from the biological to the emotional and paranormal.
“I don’t only deal with death in the hospital or hospice, but also at crime scenes, plane crashes, and even bioterror attacks. I follow death wherever it calls me,” writes Kessler.
A nurse, pilot, and end-of-life program facilitator, Kessler used to believe that the only thing needed to alleviate the suffering of the dying was good pain management and symptom control. Kessler now knows that besides anti-anxiety medication to combat fear and distress, “we have the ‘who’ and ‘what’ we see before we die, which is perhaps the greatest comfort to the dying.”
Kessler’s fascination with the process of death started when he was twelve and his mother was dying. In those days, the medical system didn’t see a value in family members being with the dying. He and his dad were allowed to visit her for ten minutes every two hours. She died alone. Kessler says he felt “utterly overwhelmed, knowing that what I’d seen with my mother was not how death was supposed to be.”
Since then, Kessler has learned a lot about the death process – specifically that many dying people see visions of deceased loved ones, they talk about going on a trip, and sometimes report crowds of people in their room. All these phenomena point to the existence of spirit life after death, Kessler believes. His goal is to bring that hope to people who fear that death is the end of all life for the ones they love.
Kessler uses the term near death awareness to refer to visions by the dying of the spirits of departed loved ones. This is different from near death experience where a person comes back from the brink of death and can talk about the experience.
Kessler asks, “If deceased loved ones really do appear to the dying, why can’t we, the healthy ones, see them?” He answers with a story about a dying woman who saw the spirit of her dead mother wanting the daughter to come with her. A relative who was sitting nearby said she couldn’t see the spirit. The dying woman answered, “Of course you can’t see her – she’s here for me, not you!” Kessler suggests there is a power that can “lift the veil” for the dying, allowing them to see what others cannot.
Doctors slow to accept
In general, Kessler claims, the medical profession discounts the metaphysical experiences of the dying, calling the deathbed visions hallucinations due to pain medication, fever or lack of oxygen to the brain. Kessler talked with one such skeptical oncologist who had never even been with a dying patient; he just managed treatment and pain management through bedside visits and phone consults. Others suggest that “it is the brain’s way of psychologically making it easier to die; that is, our brains are comforting and protecting us.”
But Kessler points out that it’s only deceased people who appear to those who are dying. There are many stories of a patient saying “X” is here to help me leave. The next of kin, who protest that X is still alive, later find out that X died a few hours or days ago. If these visions were the brain’s way of comforting the patient, Kessler asks, why wouldn’t images of living loved ones appear? It’s always spirits of the deceased that appear.
Those caregivers in hospices and end-of-life care management tend to have more respect for the near death phenomena as they see it more than other medical staff. They point out that sometimes patients have these paranormal experiences weeks before death when a lack of oxygen can’t be blamed.
Variety of visions
Here are some reports, courtesy of Kessler, from the friends, relatives and caregivers of the dying:
· One patient said, “I have to get my house in order.” He was a minister and the caregiver realized that it was a metaphor from the Bible about being ready for his transition to the other side.
· An elderly woman was dying, unresponsive for the last 24 hours, when she suddenly became alert and spoke in Czech. Apparently, she was seeing and speaking with the spirits of her mother and grandparents who didn’t speak English, so she had to speak to them in Czech.
· A dying man wanted one last meal in a Chinese restaurant. There, he saw a vision that meant a lot to him. “She’s in white. I’ve never seen anything so white. She’s an angel, a real angel,” he told his brother.
· A mentally challenged woman told her caregiver she was waiting for a special bus. She saw visions of buses but they weren’t the right ones. Then one came that had a ramp. This was her special bus, she said, that recognized her handicap, even though hers was a mental handicap. She died shortly after seeing her special bus.
Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms by David Kessler is an excellent book for those interested in learning about the metaphysical view of the death process for themselves and their loved ones. Medical staff would also benefit from recognizing near death phenomena as credible. When medics understand what’s happening, they can validate patients’ experiences instead of sedating them to quell what they misinterpret as hallucinations.
Anna Olson is a Winnipeg freelance writer and editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment or to request reprint permission.