Different Areas of Evidence for the Afterlife

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 End of Life Experiences and "deathbed visions"

In all cultures people who are dying start talking to loved ones who have already died in the days before they die. Sometime they say that they can see beautiful places in the spirit world and hear beautiful music.

These "deathbed visions" were rarely mentioned in the scientific literature until the late 1920's, when they were studied by Sir William Barrett, a professor of physics at the Royal College of Science, in Dublin.

He became interested in the topic when his wife, a doctor, arrived home one night and told him about a woman who had died at the hospital that day after having a baby. Just before she had died the woman, Doris, sat up and become very excited about seeing a wonderful place and said that her father had come to take her there.

What was most amazing was the fact that the woman was surprised to see her sister with her father. It seems that the sister had died only three weeks before. Since Doris had been so ill, she was not told that her much loved sister had died.

This story was so interesting to Professor Barrett that he undertook a systematic study of death-bed visions. His was the first scientific study to find that the mind of the dying patient is often clear and rational. He also reported a number of cases in which the doctors and nurses or relatives present could also see what the person dying saw.

His book, published in 1926 was called "Deathbed Visions". In it he noted that:

• many times at the moment of death people would see a friend or relative at their bedside whom they thought was still living

• in all cases when it was checked out, the person they saw had already died.

• dying children often expressed surprise that the angels they saw waiting for them didn't have wings.

In the 1960s Dr Karlis Osis of the American Society for Psychical Research did a pilot study of deathbed visions that confirmed the findings of Barrett. His finding were:

• the most common type of vision was of people who had died before them
• the visions usually lasted a short time, five minutes or less
• the dying patients stated that the visitor had come to take them away
• it made no difference if the dying person did or did not believe in the afterlife
• most of the patients in the study had not received drugs which could confuse their minds.

In 1977 Dr Osis and his colleague, Dr Erlenddur Haraldsson, published "At the Hour of Death". This book extended the original study and included reports from over 1000 doctors and nurses in India as well as the United States. In all it reported on the deaths of more than one hundred thousand people. These studies all found the same things as the earlier studies.

According to the information provided to him by nurses and doctors:

• only ten per cent of people are conscious shortly before their death
• of this group one half to two thirds have near death visions
• these people see their loved ones, see scenes of the next world and suddenly are very happy and excited for no medical reason.

In his book "Closer to the Light—Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children", Dr Melvin Morse says that death-bed visions are 'a forgotten aspect of life's mysterious process' and that they can comfort and help the dying patient and the family (1993: 65).

He talks about several cases where dying children began to see visions of the afterlife during the last few days of their lives. They described amazing colors and beautiful places and relatives they sometimes had not known existed.

Not imagination

Dr Osis himself began with the supposition that these experiences were caused by the chemical effects of a dying brain. However, after investigating, he became convinced that these experiences were so extraordinary and so convincing that they could not be explained by the physical condition of the patient or by the medication they had been taking.

There are many cases on record with the Society of Psychical Research where the spirit visitors were seen by others at the bedside of the dying person, sometimes by several persons at the same time:

• in one well documented case a death-bed apparition was seen by the dying woman, Harriet Pearson, and three relatives who were caring for her (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Feb 1904: 185-187)

• in another case of a young boy dying, two witnesses independently saw his recently deceased mother at the child's bedside (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 6 p.20 ).

Deathbed visions are consistent with and support the other evidence for afterlife. Of those who will experience conscious death, fifty to sixty percent will experience a vision of the afterlife.

The importance of deathbed visions

In his book "Parting Visions" (1994) pediatrician Melvin Morse says

• family members who know about the visions of the dying are known to spend more time at the dying person's bedside.
• spiritual visions empower the dying patients making them realize that they have something to share with others
• spiritual visions remove all fear of dying in the patient and are enormously healing to the relatives
• they can prevent burnout on the part of nurses and doctors
• if attended to they can dramatically reduce wasteful medical procedures that are often painful to the patient. He claims that 30-60% of the American health care dollar is spent in the last few days of a person's life and 'most of it is spent in useless procedures that do nothing to prolong life' (Morse 1994: 136).

In this video interview Dr Peter Fenwick and Dr Sam Parnier talk about deathbed visions.


Nurse shares 30 years experience with the dying


Hospice nurses share experiences

Carla Wills Brandon

Carla Wills-Brandon M.A. LMFT, PA is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of 13 published books, became interested in deathbed visions when her own son had one when he was just three years of age. Visited by an other worldly visitor who shared that he was there to take his grandfather with him, her son was confident his ‘Da’ was all right. In 3 of her books, One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions, A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Spiritually Transformative Experiences, and Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope From the Afterlife, she not only re-examines the research of Barrett and Osis, but also takes a look at many recent experiences.


Shared Death Experiences

There are many reports that people who are sitting at the bedside of a dying person experience going into the spirit world and meeting relatives who have already died with that person.

In his recently-released book "Glimpses of Eternity", Dr. Raymond Moody explores the area of deathbed visions and shared-death experiences. In one chapter, Moody discusses a strange mist that is sometimes reported over a deathbed. “They describe it in various ways,” he writes. “Some say that it looks like smoke, while others say it is as subtle as steam. Sometimes it seems to have a human shape. Whatever the case, it usually drifts upward and always disappears fairly quickly.”



Dr. Peter Fenwick, author of The Art of Dying, on end of life experiences



On the Internet

To learn about further ongoing research work see the Internet site of the University of Virginia Division of Personality Studies.

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