Deathbed Visions

“Oh wow, Oh wow, Oh wow”.

Those were the final words of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple computers, clearly seeing something of or someone from the afterlife.

A deathbed vision is where just prior to death a person will start seeing something or someone from the afterlife. Studies suggest that 70% involve seeing deceased relatives who have come to collect them.

Even blind people have them! But this shouldn’t be a surprise as it’s not the physical eyes that see the non physical. The optic nerves don’t actually feed directly into the visual cortex but another area. This opens up a possible explanation of how this all works, and how some Mediums for example see things.

Sometimes the patient will just look at the non physical visitors. Sometimes they will talk to them or even try and hold a three way conversation realising that the physical people in the room cannot see them, but still try and involve them in the conversation. Nurses and Hospice nurses in particular, recognise these visions as a sign of closeness to death and it’s been reported that nurses often surprise the doctors by knowing a patient is about to die despite the clinical observations saying otherwise.

Deathbed visions are usually moments of great joy. Exciting reunions. A sudden realisation that life does continue. Steve Jobs clearly fell into that category with his last words: “Oh wow”.

I witnessed my own mother having deathbed visions. It was clear that in the run up to her departure that the barriers between this world and the next were breaking down. It started off a couple of weeks before when she made comments of strange things happening to her eyesight. On Christmas eve she saw a deceased friend of hers and an image of Santa Claus, On my way out she told me to get out of the way of two nurses who were wanting to come in the room. I don’t doubt that she saw them, but they weren’t physical nurses.

That gave me a warm glow. She died the next morning - so the Santa Claus she saw meant Christmas day.

There are countless tales of deathbed visions. A study conducted between 1959 and 1973 by the parapsychologists Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson that found that 50% of the tens of thousands of individuals they studied in the United States and India had experienced deathbed visions.

One test of the validity of scientific research is repetition. Can similar results can be obtained by different people? In 2010 April Mazzarino-Willett through her research estimated that 50%-60% of us are likely to experience them in some form. This was a different century, with different researchers, producing similar results. And just think about these statistics for a while. Half or more of the people investigated had experienced them. That’s a massive number of experiences. Yet we don’t talk about them!

So deathbed visions happen. That’s undeniable. So the question then is not “Do they happen” but “Are they real?

They are certainly not hallucinations. Hallucinations are something quite different. People having hallucinations are confused and make no sense; they are largely frightening experiences (like putting on a public talk) and have no pattern or consistency. They also involve increased or elevated brain activity and changes in blood pressure or heart rate. Deathbed visions do not have these. Also the conversations make sense if there is indeed someone there and they have common elements and consistency. They are calm, joyful experiences and sometimes matter of fact.

They are certainly real to the patient. One lady started talking in an old dialect, one she used to speak to her mother as a child and had not spoken since being a child. It was evident that she was convinced she was speaking to her late mother.

But there are some that provide evidence that they definitely are real. In several cases the death of a sibling has been withheld from the dying patient for fear of unnecessarily distressing them. When they see the spirit of the deceased sibling, they express surprise and delight in them being there. In doing this they show that they have found out about the death of the sibling through their deathbed vision. That's pretty convincing evidence of them being real.

There is also more to learn from them. A study in 2016 by some researchers in Brazil found 70-80% of healthcare professionals believed that these experiences had a spiritual significance and were not due to biological effects. They also found in 85% of those who experienced them “a desire to mend family rifts”.

There is a massive point here: You will save yourself and your departed loved ones so much pain by doing this. We all need to talk to each other during the dying process. Don’t leave anything unresolved.

A comforting thing to note is that many people also experience a sense of tranquillity just prior to death. An unexpected calmness. A “knowing” that everything is going to be alright. A lady I knew said shortly before she died “I don’t know if I’m near death but I feel a tremendous sense that everything is fine. I’ve no worries at all about passing over”.

This concurs totally with the experience of those who have Near Death Experiences. Few of them actually want to come back because they find it so wonderful there. The point is that if the facts sink in that they continue to exist, and are extremely happy where they are, then the need for grief is greatly diminished.

An understanding of deathbed visions will help you understand what is going on when you next have to deal with someone who is going through the process, and listening to them is likely to give you great comfort too. So don’t treat them as going loopy. They’re not. All that is happening is their awareness is expanding.

Medicine also needs to learn from them. A study however of palliative care nurses showed that the nurses themselves felt that they were just not trained in how to respond, or explain such cases. Patients would often ask them for advice about them, and they wanted to know how to help them. We all need to know about this, as it is so likely that we will experience them.

Incidentally, Peter Fenwick describes various cases where there has been negotiation to extend life a short while to enable a relative time to get to the hospital in time. So be aware this is a possibility should you need it!

Photos by Bret Kavanaugh and AB on