During my 20’s, I would periodically ask clergy, psychologists, doctors, friends, relatives and neighbors, “Have you ever intuitively known someone you love was crossing over before actually being told they were dying?” I would then quickly add, “I have and it was an incredible experience! The moment my mother passed in the hospital, I awoke at home early in the morning, and knew she was no longer “here” on this plane of existence. Ten minutes later the phone rang. It was a call from a family friend confirming what I already knew in my heart. Along with this, two very dear family friends, in separate residences, also came out of deep sleep states, “feeling” my mother move on. What do you think about that?”
Upon hearing my petition and personal experience, most of these folks would respond by looking at me wide eyed, as if I had lost my mind. Such dramatic reactions were often times followed with comments like, “A smart woman like you? You better keep that to yourself! Otherwise the men in white coats will come knocking on your door!”
Following a detailed description of my death bed experience with my mother, one close friend asked, “Couldn’t you have been hallucinating? Imagining things? Have you had your eyes checked? Maybe you have cataracts? Blurred vision? Were you on drugs? Perhaps cold medicine? Did you have a fever? Were you sick? Maybe it was just a dream. You couldn’t possibly have know your mother was dead before the hospital called you.” After a series of these encounters, I quickly learned I needed to be cautious about who I was sharing this experience with.
In spite of my secretiveness, I quietly continued to look for someone who could shed some light on my confusion about my other worldly encounter with the afterlife. Eventually, my search paid off. I even found a few friends who were willing to tell me about their unusual experiences with their dying loved ones. The most surprising tale came from a very close family friend. My mother’s best friend Dee, had a very extraordinary happening and it involved my mother.
Dee and my mother went to junior and high school together. The two of them had been true bosom buddies. Carol was my mother’s name. In my cedar chest, I have wedding pictures of not only my parents, but of Dee and young husband, Don. Naturally, when Dee and my Mother had children, all of the kids became good pals. Because of their life long friendship, summer vacations were spent frolicking on the beach with Dee and her family. Dee shared the following account with me several years after my mother had passed.
“When your mother was dying, I felt extremely helpless. I knew she was going to die, but she wouldn’t say one word to me about it. It was so sad. She couldn’t even talk to me, her best friend, about what she was going through. You know, your grandparents refused to talk about her brother’s death. I think this is why she never brought up her dying. She didn’t want to upset her parents. Taking care of them till the end. That was such a shame.” At this point in the conversation, I remember Dee being a bit hesitant to continue. As she ran her fingers through her thick dark hair, she took a breath and said, “Now I know this is going to sound strange, but here goes.” With this I pulled up a stool and was suddenly all ears.
“I knew I needed to do something for your mother, but I just didn’t know what that “something” was. Like I said, no one was talking. You and your sisters were staying with us on the coast and your mother was back in the Valley. We were trying to give her a rest. It was the least I could do. She had been so sick. I remember receiving a phone call from her. I think you guys were at the beach.” For a moment she was silent and then she added, “Carla, she just sounded awful. I knew it wasn’t good.” Dee was attempting to hold back her tears, but she wasn’t having much success.
After taking a long sip of cola, she collected herself, wiped her eyes and continued. “Well, one day I found myself in a book store. I wanted to get your mother something, but for the life of me, I could not decide what to buy. I thought maybe I would find a cheery book in the bookstore to brighten her mood up. As I milled around the store, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what type of book would be good for your mother.”
“Just as I was about to turn and walk out the door, I ran straight into some guy. It was as if he had come out of nowhere.” Shaking her head in disbelief of an event that happened years ago, Dee stopped to take another drink of her soda. Stirring the ice cubes with her finger, she suddenly chuckled, “Gee, he wasn’t bad looking. He had a kind of angelic look to him.” After reflecting a bit, she added, “He seemed to have a real sense of peace about him. I only remember seeing his face. I don’t remember his clothes or even know if he had any on. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember a body. All I saw was his face.”
Shaking herself from the emotion of her memory, she suddenly became very serious and said, “This man, who I did not know from Adam, pulled a book down from the shelf, handed it to me and said, “This is what your looking for.?” Stunned, I glanced down at the book he had given me. It was “The Prophet” by Kahil Gibran. When I looked back up, this angel person had suddenly disappeared. I didn’t see him leave. It was as if he had just vanished into thin air. If he had left through the door way, I would have seen him. But I didn’t. Didn’t see a thing. It was all very errie. I didn’t have a clue as to what the book was about, but shaken, I went to the cashier and bought it for your Mother.”
This book, a lovely work of spiritual verse, gave my mother great comfort before she passed over. Who was this man Dee saw? Was he a messenger from the after life who knew just what it was my Mother needed to assist her in her dying process? An angel? Was he one of the celestial beings described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Dee is convinced this spirit came to her for the specific purpose of aiding her in assisting my mother in dying. Dee never spoke to him, or told him about my mother, but he was able to help her purchase a book that would bring her dying friend comfort. To this day, this story is retold every time I get together with Dee. The tale has made its way through the families and is no longer seen as something unusual. No, today it is seen as a blessing.
After Dee shared with me about her encounter with the strange messenger at the book store, my life change. I finally found the courage to begin seriously searching for answers which would explain my own unusual experiences with my mother’s passing. This time around, as I began my search I didn’t care what other people thought. It became imperative for me to begin openly asking questions about, death, the afterlife, contact with the deceased and spiritual visions.
In my pursuit, I was often ridiculed and have become the butt of many jokes. “Yeah, Carla has every known book on death. We call her the death queen!” or “You really believe all of that nonsense about life after death? You are crazy!” are just a few of the digs I have endured, from friends and family members over the years. In spite of this, today, with much hindsight, I know this initial determined quest for answers, prepared me for my son’s eventual encounter with Damus, the loving Angel of Death.
I began my own earnest examination of the unknown by looking into the history of deathbed visions. This phenomena came closest to describing my experience with my mother and it seemed like a natural path to follow. In time, what I found was startling and mind shifting. My whole concept of dying, death, the after life and other world phenomena would under go radical change.
During my middle 30s, when searching metaphysical bookstores, periodically I was able to find a tattered book here or there, making reference to deathbed visions. In a dark dusty corner of such a store, past the strongly scented incense from India and the stacks of colorful Tarot cards, is a shelf, usually a bottom bookshelf, devoted specifically to works on topics like after death communication, out of body experiences, and near death experiences I would find a study or account of a deathbed vision.
While digging through book titles, it became apparent that published works on visions of the dying or those at the dying person’s side, were extremely rare. In spite of this, I eventually discovered the deathbed vision or DBV phenomena was not a new one. Though printed information on this topic was often times difficult to find, my persistence did pay off. Over time, with a little enthusiastic research, I began to understand that DBV’s had been with us for ages.
In Christian literature, particularly in the ancient oral traditions which were gathered up and recorded by the apostles of Jesus between 55 C.E. and 100 C.E., a particular spiritual event is discussed over and over again. The core of this event rests on a premonition of an upcoming death and it is considered one of the most famous of accounts given in the New Testament. Jesus of Nazareth, the leader of the Christian movement, predicts his own impending death to his followers. He tells them he knows his time of death is near and even foretells how his apostles will respond when he is arrested by the Romans. After his crucifixion on the cross, his followers recognize that Jesus’s predictions have come to pass.
This popular and biblically historical DBV has made it’s way into modern literature. From a current day literary interpretation of this period in history, titled “A Love Divine,” by Alexandra Ripley (1996), we read the following passage where the disciple Thomas says,
“He (Jesus) had told us (his followers) that he would be killed and be buried, to rise on the third day. I did not believe him when he said it…”
The religious leader of a budding new religion, prophesized his own death, days before the actual event.
Jesus is not the only religious leader to have experienced a DBV. In the Jewish mystical writings of the Sefer Ha-Zohar, also known as the Book of Splendor, said to have been written by the second century Palestinian Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, DBVs are discussed in some detail. Kabbalism, a mystical branch of Judaism, teaches that DBVs should be expected. In Rabbi Simcha Paul Raphael’s wonderful book titled, “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” (1996) we read a quote on DBVs from the Zohar.
“Thus, the Zohar teaches that “at the time of a man’s death he is allowed to see his relatives and companions from the other world?” (I, 219a). Similarly, “we have learned that when a man’s soul departs from him, all his relatives and companions in the other world join in and show it the place of delight…” (I, 219a).”
In this work, Rabbi Simcha also shares DBV tales of famous Hasidic Rabbis. The Hasidic branch of Judaism was founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov in the early to mid 18th century. As this spiritual leader died, he was able to describe to his followers how his soul was leaving his body. When he was buried, his follows said they saw his soul head toward the heavens in the form of a blue flame. Here is another Hasidic DBV taken from Rabbi Simcha’s research.
“Hasidic literature abounds with stories describing the deathbed experiences of many Hasidic Rebbes. These stories are often very detailed and show how many Rebbes made the transition from physical plane life, with a sense of equanimity and calm.
There were some Rebbes able to describe the visions they witnessed as death approached. In the hour before he died, Rabbi Shmelke of Sasov saw standing beside him his deceased father…”
After discovering DBVs within the literature of two of the most popular religions in the world, I decided that my experience was not unusual at all! While investigating the deaths of a number of historical figures, I came across even more examples of the deathbed vision phenomena. One of these accounts involved President Abraham Lincoln.
All of us are familiar with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We can’t escape elementary school without hearing how the “Great Emancipator” was gunned down at a theater by the unsavory John Booth. Though we are aware of this famous tragedy, how many of us know that Lincoln had a strange dream about his death several days before he was assassinated? In the book, “Abraham Lincoln, The Man Behind The Myths” (1994) by Stephen B. Oates, this dream, as it was related to Lincoln’s friend, Will Hill Lamon, is told.
“There seemed to be a death like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. I went from room to room…the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along…I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse…’Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President,?’ was the answer, ”He was killed by an assassin.’ Then there came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever sense.” Did President Lincoln have a Deathbed Vision about his own assassination? Was this a warning or just a fluke?
After I read through this study, I just happened to have a visit with a long time acquaintance. She was very upset about her mother’s recent passing. We went to a small quiet Mediterranean cafe for a bite of lunch and privacy. After finishing our meal, we each order a strong cup of Turkish coffee. As we sipped our thick, sweet delights, she said, “You know, when mom was dying, she said something very weird.” The word “weird” quickly distracted me from my coffee. “Oh?” I replied. My friend now had my complete attention. “What was so weird about it?” I asked. With this she said, “A few hours before Mom passed, she became clear as a bell. I mean she was her same old self again. Up until that point, she seemed confused and not really with it. I was sitting with her watching the evening news when suddenly she opened her eyes, sat up, looked directly at the ceiling and said, “Yes dear, I know. I will be there in a second.” After this, she laid back down, turned to me and said, “Hello.” For a few moments we had a bit of a conversation about the kids and my husband. Then she ended our brief talk by saying, ‘I love you very much.’ After that, she passed.”
After wiping a tear from her cheek, my friend continued. “Initially, my exchange with my mother before she died was very confusing to me. At first, I thought maybe she had been hallucinating before she spoke directly to me, but then I thought about it for a while. If she was hallucinating, why was she so clear and able to talk coherently, not only to whom ever she was referring to as “dear,” but with me? For weeks after her death, this one thought really bugged me. Several months later, I had a childhood memory. My father died when I was very young, but I do remember, he was the only person my mother ever called “dear.” You might think this is strange but…..I wonder, could he have come back to help mom die?”
My friend’s share about her mother’s passing sounded just like several of the DBVs described in many of the historical death and dying books I had been investigating. “Yes,” I thought to myself. “I’m on the right path. Not only have I received validation of my own DBV from the writings of researchers such as Barrett, Osis and Harraldsson, but now from a friend. Death is not the end. Our loves ones are still a live on the other side.” With a smile, I looked at my bewildered girlfriend and replied, “Sounds like your Mother had a very special visitation before she died.”
Since then, I have heard countless DBV accounts from not only patients in my private practice but from individuals around the world. Though mainstream science still ignores these visions, brushing them off as the result of a dying brain, medication and a fear of dying, scientific research has proven that such theories just do not provide a complete explanation. If these visions were only the result of a dying brain, why do family and friends of the one passing also experience DBV’s? If such visions were only a by product of medication, why is it that time and time again, dying individuals who are not medicated report these visions? And finally, these visions not only visit the very religious, but also occur for the atheist.
Though the dying often report celestial beings, angels, religious figures and scenes of heaven, visions of deceased loved ones make up the bulk of DBV accounts. If the dying are hallucinating, why are the visions consistent from person to person? As a mental health practitioner, I can confidently say that the hallucinations of the mentally ill look nothing like DBV’s. It is time to take the DBV experience out of the dusty files of a few researchers and place them into the hands of the public at large.