Author Patricia Pearson recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post discussing what she discovered after researching the dying process and how people cross over into death for her book, Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After. Pearson set out on this journey prompted by her own profound experiences surrounding the death of her father and sister. Numerous people around the world have experienced the same coincidences when a loved one dies. Some experience these visions while they themselves are dying. The phenomena seems to point toward a spiritual reality, and the reality of something else after death.
As Christians we know there is a life after this mortal experience. We believe that through the death and blood of Jesus Christ we have been redeemed (Ephesians 1:7) and will receive immortal life with God in Heaven after we die. We are surrounded by a cultural framework that dismisses anything that cannot be explained by science and views mystical, spiritual experiences as sparks from a dying physical brain.
Pearson, an investigative journalist, set out in an open-minded inquiry into what she calls, “Nearing Death Awareness.” She said most people keep the deathbed experiences secret. They tend to never discuss what happened for fear they will be discounted. When these occurrences take place, their power to console, comfort, and transform our understanding of death is immeasurable. In her article she points out the top five things she feels the dying would like us to know.
The first thing the dying want us to know is they know when they are going. Within 72 hours of death the journey will begin. Talk of going somewhere arises and they dying may often speak in metaphors about travel. After interviewing dozens of people who have been with terminally ill patients and have had deathbed experiences or have come back from death, Pearson found there is common talk of requesting their shoes, or their plane tickets because they understand they are about to leave and go somewhere else. Some even demand to go home when they are in their home, but to them home is somewhere else just out of their reach. Pearson described how her sister, while lay dying of breast cancer, became frustrated at the end saying, "I don't know how to leave." Her sister mentioned others being near her, the "hapless flight attendants," as well.
Nurse and co-author of Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying, Patrica Kelley, is the person who come up with the term “nearing death awareness" after having helped hundreds of patients transition through death. The vision of a journey is comforting to the living, because it means the dying are not picturing an end. They see death as a trip to somewhere else and that is no accident.
It second thing the dying want us to understand is often dismissed as side effects to the powerful pain medications people are taking, but they dying say dead family members and friends can come back to greet them. Psychologists Karlis Osis, PhD, and Erlendur Haraldsson, PhD, of the University of Iceland compared deathbed experiences. The majority of patients who were still conscious within an hour of their death all saw deceased loved ones welcoming or calling them. This happened regardless of whether or not they were medicated.
Pearson described her interviewed with a woman named Audrey Scott, 84, who was dying of cancer. Mrs. Scott said she was receiving visits from her adopted son Frankie. He predeceased her by several years. She described him as sitting quietly in a nearby armchair. Sometimes people saw friends or family they didn’t know had died yet. One woman who was dying in childbirth told obstetrician Lady Florence Barrett in hospital in Dublin that she saw her deceased father before her, but she was confused. "He has Vida with him," she told her. She was referring to her sister, Vida, whose death three weeks earlier had been kept from woman.
The third thing the dying want us to know is there is more to that infamous white light that people understand. The real truth is that this light is perceived as a feeling just as much as a visual experience. Near death survivors are often described as shattered by the emotional power of this light. Dr. Yvonne Kason, who survived being in a plane crash, compared the light to an extraordinary love, a motherly love. She said she felt like she was a newborn baby on her mother's shoulder, utterly safe. She added, "It was like I'd been lost for centuries and I'd found my way home." Although still present and conscious in this world the dying begin to see and remark upon the beauty of another world as they pass through this white light.
The fourth thing the dying want us to keep in mind is that when they are dead they will come to you to say goodbye in some way. In study after study Pearson found nearly 50 percent of the grieving sense the presence of their lost loved ones after the pass. This may happen at the moment of their death, or it may occur sometime later. The psychiatric world call these instances "grief hallucinations," since the science of such personal spiritual experiences remains misunderstood. The majority of experiences involve the sense of a strong presence of the deceased. We are not talking about a fleeting, shadowy sense, but more of a very a vivid and specific sense their loved one is near. The presence can be so overwhelming for the raw emotions of the bereaved, people often burst into tears.
Toronto advertising executive Karen Simons told Pearson of a cold night six weeks after her father died. She said, "I'm driving on the highway, and into the passenger seat comes Dad. I could feel him settle in. He had a very distinctive lean to the left. He rode with me from Kennedy Rd. to Pickering, 10 miles. It was incredibly real, and it was completely transforming." Her father died abruptly, without a warning illness, in the middle of the night. Pearson said it happened within her own family when her sister Katharine, awoke in her bedroom and sensed a presence near her. She described feeling hands gently cupping the back of her head. She was immersed with feelings of contentment and joy, and says the experience so vivid and very strange. She found it remarkable and shared it with her son. Shortly afterwards everyone found out their father had died.
The fifth thing the dying want us to understand is that once in a while a living person may witness the white light if they are nearby during the dying’s transition. Psychiatrist Raymond Moody, PhD, coined the term "near-death experience" in his book Life After Life. He described how people may occasionally co-experience the sense of entering the light during the death stage. Florida-based palliative-care psychologist Kathleen Dowling Singh, PhD, spoke of what she has seen, saying, "The dying become radiant and speak of walking through a room lit by a lantern, or of their body filling with sunlight. Sometimes, if only for a moment, their family members do, too.”
Psychologist Joan Borysenko, PhD, described having her own personal experience when her 81-year-old mother died at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She said the room seemed to fill with a brilliant white light. Both she and her teenage son witnessed this. They both watched her mother rise out of her body in spirit form.
When we lose someone we love it is easy to become lost in the grief. It is important that we understand the pay attention to what the dying have to say. They come around to comfort us after they cross over to Heaven and Heaven is real.
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