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Deathbed Phenomena

By Dr. Ong Tien Kwan


Since time immemorial, people have been reporting stories about “strange” things that happened when a person is at the end of his or her life. These stories cut across cultures, although they may be variation in each culture.

Books have been written about these end-of-life phenomena. Christine Longaker’s “Facing Death Finding Hope”, Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley’s “Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communication of the Dying” and the recent Peter Fenwick’s “The Art of Dying” books all share the same phenomena and stories.

Some of these common phenomena at end of life are:

  • Premonition of Death
  • Deathbed Visions
  • Transition
  • Preparation for a Journey
  • Terminal Lucidity
  • Deathbed Coincidences
Premonition of Death

Premonition is early knowledge before the occurrence of an event. According to some traditions, if one is sensitive enough, the knowledge of one’s death may occur as early as two years before its actual occurrence. Most premonitions of death, however, occur much closer to the actual events.

Peter Fenwick shared a story of a man who put all his affairs in order a couple of weeks before he died in a fatal flight.

Sometimes, the knowledge of impending death occurs to someone close to the person who is about to die, either a spouse or a child of the person who is about to die.

Deathbed Visions

Deathbed visions are persons, places and things seen by the dying person that are generally not visible to the livings. They usually occurs months or weeks before the actual death. Most reports are of the dying person seeing loved ones or relatives who have passed away earlier.

Deathbed visions are usually comforting to the dying. The death relatives are often there to prepare the dying person for his or her transition to the other side. Having someone close and familiar guiding one at this time is reassuring, comforting and loving.

Transition

This transition phase or the phase of an alternate reality occurs close to death, usually weeks or days before death occurs. The dying person is able to see the other side, or part of it, and the visions are usually of a beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes, spiritual beings are also visible to the dying.

One’s cultural and personal belief systems are thought to influence what is seen. For example, Dr. Peter Fenwick’s stories from his UK samples often talked of a beautiful English country home, while in the East the dying may often see something closer to their own culture.

Preparation for a Journey

Often, the dying person will talk about the need to prepare for a journey, trip or travel. A train or plane ticket needed to be purchased, clothes needed to be packed or simply a need to inform loved ones that he or she is making a journey soon.

This is said in a matter-of-fact way, with a clear and lucid mind. Often, those around the dying person might felt confused, or that it is out of context, and simply brush it off.

A better response might be to calmly ask the dying person to elaborate and explain in greater details, if more information is available, regarding the journey.

Terminal Lucidity

Terminal lucidity is an extraordinary event that occurs very close to death. It is as if the dying has a sudden spurt of clarity and energy just before death. Sometimes, even physical disabilities seem to have disappeared in this phase, which is often short but dramatic.

For example, a dying person in coma for a long time might suddenly wake up, with a clear and conscious mind, recognising everyone and chatting normally. Else, a person who are paralysed and bedridden suddenly got up from bed as if there was no paralysis. There are even stories of persons with severe dementia being suddenly lucid and clear just before death.

Deathbed Coincidences

These are events that happened at the time of the person’s death. For example, birds have been reported to be seen hanging by the window perch of the room of the person who have just died. Others have also reported light streaming into the room or nearby rooms. Sometimes, wisp of smoke is seen leaving the dead body.

Clocks and watches have been reported to have stopped just at the moment of death.

Even more amazingly, sometimes loved ones who were not present at the dead person’s bedside encounter experiences that appeared to inform them of the death of their loved one. For example, a mother in Australia dreamed of seeing her son, drenched wet, visiting her under a stream of light. The next day, she found out that her son, who was in England, had drowned the day before.

Science have no reliable methods to verify or disprove any of these phenomena. However, there are just too many reports of these phenomena, and they occur across cultures, to simply dismiss them as hallucinations or confusion. In fact, these phenomena happened in very lucid and clear-minded persons, not those who are in confusions or disturbed.

While science is very uncomfortable assigning these phenomena to spirituality, we as individuals would benefit from reflecting on our spiritual reality. We are not just this physical body. We are spiritual beings.

© 2019 Dr. Ong Tien Kwan