The Trigger of Deathbed
Dr. Carla Wills-Brandon's Research
Deathbed Visions (DBVs) - also known
as "nearing death awareness" - refer to
paranormal experiences occurring to people
who are dying. There are many examples of
deathbed phenomena in both non-fiction and
fictional literature, which suggests that
these occurrences have been noted by cultures
around the world for centuries, although
scientific study of them is relatively recent.
Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick
published in their book,
The Art of Dying, collated examples
of unusual happenings at the time of someone's
death. The dying person may report seeing
deceased relatives or friends and having
conversations with them or be overcome with
a feeling of joy and happiness. If
we accept deathbed visions at face value
they provide glimpses of what awaits us
when we ourselves make the transition. The
following are some true accounts of deathbed
visions from Dr. Carla Wills-Brandon's research
into deathbed visions from her book,
One Last Hug Before I Go. Included in
this article are deathbed accounts from
Sir William Barrett in his classic book
Death-Bed Visions: The Psychical Experiences
of the Dying.
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Introduction to Deathbed Visions
Staff working in hospices
frequently relate paranormal occurrences around
the time of a patient's death. According to a study
published in the American Journal of Hospice &
The Incidence of Deathbed Communications and Their
Impact on the Dying Process by
Dr. Madelaine Lawrence and
Dr. Elizabeth Repede, hospice nurses identified
363 incidences of DBCs, with the typical hospice
nurse sees approximately five patients a month with
deathbed communication (DBC). Lawrence and Repede
prefer "deathbed communications" (DBCs) rather than
"deathbed visions" because some communication is
auditory and some tactile in addition to being visual.
The purpose of their study was to determine the
incidence of DBCs during the 30 days before death
and their impact on the dying process. A total of
60 hospice chart audits and 75 survey responses
by hospice nurses across the United States were
analyzed. In all, 89% of the hospice nurses reported
patients who experienced a DBC had a peaceful and
calm death, with only 40.5% reporting a peaceful
and calm death without the DBC. According to their
study, these DBCs have a positive impact on the
dying process but are underreported in patient records
and under described in textbooks.
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Examples of Cases of Deathbed Visions from Dr. Carla
A Dying Mother's Deathbed Vision
"My mother had been in and
out of hospitals over the last year, near death
at each admission. She was coherent and not delusional.
She had congestive heart failure and lung and kidney
cancer spread throughout her body. One morning in
the hospital room, about 2 a.m. when all was quiet,
my mother stared out the door of her room and into
the hall that led to the nurse's station and the
other patient's rooms.
"I said, 'Momma, what
do you see?'
"And she said, 'Don't you see
them? They walk the hall day and night. They are
"She said this with quiet calmness.
The revelation of this statement might send fear
into some, but my mother and I had seen spiritual
visions many years prior, so this statement was
not a shock for me to hear, or for her to see. I,
however, this time, I did not see them. This small
conversation was not mentioned again.
surgeon said there was no point in treatment as
the cancer had spread throughout her body. He said
she might have six months to live, at the most;
maybe three months.
"I brought her home to
die. She passed four weeks later.
of her (unexpected) passing, she was restless and
anxious. Although my mother was a spiritual person,
she had been in denial throughout her illness and
declining health. She did not want to die, therefore
she would not acknowledge the prognosis or her condition.
She always talked as if she were going to get well
and making plans of things to do in the coming spring.
"About 7:30 p.m. she asked to be carried out
to the enclosed front porch. It was winter and cold.
But, she insisted and by this time, I would not
deny my mother any request.
"I wrapped her
in blankets and made her as comfortable as possible.
My mother was an invalid and could not support herself
in anyway without help.
"A few minutes before
8 p.m. she said, 'I have to go. They're here. They're
waiting for me.'
"Her face glowed and the
color returned to her pale face as she attempted
to raise herself and stand up.
words were, 'I have to go. It is beautiful!'
"And she then passed at 8 p.m."
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A Dying Uncle's Deathbed Vision
"I found the subject of
deathbed visions oddly reassuring as my favorite
uncle died this morning at 7:30 a.m. CST. He has
been ill with terminal cancer for over two years
now and we knew the end was near.
said he knew it was time to go and asked his son-in-law
to cut his hair and trim his beard last night, then
asked to be bathed.
"My aunt sat with him
"A few hours before he died he
said, 'Uncle Charley, you're here! I can't believe
"He proceeded to talk to uncle Charley
right up to the end, and told my aunt that Uncle
Charley had come to help him over to the other side.
"His Uncle Charley was his favorite uncle, and
is the only significant other in my uncle's life
who has passed on.
"So I believe Uncle Charley
did come to take Uncle Timmy to the other side,
and it brings me great comfort."
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Examples of Cases of Deathbed Visions from Sir William
Barrett's Research and Others
Visions of the Dying Who Are Greeted By People Unknown
To Them To Be Dead
There are instances where
the dying person is unaware of the previous death
of a loved one, and is therefore astonished to find
on their deathbed a vision of that deceased loved
one whom the dying person believes to be still alive.
These cases are, perhaps, one of the most convincing
arguments for survival after death, as the accuracy
of these deathbed visions are greatly enhanced when
the fact is undeniably established that the dying
person was completely ignorant of the death of the
person they so vividly see. Such deathbed visions
are also known as "Peak in Darien" experiences after
a book by that name published in 1882 by
Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) an Irish writer,
social reformer and leading suffragette. The title
of her book, "Peak
in Darien" and the name of "Peak in Darien"
deathbed visions, are taken from a poem entitled
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer by the
English romantic poet,
John Keats (1795-1821), who referred to
the shock of the Spaniards, who, after sailing
the Atlantic Ocean and scaling a peak in Darien
(in what is now the Panama Canal), expected to see
a continent but were awestruck when confronted instead
with another ocean - the Pacific Ocean. People on
their deathbeds are similarly awestruck when they
meet a recently deceased person of whose death neither
they nor anyone around them had any knowledge. Such
"Peak in Darien" deathbed visions exclude the possibility
of the vision being a hallucination related to the
experiencer's expectations. Frances Cobbe describes
this phenomenon as follows:
"The dying person
is lying quietly, when suddenly, in the
very act of expiring, he looks up - sometimes
starts up in bed - and gazes on (what appears
to be) vacancy, with an expression of astonishment,
sometimes developing instantly into joy,
and sometimes cut short in the first emotion
of solemn wonder and awe. If the dying man
were to see some utterly - unexpected but
instantly recognized vision, causing him
a great surprise, or rapturous joy, his
face could not better reveal the fact. The
very instant this phenomenon occurs, death
is actually taking place, and the eyes glaze
even while they gaze at the unknown sight."
Another "Peak in Darien"
deathbed vision example comes from Frances Cobbe
documents is an incident of a very striking nature:
"A dying lady, exhibiting
the aspect of joyful surprise, spoke of
seeing, one after another, three of her
brothers who had been long dead, and then
apparently recognized last of all a fourth
brother, who was believed by the bystanders
to be still living in India. The coupling
of his name with that of his dead brothers
excited such awe and horror in the mind
of one of the persons present that she rushed
from the room. In due course of time letters
were received announcing the death of the
brother in India, which had occurred some
time before his dying sister seemed to recognize
Sir William F. Barrett (1844-1925), an English
physicist and parapsychologist, documented a "Peak
in Darien" deathbed case in
Chapter 2 of his book entitled
Death-Bed Visions: The Psychical Experiences of
the Dying. This case is a well authenticated
one and comes from the distinguished doctor of divinity
and Unitarian minister,
Dr. Minot J. Savage (1841-1918), with whom Barrett
was acquainted. Dr. Savage recorded the following
case in one of his books entitled
Psychical Research and the Resurrection and
was confirmed by Barrett as follows:
"Dr. Savage told
me personally of the facts and gave me the
names and addresses of the persons on whose
authority he tells the incidents."
Dr. Savage narrates, as
"In a neighboring
city were two little girls, Jennie and Edith,
one about eight years of age and the other
but a little older. They were schoolmates
and intimate friends. In June, 1889, both
were taken ill of diphtheria. At noon on
Wednesday Jennie died. Then the parents
of Edith, and her physician as well, took
particular pains to keep from her the fact
that her little playmate was gone. They
feared the effect of the knowledge on her
own condition. To prove that they succeeded
and that she did not know, it may be mentioned
that on Saturday, June 8th, at noon, just
before she became unconscious of all that
was passing about her, she selected two
of her photographs to be sent to Jennie,
and also told her attendants to bid her
good-bye. She died at half-past six o'clock
on the evening of Saturday, June 8th. She
had roused and bidden her friends good-bye,
and was talking of dying, and seemed to
have no fear. She appeared to see one and
another of the friends she knew were dead.
So far it was like other similar cases.
But now suddenly, and with every appearance
of surprise, she turned to her father and
I am going to take Jennie with me!"
Then she added, "Why, papa! you
did not tell me that Jennie was
she reached out her arms as if in welcome,
I'm so glad you are here!'"
Another "Peak in Darien"
deathbed vision was documented by the pioneering
Edmund Gurney and
Frederic W.H. Myers who described the case of
John Alkin Ogle, who, an hour before he died, saw
his brother who had died 16 years earlier, calling
him by name. Ogle then called out in surprise, “George
Hanley!,” which was the name of a casual acquaintance
in a village 40 miles away, before expiring. His
mother, who was visiting from Hanley’s village,
then confirmed that Hanley had died 10 days earlier,
a fact that no one else in the room had known.
"Peak in Darien" experiences
are not limited to deathbed visions as they occur
in NDEs as well. In a paper by
Dr. Bruce Greyson from the
Division of Perceptual Studies at the University
of Virginia entitled,
Seeing Dead People Not Known to Have Died: Peak
in Darien Experiences
Greyson argues that in his collection of 665 NDEs,
138 (21%) included a meeting with a deceased person.
Greyson reports in his paper, published in the academic
and Humanism, many examples, including that
of Physician K. M. Dale who related the case of
9-year-old Eddie Cuomo:
"... whose fever
finally broke after nearly 36 hours of anxious
vigil on the part of his parents and hospital
personnel. As soon as he opened his eyes,
at 3:00 in the morning, Eddie urgently told
his parents that he had been to heaven,
where he saw his deceased Grandpa Cuomo,
Auntie Rosa, and Uncle Lorenzo. Then Eddie
added that he also saw his 19-year-old sister
Teresa, who told him he had to go back.
His father became agitated, because he had
spoken with Teresa, who was attending college
in Vermont, just two nights ago. Later that
morning, when Eddie’s parents telephoned
the college, they learned that Teresa had
been killed in an automobile accident just
after midnight, and that college officials
had tried unsuccessfully to reach the Cuomos
at their home to inform them of the tragic
Dr. Greyson cites many other
such examples which can be read online on
Michael Prescott's Blog including cases in which
the deceased person seen was someone whom the experiencer
had never known.
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Deathbed Visions Seen by the Dying and by Others
Deathbed visions of the
dying that are also viewed by person(s) present
at the scene are called
shared death experiences
(SDEs), a term coined by
Dr. Raymond Moody
in his book entitled
Glimpses of Eternity:
An Investigation Into Shared Death Experiences.
One very credible example of a SDE is the documented
deathbed vision of the American poet,
(1858-1919), who is best known as the literary executor
and biographer of his friend, famous poet
(1819 -1892), about whom he compiled nine volumes
entitled "Walt Whitman in Camden." It is taken from
a fuller narrative in the
Journal of American Society
of Psychical Research
(1921, Vol. XV, pp. 114-123). An abridged account
of the incident comes from Flora MacDonald Denison,
who was present at Traubel's deathbed, and was published
in the April-May issue of a Magazine entitled,
The Sunset of Bon Echo
"All day on August
28th Horace was very low spirited. Anne's
illness and the going of the Bains was too
much for him. Mildred was with him a good
deal and we decided not to leave him a minute.
He had been brought in from the veranda
but absolutely radiant, and on seeing me,
he called out:
look, Flora, quick, quick, he is
Horace,' I said, 'what do you see?
I cannot see anyone.'
over the rock Walt appeared, head
and shoulders and hat on in a golden
glory - brilliant and splendid.
He reassured me - beckoned to me,
and spoke to me. I heard his voice
but did not understand all, he said,
only 'Come on.'"
"Frank Bain soon
came in and he repeated the story to him.
All the rest of the evening Horace was uplifted
and happy. So often Horace would say, 'Do
not despise me for my weakness,' but now
he was quite confident, even jocular, as
I handed him a drink.
"On the night
of September 3rd Horace was very low. I
stayed for a few hours with him. Once his
eyes rolled; I thought he was dying, but
he just wanted me to turn him. As I did
so, he listened and seemed to hear something.
"Then he said:
Walt's voice, he is talking to me.'
'What does he say?'
'Walt says, 'Come on, come on.'
a time he said, 'Flora, I see them
all about me, Bob and Bucke and
Walt and the rest.'
had been with Horace in the afternoon and
had seen Walt on the opposite side of the
bed, and felt his presence. Then Walt passed
through the bed and touched the Colonel's
hand, which was in his pocket. The contact
was like an electric shock. Horace was also
aware of Walt's visible presence and said
so. There was no gloom about the house.
No one seemed depressed. A feeling of triumph,
of pride, and of exultation permeated the
a letter from Colonel Cosgrave was received
by the American Society of Psychical Research confirming
the statement given by Flora Denison above.
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Other Types of Deathbed Visions Reported by Sir
Barrett has also documented
Chapter 4 of his book where visions are seen
by living people of persons who are dying from a
great distance away from them. According to Barrett,
in such cases the soul of the dying appears to be
transported to a different place on Earth where
they are able to be with living loved one(s) from
a remote distance. Barrett referred to such cases
as "travelling clairvoyance" and numerous well-attested
facts of this kind have been collected in a two-volume
Phantasms of the Living by parapsychology researchers
Edmund Gurney and
Frederic W.H. Myers along with an opponent of
spiritualism and well-known psychical investigator
Frank Podmore. The modern term for such deathbed
visions are called "empathetic death experiences."
Peter Fenwick in his book,
The Art of Dying, people associated with the
dying person have not only reported empathetic death
visions of the dying person when they are many miles
away; but they have also reported suddenly sensing
the feelings of a loved one on the verge of death
many miles away, the experience of pets howling
or behaving as if someone has arrived when no one
is visible, and having clocks stop and electrical
devices spontaneously switching themselves on or
malfunctioning in some way. A similar phenomenon
after-death communications (ADCs), can occur
long after a loved one has died and a living person
related to the deceased suddenly sees an apparition
of the deceased or experiences some form of contact
with them. The webmaster of this website,
Kevin Williams and members of his family, experienced
for several years ADCs of their deceased mother
in the form of
Chapter 5 of Barrett's book, he documents instances
where music is heard at the time of death by the
dying or by persons present at a deathbed. One example
is a case published in the
Journal of the Society of Psychical Research
(Vol. IV, p. 181.) In this instance, the subject
was a deaf mute by the name of John Britton who
was taken dangerously ill with rheumatic fever which
caused his hands and fingers (which were his only
means of conversation) to become so swollen he could
not use them, greatly to the distress of his relatives
to whom he could not make known his wants nor his
sufferings. The narrator was Mr. S. Allen of Steward
of Haileybury College and a brother-in-law of John
Britton who stated how the doctor, believing John
would not recover, sent for members of his family.
He adds that when he and his wife were in a room
below John's bedroom, they were greatly surprised
to hear music coming from upstairs and ran up at
once to find out what it was. He narrates as follows:
"We found Jack lying
on his back with his eyes fixed on the ceiling,
and his face lighted up with the brightest
of smiles. After a little while Jack awoke
and used the words 'Heaven' and 'beautiful'
as well as he could by means of his lips
and facial expression. As he became more
conscious he also told us in the same manner
that his brother Tom and his sister Harriet
were coming to see him. This we considered
very unlikely as they lived some distance
off, but shortly afterwards a cab drove
up from which they alighted. They had sent
no intimation of their coming, nor had anyone
else. After Jack's partial recovery, when
he was able to write or converse upon his
fingers, he told us that he had been allowed
to see into Heaven and to hear most beautiful
Mr. Allen asked:
"How did John know
that Tom and Harriet were travelling, and
how could he have heard these musical sounds
which we also heard?"
Mr. Allen remarked that the
music could not have come from next door or from
the street and gave a rough description of his house
to show it was not in a row of houses nor could
the music be due to any normal cause. Mrs. Allen
confirms her husband's statement and said she heard
the sounds of singing which came from her brother's
bedroom and that when she entered the bedroom he
was in a comatose state and smiling. His lips were
moving as if he were in conversation with someone;
but no sound came from them. Mrs. Allen continues:
"When he had recovered
sufficiently to use his hands he told me
more details of what he had seen, and used
the words 'beautiful music.'"
She adds that her brother
died a few years later, and stated how:
"The nurse and I
were watching in the room, my brother was
looking just as he did on the former occasion,
smiling, and he said quite distinctly and
articulately 'Angels' and 'Home.'"
Chapter 6 of Barrett's book, he documents instances
where living people observe of the spirit of a dying
person leaving the body. According to Barrett:
"Many well authenticated
cases are on record where the relatives
of a person, watching by the deathbed, have
seen at the moment of death a cloudy form
rising from the body of the deceased and
hovering for a time in the room and then
Barrett gives an example
of such a case from a letter sent to him by a well-known
dignitary of a Church in New South Wales in which
he describes the death of his son a few years ago.
He wrote that at about 3.30 pm,
"... something rise
as it were from his face like a delicate
veil or mist, and slowly pass away."
"We were deeply
impressed and remarked, 'How wonderful!
Surely that must be the departure of his
spirit.' We were not at all distracted so
as to be mistaken in what we saw."
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Links to Deathbed Vision Articles, Videos and Books
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