Halfway between two worlds

Oh Arline, it’s so strange here.” Arline’s mother commented as she lay dying. “I’m in a never-never land. I’m halfway between two worlds.”

What are we to make of this? Could a dying brain provide Arline’s mother with hallucinations simply to ease her fears? If so, what clever brains we all must have!

Near-death experiences have been the ‘flavor of the month’ for 40 years, yet deathbed visions, which also provide strong veridical evidence, are rarely discussed.

Could it be that dying for real is more threatening for most than the prospect of spending a few minutes checking out heaven during an NDE?

It wasn’t too long ago that family members were shunted out of hospital rooms when their loved ones began making their transition. While I  understand the reasoning for this – it was considered far too confronting to witness the dying process of a loved one – such enforced separation not only robbed them of some sense of closure, it also deprived many of the opportunity to share profound insights.

In the nineteenth century and earlier, people appear to have been more aware of the significance of this mystical moment. In those days, most died at home surrounded by loved ones, and their dying words were often written in diaries or bibles and shared with family members who were not present at the time.

When ten-year old Daisy was dying of scarlet fever in 1864, her mother wrote down every word her daughter uttered and published it as a book in 1894.

In Daisy Dryden: A Memoir, we learn that Daisy often spoke of (and to) her deceased brother, Allie:

I do wish you could see Allie,” Daisy said to her mother on one occasion. “He is standing beside you. He says you cannot see him because your spirit-eyes are closed, but that I can, because my body only holds my spirit … by a thread of life.”


Such deathbed statements are not unusual. One of the first books on this subject – appropriately called Death Bed Visions – was a collection of historical accounts gathered by Sir William Barrett, a scientist who was appalled by the Spiritualism craze sweeping the world at that time.

In everyone’s life, however, there comes that moment when beliefs and attitudes are put to the test. Barrett’s moment came when his wife – a distinguished surgeon and gynaecologist – attended Doris, who successfully gave birth but owing to a serious heart condition, could not be saved.

Lady Barrett later related Doris’ final words to Sir Barrett:

“Oh lovely, lovely.” Doris had said, looking up at the ceiling and smiling. When asked what was lovely, she replied:  “Lovely brightness, wonderful beings ….”

Doris’ baby was brought to her and she questioned whether she should stay for the baby’s sake, then quickly added “I can’t – I can’t stay. If you could see what I do, you would know I can’t stay.”

While this is typical of death-bed visions and proves nothing, Lady Barrett related one further comment by Doris:

Why, it’s Father!” she announced. “Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming. He is so near!” Then, with a puzzled expression, she added: “he has Vida with him.”

Doris’ mother later confirmed that Doris’ sister Vida had recently died, but the family had agreed not to tell her due to her weakened condition.

This intrigued her skeptical husband and he spent the last two years of his life collecting other accounts from around the world. His  book was posthumously published in 1926.

osisMany assume these visions are merely hallucinations caused by a dying brain, but Karlis Osis,Ph.D, would not agree. Osis conducted research in the late 1950’s and found that when healthy people hallucinated people, they saw living ones, while the visions of the dying were of those who had previously passed. (Deathbed Observations by Physicians and Nurses, 1961)

The highly esteemed psychiatrist and thanatologist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, made a similar observation. She asked hospitalized children aged five to seven who they would most love to have with them if they could choose, and not surprisingly, 99% replied that it would be their mothers or fathers.

If deathbed visions are merely the mind’s way of providing comfort in the dying hours, then one would expect that these children would hallucinate visions of their parents.

kubler-ross Ah, but then Dr. Ross dropped her bombshell: “In all the many years that we have collected this kind of data,” she wrote in On Death and Dying (1969), “we have never met a child who, in the imminence of their own death, mentioned a person in their family that had not preceded them in death, even if only by a few minutes.”

Ross provided many outstanding examples to illustrate this. One poignant account was of a young girl involved in a tragic car accident with her parents and siblings. The girl suffered life-threatening injuries and Dr. Ross sat beside her to provide comfort as she died.

Suddenly, the girl announced that “everything is all right now. Mummy and Peter are already waiting for me.”

Prior to this, Dr. Ross had neither the courage nor the opportunity to tell the dying girl her mother had been killed in the accident. As the girl’s brother, Peter, had been taken to another hospital, Ross had no information about his condition.

A short time later, Dr. Ross received a call from the other hospital. Peter had died ten minutes before his sister passed.

This experience of being greeted by someone thought to be still alive but later found to have died is so common that it has it’s own label. It is known as a ‘Peak in Darien’ experience. But that’s another story, probably for another blog.

I have collected so many veridical accounts over the years, I could write a book.

Oh, wait a minute, I AM writing a book!

But I can’t resist including just one more intriguing account. This one concerns the second president of the United States, John Adams, who, with life-long friend and occasional adversary, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1779.

Once retired, Jefferson lived in Virginia while Adams resided in Massachusetts, but the two men kept in regular contact through letters.

johnadamsIt is sufficiently remarkable that John Adams died on July 4th, 1826 – on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration he had drafted with Jefferson.

But wait, there’s more!

Moments before taking his last breath, Adams’ eyes opened wide. He stared intently at the foot of his bed, and in the presence of those gathered around he announced:

“Thomas Jefferson …. survives!”

jeffersonIt was not known until later that Jefferson had chosen that same auspicious day to depart this world, beating Adams into the afterlife by just a few minutes.

Had John Adams’ old friend been at his bedside to welcome him over?

What do you think?

You are welcome to leave a comment. The comment link is at the top of this post, just below the title.




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