On “deathbed visions”

On “deathbed visions” April 21, 2019


In SoCal
A nice image from southern California, where I was born and raised, suggestive of a tunnel with light at the end.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain)


In this passage, from an uncompleted manuscript on my computer, I draw on Erlendur Haraldsson and Karlis Osis, At the Hour of Death: A New Look at Evidence for Life After Death:


Such accounts do not seem to be dismissible as mere bereavement fantasies.  Responding to the question whether “deathbed visions are merely outward projections of the patient’s psyche,” Osis and Haraldsson note that

our data have shown that terminal patients did not see in their visions those persons they had expressed a desire to see; nor did their visions seem to be directly related to indices of stress, moods, or worries.  Further, we found that deathbed visions also occurred to those who did not expect to die.  In many cases the intent of the apparitions seemed to be very different from that of the patients.  Such characteristics in deathbed visions support the hypothesis that some apparitions may be independent entities and not merely outward projections from the patient’s psyche. . . .  [E]motions present during the rise of mood [that very often accompanies deathbed visions] were radically new and not simply a continuation of previous moods. . . .  Patients who thought they would recover and those who expected to die saw visions of another world with the same frequency.  Their expectations or wishful thinking apparently did not shape the visions.[1]

Nor do such experiences seem always, or ever, to emerge from a patient’s guilty conscience.[2]  Not uncommonly, the apparitions or deathbed visions studied by Osis and Haraldsson came as total surprises to those who experienced them:

A man, 50, with coronary disease, saw an old friend who had been dead for some time.  “Why [he named the person] what are you doing here?”  Those were his last words he spoke before he died.[3]

A sixty-two –year-old ex-Marine in New York City was dying from cancer of the prostate.  He told his doctor that he was an atheist.  To the doctor’s surprise, the patient had a vision of Christ—which lasted a few minutes—appear in his room.[4]


[1] $Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, 90, 142, 176.

[2] $Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, 96.

[3] $Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, 38.

[4] $Osis and Haraldsson, At the Hour of Death, 96.


This sort of thing strikes me as broadly appropriate for thinking about on an Easter Sunday.



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