My client’s son died, a little boy who had lived with a brain tumor for most of his four years.
His mama told the story of his last moments, how her husband leaned in close to hear the words their son was speaking.
“The train is here. I have to go now.” Then he was gone.
Because of this story and others, I’ve been studying about deathbed experiences for the last several years. Many of my clients have witnessed them and while I talk about DBVs freely with them, I didn’t consider researching more until I watched and listened to my mother as she was dying.
Mom was in her last few days of life when she began to see her people - her mother and dad, grandparents, a favorite aunt and uncle. They came to greet her en-mass one afternoon, walking along a dirt road she’d known in childhood.
My oldest brother, who had died 12 years before, was not in the group. I had dreamt about Jim. I saw him sitting in a chair in the room with Mom, reading a book and waiting for her. I phoned my brother, John the next day to share the dream. He had a similar one.
I asked Mom about Jim. Had she seen him? Mom smiled. “Oh, he’s been here awhile.”
In her last hours, Mom was reaching towards something no one else could see. She grimaced and mumbled words we couldn’t understand.
Some say these reactions are simply physiological responses related to the brain being deprived of oxygen. Or part of the disease process. Or make believe. There’s no way to prove this one way or another. However, the anecdotal accounts are vast and show that many, many people report the phenomenon and find them comforting.
This is true for me and my family. We couldn’t go with her but she wasn’t alone. This settled into us and brought relief.
I’m so intrigued by the topic that I’m researching it for my doctorate. I’m particularly interested in how professional counselors make sense of these experiences as this has implications for professional practice.
Have you talked to/asked your clients about deathbed experiences in your counseling practice? If so, I’d love it if you’d make a comment and share your experiences - or maybe you would like to participate in my research.
Here’s the criteria:
- You have been with a dying person in the last five years in either a personal or professional capacity
- You witnessed the dying person having deathbed experiences
I’m conducting research through September 15th. If you meet the criteria, I’d love to talk with you.
I have one more request. Would you please forward this blogpost/criteria to your professional networks? I sure would appreciate it.
David, thanks for allowing me to post here.
Martha J. Atkins, MA, LPC