You can prepare my bag

After having developed an open mind to consciousness beyond life it is now time to draw close to dying people during their transition and to broaden our knowledge about what dying really entails.

‘You can prepare my bag, because Dirk is waiting for me’. My Mother saw her husband who was waiting for her. She also saw other relatives, but it evolved mainly around her husband, who had died very young (from: In the Light of Death).

It is known that these kind of experiences are not nearly as uncommon as we normally presume and that they occur within all cultures and religions, usually during the weeks, days or hours before death occurs. Yet often they are withheld. In the best scenario, in order to cherish the experience as a special and small treasure. More likely, however, is that the person dying seems to be afraid that people will negate or trivialise the experience or that they will attribute it to fear or confusion. Care givers as well are inclined not to mention such experiences, as they are afraid of being judged as unprofessional.

On behalf of the leading neuro-psychiatrist, Peter Fenwick, I performed research in The Netherlands during the period 2009-2011 on the so-called ‘end of life experiences’. Experiences on the death bed, showing great similarities with near death experiences. I interviewed Dutch hospice workers in three different hospices.

The most frequently occurring experiences involve having visions of deceased relatives or religious persons. The effect on people is usually comforting and reassuring. However, the experiences also reveal the ability to travel between various realities, often within an atmosphere of love and light. They also involve co-incidences, experienced by people who are emotionally involved with the dying person, but who are not physically present. And other unusual or transcendent phenomena that occur the moment that death occurs, such as a change of temperature in the room, clocks stopping and subtle awareness of dampness, vapour, mist or shapes around the body. We label these experiences as transpersonal end-of-life experiences. In addition, we discern final meaning end-of-life experiences. These are experiences of considerable importance in that they seem to prompt people to settle unfinished business, before they die. We see, also, that unexpected lucid moments occur in the case of a dying person who shortly before was still confused or completely or partially unconscious. He or she was thus able to say farewell to those surrounding him or her.

An experience that particularly impressed me involved a lady, who was both deaf and dumb. This called for a special way of communicating. Because of metastases in her liver her complexion was yellow. She had probably always been slight, but now she was extremely thin and transparent like an angel. Having been ‘unapproachable’ for a couple of days, seeming to reside in a different world, she unexpectedly opened her eyes and looked at her relatives one by one, after which her eyes seemed to look away and over everybody. Although physically you would not have expected it from her any more, she sat up, spread her arms wide, whilst a radiant smile lit up her face. She then sank back into her pillow and died. Not only did I witness an unexpected lucid moment during which she parted with her next of kin; in the face of the radiant smile on her face, this was possibly also a matter of a vision where she encountered meaningful, important other people. It was one of my first experiences as a volunteer and I have never forgotten the immense peace and tranquillity I experienced in that moment.

Death is pre-eminently a personal experience, influenced by a person’s experiences, beliefs and culture. Yet specific indications such as a change of habit and use of language as well as the described consciousness experiences, alert us that illness or old age are shifting towards a preparing for death. In the Light of Death is about how the person dying prepares him- or herself and about how profound meaning can be found in dying – where end-of-life experiences, without exception miraculous, are extensively discussed.

Ineke Koedam runs her own practice Weerschijn - for death and bereavement. She is an experienced hospice worker and trains workers in the terminal care. She is the author of In the Light of Death, Experiences on the threshold between Life and Death (ISBN 9789020209624.)

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