Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Glimpses of Eternity

Dr. Raymond Moody is most famous for his 1975 book, Life After Life, which made him the leading expert on near death experiences.

His new book, Glimpses of Eternity (Guideposts, 2010; subtitled "Sharing a Loved One's Passage from This Life to the Next"), is about what he calls "shared death experiences." He first heard of one of these in medical school in 1972, when one of the professors told him what she'd experienced when her mother died. But it wasn't until the mid-1980s that he started hearing of more of them -- first from doctors and nurses, telling him about "curious events" that took place at deathbeds, and then later from more and more people outside the medical profession (something he attributed in an interview to hospice care allowing family members to be with their loved ones more often then, following a period when it wasn't unusual for doctors and nurses to ask family members to leave when a patient was dying).

And in 1994 he had a shared death experience of his own, when his mother died, and he and his wife and his two sisters and their husbands were all with her:

And as we waited, it happened to us: a shared death experience. As we held hands around the bed, the room seemed to change shape and four of the six of us felt as though we were being lifted off the ground. I had the feeling that the room had turned into the shape of an hourglass. I felt a strong pull, like a riptide that was pulling me out to sea, only the pull was upward.

"Look," said my sister, pointing to a spot at the end of the bed. "Dad's here! He's come back to get her!"

Everyone there reported later that the light in the room changed to a soft and fuzzy texture. It was like looking at light in a swimming pool at night.

As all of this took place, there was great joy in the room. We all knew something incredible had happened to all of us as our mother died. It was as though the fabric of the universe had torn and for just a moment we felt the energy of that place called heaven.

About this time, Moody says, he started being asked about shared death experiences, almost as often as he was asked about near death experiences. And as an experiment, he started asking his lecture audiences at conferences how many had had similar experiences, which he'd first describe briefly. "To my surprise," he writes, "anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of every audience would hold up their hands."

So he started devoting even more time to collecting, studying and analyzing shared death experiences.

He describes seven elements typical of shared death experiences -- though he also emphasizes that none of the shared death experiences he's studied contain all seven (he writes at the end of the chapter on these elements that no shared death account contained just one element, either; most contained several).

1) Change of geometry. This is one element that apparently is unique to shared death experiences, and not encountered in near death experiences. "For many," he writes, "this change of geometry means that the room simply seems to change shape. Others have said that the room changes shape but also opens into an 'alternate realty' that is described in various ways."

2) Mystical light. Sometimes this light, which conveys peace and love and wisdom, and also seems to have complexity and depth, fills the room. In other shared death experiences, witnesses tell of seeing the dying person's eyes lighting up, or their entire body taking on a translucent glow.

3) Music and musical sounds. These may be heard by the person who's dying as well as others present, sometimes a number of people.

4) Out-of-body experience. Moody says this is "a fairly common element in shared death experiences. During this phenomenon, a person has a strong sense that they have moved to a position from which they can observe their own physical body and all that is around it."

5) Co-living a life review. People who've had near death experiences often report life reviews. Moody found that many of those who have had shared death experiences found themselves sharing the life review of the person who was dying, in some cases becoming aware of parts of their life or people they knew that hadn't been known to them before.

6) Encountering otherworldly or "heavenly" realms. This is one of the most common elements of near death experiences, and also a common element of shared death experiences.

7) Mist at death. Moody writes that ever since he began to study death, he'd started hearing some accounts of people seeing a mist emitted from the body of a dying person -- sometimes formess, other times taking a human shape, before drifting upward and disappearing. Like the mystical light, the mist sometimes seems to have a complexity and depth. Moody admits he doesn't know what to interpret these accounts, but he doesn't dismiss this as an hallucination, especially since it's seen just as the loved one dies.

Moody writes that he's often been asked if people have to be religious to have these experiences. He says that based on his studies, he feels "confident that the experiences of believes and non-believers are essentially the same; only the interpretations may differ." He points out that this is also true of near death experiences.

On the other hand, although a particular belief system is not necessary to have a shared death experience, the experience itself is transformative -- which is also true of near death experiences.

This book, like Dr. Moody's other books, offers fascinating information -- and hope.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A book about hope, from an expert on death and grief

It often comforts people who've lost a loved one to hear about ADCs, or after-death communications -- the direct, unmediated communications from those on the other side to those still here.

That includes a particular type of ADC called deathbed visions (or DBVs). This type of ADC is specifically to comfort someone who will be crossing over soon, but these visions can also, if understood by the people who are aware of what the dying person is experiencing, offer comfort to them.

The comfort of knowing that we don't cross over alone. That loved ones are there, waiting to welcome us home to Heaven.

Pets as well as humans apparently experience these visions. I've heard a number of stories over the years of dying pets who acted as if they were watching, and welcoming, someone others couldn't see.

And stories about dying people seeing loved ones on the other side seem to be as old as humankind.

David Kessler, who co-authored two bestsellers with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and whose first book about hospice care was praised by Mother Teresa, has written a book about deathbed visions, Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die.

Kessler explains in the introduction how much he was affected by the impact such a vision had on his dying father, who had been optimistic all his life but who had been overcome by sadness before the vision:

My father was very down for the next few days. But then one morning he told me that my mother, his wife, had come to him the night before. "I was looking at all I was losing, and I'd forgotten that I was going to be with her again. I'm going to see her soon," he said, He looked at me as if he realized I would still remain here. Then he added, "We'll be there waiting for you." Over the next two days, his demeanor changed dramatically. He had gone from a hopeless dying man with only death in front of him to a hopeful man who was going to be reunited with the love of his life. My father lived with hope...and also died with it.

As someone who has spent most of my life writing, teaching, and working with the dying, I can't prove to you that my father's vision was real. I can only talk about my experience as a son and about countless other occurrences that take place every day. I used to believe that the only thing we needed to alleviate was the suffering of the dying by providing good pain management and symptom control. I know now that we have more than opiates for pain, and we have more than anti-anxiety medication to combat fear and distress. We have the "who" and "what" we see before we die, which is perhaps the greatest comfort to the dying.

My wish is that you'll find the hope that my father did - the hope I felt after hearing his story. This is the same hope that so many patients and family members feel when they've experienced these visions.

So that is what this book is about: hope. Hope that there is more. Hope that we don't watch each other slowly die and then simply wait for our own deaths. We want to hope that there is a heaven, that some part of us doesn't die, so we can be reunited with those we love and maybe even with religious figures who've inspired us in our lives.

Kessler's book focuses on these visions of loved ones (and in some cases religious figures) seen by the dying, on the common deathbed experience of getting ready for a trip (always described as a physical journey they have to make), and on another common deathbed experience (which I hadn't heard of previously) of describing their room as being "crowded" by people others can't see (apparently the people whose lives they've touched who have already crossed over).

Kessler's book is remarkable in using the accounts of health care professionals describing the experiences of their patients and their own loved ones. The section on "Visions of the Dying, Part I" includes accounts from doctors and nurses, while "Visions of the Dying, Part II" consists of accounts from mental health professionals, professional counselors.

Kessler said in his introduction that he "can't prove" that his father's vision of the spirit of his mother was real. But the accounts in his book do include two deathbed visions in which the dying person saw the spirit of a person they weren't aware had died, someone they'd had every reason to believe was still alive. People whom their own family members, at the bedside of the dying person, believed were still alive -- not learning until afterward that the person whose spirit was so unexpectedly seen had in fact died by then. Such accounts are probably the strongest evidence that these deathbed visions are real experiences, not hallucinations.

In his Epilogue, Kessler cites a study by the palliative-care team at Camden Primary Care Trust in London, which found that these experiences (which they called DBP or deathbed phenomena) are "an important part of their dying process" for the people having them. The pilot study also showed that these experiences aren't drug-induced, and that patients would rather talk to nurses than doctors about their dying experiences, and that these experiences are underreported because patients and their families are worried about a negative reaction from health care professionals, who Kessler hopes will become more educated about these phenomena.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Valuing Silliness, Sentiment and Science

You'll find all three on our grief support site, especially on our boards.

Let's start with the most serious one first.

Science: It helps to have information about research on grief and emotional states. And since so many of our members have other pets, information on pet care and health is important. We're also very interested in research that supports a belief in an afterlife we share with our pets.

Sentiment: We're unabashedly sentimental. We create a safe place for people who miss the pets they've lost to grieve openly. We love our pets, and we also know that people who try to suppress their feelings about losing their pets (especially out of fear of criticism from people who don't understand) will be postponing grieving but not escaping it completely -- and the result of suppressing that grief can be emotional and physical health problems later. We're also very sentimental about the pets still with us, sharing both joys and worries, asking for prayers for them when they're ill, and celebrating every new adoption in our online family.

Silliness: How do you cope with life without humor? How do you relieve stress without some silliness to offset it? We believe you can't, so we welcome silly pet pics, whether from our own members or from a site such as the Lolcats site, ICanHasCheezburger. We post jokes, and we talk about silly subjects. And when we picture our pets in heaven, we may imagine them having parties and doing other things that they didn't do here. That's fine -- it helps us heal. And who can say that our pets aren't having those parties we love to picture?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frosty at a frosty window - haiku & pic

Frost on the window
Frosty gazes at crystals
Warm against the cold

Frosty has been at Rainbow Bridge more than two years now, but I'm missing my little lynxpoint this morning. I wrote a haiku for her while thinking of this old photo, taken on January 14, 2005.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Top 10 Signs A Cat Is Subbing For Santa

Top 10 Signs A Cat Is Subbing For Santa:

10) Telltale bits of catnip on the fake beard.
9) Real whiskers above fake beard oddly long and skimpy.
8) All furniture given at Christmas mysteriously labeled "Scratching Post."
7) More frequent litter box changes blamed on reindeer.
6) Elves making only cat toys.
5) All dogs receive empty stockings marked "Naughty, naughty, naughty."
4) Reindeer renamed after favorite cat food brands.
3) Cat door added to chimney.
2) Milk left for Santa is gone, but cookies are left behind with form letter requesting tuna next year.

And the #1 sign a cat is subbing for Santa:

1) After the presents are all delivered, Santa HAS to play in the empty bag.

- Cindy Morgan (SinbadsMom), 2003

I've also posted this in a topic at Lighthouse Beacon.

Our Christmas Page

The Night Before Christmas At Rainbow Bridge