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Will You Listen?

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Will You Listen?

Wisdom from life’s final chapter.
David  Kessler
David Kessler More by this author
Apr 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Deaths and births are like snowflakes—each one is unique and very similar. We die in a million ways, in a million places, with billions of variables. Yet the visions of the dying are so often unbelievably similar. Why is this so? Some have raised the theory that it is the brain’s way of psychologically making it easier to die; that is, our brains are comforting and protecting us. If this is the case, though, why don’t we see a vision of our favorite places, our kids, or our other living loved ones? Why don’t the dying ever report a vision of a doctor, nurse, or a cherished stuffed animal? Why don’t we see Puff the Magic Dragon or our favorite armchair?

Recently, I was visiting a dying woman who loved watching Katie Couric on the evening news. She never missed a broadcast. When the woman and I were chatting, she told me that while growing up, she’d watch Walter Cronkite every night with her mother and stepfather. Her never-to-be-realized dream was that someday she would meet Walter Cronkite or Katie Couric. She later shared that her birth father died when she was four years old . . . and he was now visiting her on her deathbed. So if deathbed visions are a trick of the mind, then why did this woman’s father, whom she barely knew, visit her? Why didn’t Katie Couric or Walter Cronkite come to call?

This is the question we can’t answer, but if you spend enough time among the dying, that question is ever present. Spend some time with the dying and you’ll learn a lot of humility and respect for the mystery of the dying process. Anyone who walks into a hospice thinking that they know it all will eventually learn that having all of the answers is just not possible.

Some of the comments I received after I wrote my book (Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms:Who and What You See When You Die) insisted that those who experience or believe in deathbed visions are just letting their faith and hopes get out of control—they are so desperate for an afterlife that they invent it. Well, most of us have faith in something. Those who say that there is nothing when we die have faith, too. They just have faith that there is nothing. I’m not sure who told them that or where they got their information, but I do know that the dying don’t say, “Here comes nothing. I now see nothing.” And health-care professionals don’t report that the dying speak of entering a “nothingness.” I’m going to believe the words of the dying over the beliefs and doubts of the living who haven’t lost a loved one or worked in a hospital or hospice setting.


So the conversation continues. I strongly believe that we should keep exploring, keep sharing. My hope for Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms was to send the same message that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross espoused decades earlier: We need to listen to the dying. If we allow the dying to be our teachers, we will have open hearts and minds.

We can finally come to terms with our fear of death, understanding that perhaps it’s not an ending but a continuation. We don’t know what’s on the other side, but the dying are clearly telling us that there is another side. Now it’s up to us. Will we listen?

About Author
David  Kessler
David Kessler is one of the most well-known experts and lecturers on grief and loss. He co-authored two bestsellers with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. (David was honored to have been at Elisabeth’ Continue reading