People who are close to death sometimes report visions of deceased relatives, friends, places, or religious figures. Others report “deathbed coincidences” or unique and meaningful dreams. We call these deathbed phenomena (DBP), and they are more common than we think.
Are these hallucinations? Did the experience really happen or is it due to random nerves firing in a dying brain? Has anyone done any serious studies?
Dying people can have these experiences while awake or asleep, alone or with others, and the experience can be visual or auditory. Deathbed phenomena have been reported around the world and are now being studied in the medical literature. What is interesting is that these experiences almost always have a positive effect, bringing peace, comfort, calmness and joy to the dying person as well as their family.
How can we support dying patients and their families who experience deathbed phenomena? How do you discuss this experience with a dying person and their family? I’ll answer these questions and look at these phenomena in more detail. I’ll also share some stories from local Calgary palliative care clinicians. Most importantly, we’ll explore the meaning of deathbed phenomena to those who experience them.