Written by Carla Wills-Brandon
For the last twenty five years, I have been investigating a phenomenon known as the death-bed vision. Along with this I have also researched the psychological impact of reported communications from the deceased. I have listened to close to two thousand death-related communication accounts from individuals from every walk of life, around the globe. In doing this, I have been privileged to hear some amazing stories. Being a clinical trauma specialist for close to thirty years, my work has rotated around extreme trauma, death, dying, the psychology of spirituality and the process of grieving. One would think after so many years, I would have reached “burn-out,” but my interest in the psychology of these very human experiences continues.
Death-bed visions, as reported by not only the dying but those who care for them, along with communications from the deceased, as reported by survivors, cross all races, creeds, religions, socio-economic groups, age ranges and genders. These two specific types of reported encounters, along with those of a similar nature, have a historical legacy in both literature and science. Many of you who are currently reading this article have made wonderful contributions to the study of such phenomenon, while others are contemplating how they can add to the credibility of the field. Everyone is needed to further and expand on such legacies.
At the turn of the last century, researchers openly investigated the constituents which made up such encounters. Within the populations of the time, near death experiences (NDEs), communications after death (now popularly termed ADC), pre-death or death-bed visions (DBVs) and premonitions where part of popular culture and spirituality.
With the advent of the measurable “cause and effect” method of scientific investigation, experiences such as the above were no longer of interest to modern researchers. Such encounters were difficult to measure with the “cause and effect” mode of scientific exploration.
Over the last decade, there has been an increase in interest in this area of the human experience. More investigators are taking the risk and returning to the exploration of age old questions like, does consciousness survive physical death? And if so, what can this tell us about the human living experience? Being an investigator in this field, and the author of several books and numerous articles discussing such topics, I’m often asked to review manuscripts for publication, along with Doctoral or Master’s projects. Over the years this has been interesting work for me. I’ve enjoyed watching the field grow as the next generation of authors and researchers begin to flourish. Unfortunately, in recent years I’ve noticed a new trend.
Some authors are combining the many aspects of communication from deceased individuals under the ADC umbrella and I must say I have a great deal of concern about this. On certain websites dedicated to the ADC experience, deathbed visions and near death experiences are listed as “after death communications.” This minimizes the work of individuals like Moody, Greyson, and Ring, who were some of the first to investigate NDEs. Such “lumping” also takes credit from death bed vision investigators like Barrett, Osis and Haraldsson. The need to place all death communication experiences into one category steals from all of us the opportunity to appreciate the specific nuances each form of contact has to offer.
A departing vision takes place before actual death occurs. It cannot be seen as an after death communication, because “after death” is what it implies. As author, researcher and founding member of the International Association for Near Death Studies John White recently put it,
“With the DBV, the distinction is very simple and unquestionable: the time of death of the percipient and the perceived. If the percipient had the experience while the perceived was still alive, it is by definition a DBV. If the percipient had the experience after the perceived was deceased, it is then by definition an ADC.”
Precognition of death is a precognitive experience and it too occurs before, not after, a death. ADCs are events which occur after a death.
The authors and researchers who have put not only DBVs and NDEs into the category of the after death communication, but precognitive experiences, need direction from the more experienced generation of investigators. Otherwise, such combining of experiences will dilute not only the units of measure which define the significance of the ADC, but will minimize the uniqueness of the other types of pre death experiences. Death phobia permeates Western culture and more research is needed, but if investigators are not cautious with regard to their specific definitions of the topics they are exploring and discussing, the field as a whole will lose credibility.
Because these accounts are spontaneous and difficult to measure quantitatively, caution must be taken in how they are reported. Continuing to look for consistency from experiencer to experiencer will be well worth while, but it will become difficult if the different types of experience are blended into one common death related paranormal encounter.
With reference to this new trend, exploration into the similarities is essential, but I hope in the future the differences within the specific categories will also be respected. Personally, I utilize the idea of the “spiritually transformative experience” when attempting to discuss all encounters at one time.
Another area of investigation which is in need of further responsible exploration and inclusion by new authors and researches involves a category for the disruptive psychological consequences these encounters often produce for the experiencer. In past research, this area of the experience was almost always explored. Sadly, some of today’s new investigators and authors are not trained as clinicians and in their writings they neglect discussing this aspect of these encounters. The tendency is to focus on flowery positives, with limited regard for the emotional difficulties experiencers must often confront. In a few writings, I have even seen grief negated or extremely minimized, not by experiencers, but with assumptions made by authors.
With regard to the death-bed vision, near death experience, precognition, sense of universal connection and communications from the deceased, in my last book, “A Glimpse of Heaven,” I focused in on the often neglected aspect of initial psychological disruption for the experiencer. Many experiencers report they physically feel different or suffer physical ailments after such encounters. Reported psychological difficulty, such as confusion, feeling alienated, or depressed, spiritually lost, intense mood swings, along with a host of emotional issues, can occur after an encounter. This consequence sadly often appears to be neglected by new investigators and authors. The arena of difficult psychological consequences and emotional restructuring, both of which can create years of discomfort for experiencers, must be more prominent in future books and research papers.
The survivalist field of investigation is full of challenges and all of us need to be working together to give credence to what we have discovered within our own unique, but similar, explorations and research. Being involved in this arena of the human experience can be exciting and rewarding, but we must also be responsible. Inaccurate data reporting, minimization of the importance of each area of study and an over zealous ego, demanding credit where credit is not due, can impact all of us.
When I began investigating the departing visions of the dying and those who are connected to them, I quickly learned several things. I immediately discovered that those investigators who came before me had built a foundation upon which I could stand. For this, I will forever be grateful. Without the ground breaking contributions of these brave souls, I would not have had a “beginning.” I must respect the gifts I have so freely received.
Secondly, I discovered this journey was a “we” experience, not a “me” experience. With this knowledge I have tried to be a team player, adding to the field, understanding I’m not “inventing the wheel.” All I’m doing is fine tuning one very small spoke of the wheel.
Thirdly, I am responsible. If I see research which is inaccurate or minimizing of the investigations of others, I can’t “hide out” and ignore what is happening. If I do this, I’m no longer a part of the solution. Instead, I’m only contributing to a possible blossoming problem, which in the end could discredit us all.