Deathbed Visions, Terminal Lucidity and the work of Psychopomps:

What is this stuff all about?

To the best of my knowledge the term “Deathbed Vision” arose or became popular in the late 19th century when in England, other European countries and in parts of the United States, going to séances, manipulating Ouija boards, and conducting psychical studies became all the rage. In those days and in that environment, encountering disincarnate spirits during séances and while attending Spiritualist sanctuaries was more of an adventure than the spooky thing it has come to be regarded in recent years (except to the small, but eager and enthusiastic minority of persons who have been attracted to paranormal phenomena.) William Barrett, who had been one of the early presidents of the British Society for Psychical Research, took a special interest in the topic and wrote a book in 1926 entitled, Deathbed Visions: How the Dead Talk to the Dying, reprinted in 2011 by White Crow Books, Guilford, United Kingdom. Each one of its chapters pertains to a different variety of deathbed vision which, from the perspective of the dying person experiencing the vision or apparition, included persons: (1) Unknown by them to be dead; (2) Known by them to be dead, (3) A living person seen at a distance; (4) A living person who was simultaneously having an apparition of the dying person; and (5) Seeing the spirit of the dying person leaving the body.

Terminal Lucidity characteristically is an experience which emerges just previous to death to persons, often but not always, who have been quite demented or comatose and whose consciousness has been quite dulled often to the point of being unable to speak or comprehend what is being spoken to them. Suddenly they become mentally sharp, regain their memory and are able to articulate their ideas and feelings with remarkable precision. Then within minutes after they satisfactorily complete their conversations with, for example, nursing home staff or family members present, regarding matters they are concerned about and are seeking to resolve they die.  Hence, the term “Terminal Lucidity.”

A Psychopomp usually takes the form of an Angel, evolved disincarnate spirit such as a Spirit Guide, or a bird and its function is to escort the disincarnate spirits of the person who was just died from the Earth plane to the afterlife realm. An example of Terminal Lucidity and the presence of a Psychopomp follows in the form of a description of an event witnessed by the Rev. Dr. Ruth D. Walsh in a nursing home where she was once employed:

“When I was a chaplain several years ago, I had the privilege to be with elders as they died. Mrs. Mary, a pseudonym, was eighty-five years old and was living in her own world. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was at the cruel stage where she knew there was something wrong with her but didn’t know what it was. Her ability to function cognitively was highly impaired. In time she developed pneumonia. Her coughing was constant and she refused medical care. Mary had a private room with a window on the Alzheimer’s wing. One evening I was making rounds and felt an urgency to see Mary then. As an aside, I usually sensed when someone was going to die and stayed with them through their final moments on earth. When I sat with her she was more awake, alert and coherent than she had been for some time. You could also say she was experiencing Terminal Lucidity. I sensed at that moment The Thin Line [the term Dr. Walsh uses to refer to a mystical sensitivity which could be characterized as clairvoyance] was present. After the normal pleasantries, she asked me if she was going to heaven. This question led to other questions about her life and her fears. She remembered being assaulted as a young girl. Her fear now involved the same man and was he coming again to hurt her? She asked, as if a small child was she a bad girl for having this happen to her? I reassured her no one was going to hurt her; she wasn’t a bad girl nor was she responsible for the rape. She then asked if she was going to heaven. She told me she wanted to see her mother again but didn’t want to see her father. Through this she was remarkably clear and even had stopped coughing. We talked about heaven and what that would be like for her. She had a hope it would be a little like Oz minus the witch. I explored the biblical references to heaven and what Jesus promised about many mansions.”

“Soon she became very peaceful and smiled. She curled up in her bed as a small child would and looked toward the window. Now we get to the Psychopomp part of the story. Psychopomps are Angels whose function is to transport the soul of a person who just died into the afterlife realm. To persons who are clairvoyant sometimes Psychopomps appear as winged Angels or as animals such as birds. My experience when I see a messenger, it is very quick to the normal eye and transparent.   Mary pointed toward the window and there sat a small bird on a branch. She obviously was happy as if her best friend or mother had just appeared. She tried to wave at the bird. The window was open and she could hear the little bird chirp. I said to Mary, ‘Do you think you are being called home to God now?’ She didn’t answer but kept smiling at the bird. I became aware again of the presence of The Thin Line. I had a feeling of expectation. Shortly, the little bird sang a beautiful call, I believe. It sat on the tree limb and cocked its head. Called again, cocked its head and when I turned to Mary, she was still smiling and had died. I sat motionless for a time and watched the bird once again as it flew off. I looked at Mary and she was peaceful.”

 “In hospice we don’t hurry. We don’t hurry especially when someone dies. I felt I needed to minister to Mary. Yet, through the opening of The Thin Line, in her dying moments we were moved toward another place. This was a place where there was no need for control. For the few moments before her death we were both in another place filled with gentle truth. Mary asked the last questions about her life and found the answers. I witnessed the Messenger come and bring her to a different and beautiful place.”