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D is for Deathbed Experiences

Deathbed experiences have been recorded for centuries.

One of the most famous modern cases is that of Maria, a migrant worker who had a severe heart attack. During the cardiac arrest, she floated out of her body and watched the medical team fight to save her life.

Eventually Maria drifted outside the hospital, where she saw a tennis shoe on a third-floor ledge. When she regained consciousness, she told Kimberly Clark, her critical care worker, about the shoe, providing many details, including the fact that one of its laces was stuck underneath the heel and its toe was worn. She begged her care worker to search for the shoe, and even though Clark was skeptical, she agreed.

Not only did Clark find a shoe matching Maria’s description in the exact location Maria had pinpointed, she discovered there was absolutely no way Maria could have seen it from her hospital window.

“The only way she could have had such a perspective,” said Clark, “was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. It was very concrete evidence for me.”

Maria’s description of floating above her body is fairly common among accounts of deathbed experiences. Many people also describe traveling through a tunnel with a bright or white light at the end, being reunited with deceased family members who tell them it’s “not their time yet,” and overwhelming feelings of peace and love. Often the deceased person finds herself in a beautiful garden where the colors are unusually vivid.

The descriptions of deathbed or near-death experiences are remarkably similar, no matter what gender or race people are, or their level of education or religious beliefs. Researchers have found no relationship between religion and deathbed experiences. It didn’t matter if people were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or agnostic.

Are these visions proof of life after death? Not surprisingly, scientists have developed many other theories to help explain them:

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in hallucinations
  • Abnormal activity in the temporal lobe of the brain
  • Heightened brain activity in moments when the brain should be impaired, such as during a cardiac arrest
  • Creative power of the mind

So far, all of these theories except the creative power of the mind have been disproven. For instance, when the brain is starved of oxygen, people become highly confused and have little to no memory, which is not the case with those reporting deathbed experiences. Patients with low oxygen levels do not report seeing a tunnel, a light, or any of the “typical” near-death visions.

The more studies that are done, the more the traditional belief that the brain is solely responsible for our thoughts and consciousness is challenged. Of course, not everyone believes. This site goes into great detail debunking almost every deathbed experience ever reported, including Maria’s.

If anything makes me question the validity of the deathbed experience, it’s the tendency people have to write books about it. I’m more apt to believe those who share their stories without the incentive of a publishing deal. (Clark published a book about her experience with Maria and has since been a fixture on the talk show circuit.) It’s almost impossible to find an extraordinary deathbed story without a book or movie deal behind it.

What do you think happens when we die? Do you think deathbed experiences are proof of an afterlife, or that science just hasn’t found the answers yet? Do you have a theory of what’s happening to someone who’s experiencing a near-death experience, or do you have one of your own to share?

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64 Comments

  1. zannierose

    the whole concept of death is wyrd- who or what dies?
    I have been studying Robert Adams material recently and he claims we are not even born.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…I haven’t heard of Adams, but that’s certainly an interesting theory!

      Reply
  2. Tasha Duncan-Drake

    The book deals and movie rights also make me sceptical 🙂 I firmly believe in life after death, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I think all death bed experiences are real. The whole being detached from the body and floating around I can get behind because I think there is a hell of lot we don’t understand about human consciousness. As for the tunnels etc – I’m not sure.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings (70) | Wittegen Press (72) | FB3X (AC) (73)

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, during my research, whenever I got excited about a deathbed story, I’d discover there was a book, movie, or both attached. Seems like as soon as you have an NDE, there’s a huge urge to write a bestseller about it. 🙂

      Or, in the case of Kimberly Clark, if you know someone else who’s had one.

      Reply
  3. Maryann Holloway

    I am also skeptical when they make money from the story. Not that I fault anyone for cashing in when the can but it makes it less plausible. How many times does someone write a book that is supposed to be true and down the line it is found out to be a fraud. It does leave you skeptical when the next one comes along.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Maryann. James Frey’s memoir (the one that Oprah freaked out over) springs to mind.

      The very first to do it can probably get away with it. Anyone that comes after seems suspect.

      Reply
  4. Nikki

    I had never heard the Maria deathbed experience so that was a new one! So many people make themselves less believable when they cash in on things like that. It somehow makes the experience seem less credible and more exaggerated. But, if the people are willing to pay for something, I guess you can’t blame someone for taking advantage of that.

    Reply
    • JH

      No, I suppose not, but I’ll take their stories with a huge bag of salt.

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Nikki. Welcome!

      Reply
  5. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I believe. They say it’s the creative mind at work. What if it’s what the soul really sees?

    Reply
    • JH

      That would be very cool, Alex. I’d like to think we have a soul, that souls exist.

      Reply
  6. Susan Scott

    Thanks J.H. yes I’ve too read reports of light, peace, family, love etc at the end of a blinding light – some reports have been reputable. But many times these can be discounted and especially when people want to cash in …
    I don’t have a personal experience nor do I know anyone who has. As for my own thoughts on death – perhaps we go through the bardo, experiencing our lives in a flash as we die …All I really know is that I would like to die, with no regrets. I’m looking as we speak for a book on my shelves which of course I can’t find – I think it’s title is: ‘Death: The trip of a life time’. It’s an old book ….

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s too late for me…I already have regrets, but I hope the big things that are most important to me will have been accomplished by the time I go.

      A peaceful death surrounded by people I love would be all I could ask for. But it would be nice to know there is something afterwards.

      Reply
  7. Zeljka

    Thank you for an interesting post, I enjoyed it although I cannot answer your questions. I don’t think about death. I don’t want to.

    Reply
    • JH

      Fair enough! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Patricia Lynne

    I’m inclined to believe. With the explanations scientists give, I’d ask them why across the board people reported the near identical things. Wouldn’t experiences be more individual?

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m sure scientists would say people are influenced by the stories they’ve heard before the NDE. But it’s interesting that these accounts have been recorded for hundreds of years, across cultures and races and time…

      Reply
  9. Lisa S.

    I think we are all part of the same energy pool, or source, and that we return to that source once we die. I believe that people that try to be positive and peaceful beings eventually end up in a state of peace.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a nice way of thinking about it, Lisa. You’re destined for a peaceful and positive place, but hopefully not for a long, long time. <3

      Reply
  10. Somer

    I’ve read about and listened to so many accounts like this and although I’m usually pretty open to stuff like this, for near death experiences, I find that I’m more skeptical than usual, maybe because the stories DO end up becoming so sensationalized. There’s a whiff of hope and something to look forward to with these stories that sort of sets off my B.S. alarms, but I am open to listening.

    Reply
    • JH

      I know what you mean, Somer. I feel the same way. Even if Maria’s story is true, why did her care worker have to make a buck off her? It doesn’t seem right to me.

      I hope she shares her proceeds with Maria, assuming the story was true.

      Reply
  11. Tarkabarka

    There was a study recently that went viral, about how people are still conscious minutes after clinical death. I don’t know how much is true… As a storyteller, however, I am amazed at how powerful the idea of death is to the imagination, making our brains cling to ideas of what happens after… I think something does, I am just not sure what it is 😀

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed. I’m not sure either. My best friend passed on when we were seventeen, and she was not shy about visiting. So I know something of us can linger…I’m just not sure what it is or how it works.

      Reply
  12. Misha

    Deathbed experiences have always had me curious. Because as you say, there seems to be a lot of people who don’t know each other that have the same sort of experience in common. So they could be real, the same way that ghosts etc could be real.

    Reply
    • JH

      One of the issues I came across with deathbed experiences is that there are usually no witnesses. So stories like Maria’s are very important, because there is something that can confirm her story, but when her caregiver makes a career out of it…unfortunately that makes it a bit suspect to me.

      Reply
    • JH

      Oh, that’s a nice thought, Tami. There are a few people I would have loved to say goodbye to.

      Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, AMKT! Thanks for sharing the article.

      Interesting stuff!

      Reply
  13. Sheena-kay Graham

    I believe there are instances where it is true. But there are always charlatans out there.

    Blog: QueendSheena
    2016 A to Z Participant
    Joy Brigade Minion

    Reply
    • JH

      Sad but true, Sheena-kay.

      Reply
  14. mandy springer

    i believe there is more than just the life and death. there has to be something more can’t see. as to death bed experiences, i’m on the fence with them.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’d love to meet and talk to someone who’s had one of these experiences…someone without a book deal. That might make all the difference for me.

      Reply
  15. Roland Yeomans

    I believe there is more to death than we know. I also believe people do strange things for money. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha! So true.

      Thanks for the smile, Roland. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Stephanie Faris

    There are so many instances where people can describe what was going on when they were supposedly dead. It’s pretty eerie to hear. A few years ago, there was a bestselling novel by a brain surgeon who had a near-death experience. It was remarkable because he knew the makeup of the brain and the science behind it and he could state exactly why what he experienced couldn’t have been because of any of the usual explanations:

    http://www.amazon.com/Proof-Heaven-Neurosurgeons-Near-Death-Experience/dp/B009UX6NGI

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the link, Stephanie. How am I not surprised he wrote a bestselling novel? 😀

      That was an aspect of Maria’s story as well. She related the conversation the doctors and nurses had been having while she was clinically dead.

      Reply
  17. C. Lee McKenzie

    I only know that we haven’t even scratched the surface on what our minds are capable of. I’ve often thought that once freed, our minds might just wander the universe–connecting with other minds, expanding and learning and finding the ultimate truth of things.

    Oye! My mind is telling me to let it go and let it go now!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…that would be interesting–and scary. I know a few minds I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

      Are you listening to the Frozen soundtrack? 😉

      Reply
  18. Tim Miller

    I’ve always attributed it to the lack of oxygen to the brain or maybe the drugs given during lifesaving measures.

    One thing you notice in these NDE’s is the face the person isn’t brain dead. Brain death is death. They can restart a heart but not your brain. I’m not aware of any cases where all brain activity had stopped and the person was brought back….or brought back with an NDE story.

    My views are often not popular as I don’t believe in any life after death. Our bodies are biological processes which once they stop working that is it.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a valid belief, Tim. No one’s beliefs (at least about this kind of thing) will be criticized here. I welcome all points of view.

      You raise an interesting point about brain death. I’ll have to look into that aspect further.

      Reply
  19. Ryan Carty

    I honestly don’t know. I like the idea of some sort of afterlife, but the skeptic in me fights that notion. I would never dismiss someone’s experiences, but like you, get suspicious when someone suddenly wants to write a book. It calls every account into question. I might say anything, if I were the sort of person who found money and fame appealing, to get said money and fame.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Ryan. It’s hard to take these people seriously.

      Thanks for coming back! I’m enjoying your blog.

      Reply
  20. Michele Truhlik

    I totally believe in life after death. There is no question in my mind — even though I’ve never had any real experiences. I believe in angels too. Now that I’ve had experience with!

    I guess it does make it skeptical when there are book and movie deals attached to a deathbed experience. My mom recently had open-heart surgery and she ended up coding the day before she was supposed to come home. Thank God she came out of it. I asked her if she saw anything and she didn’t. So I don’t know, but I do believe in life after death. I think our loved ones on the other side are with us and know what’s happening in our lives…

    Good post!
    Michele at Angels Bark

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your comments, Michele. I’m really sorry to hear about your mom, but I’m glad she ended up being okay.

      I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with angels! I’m getting the feeling you have lots of interesting stories to tell. 🙂

      Reply
  21. Samantha Bryant

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of fiction using out of body and near death experiences, but I think I’m pretty skeptical on this one in real life.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    Reply
    • JH

      I suspect a lot of the non-fiction is fiction as well. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Lisa

    I do believe in NDEs and that there is something for us in the afterlife even though I know no one who has had one. Humans are amazing creatures and our brains are definitely wired in ways that are difficult to explain.

    Reply
    • JH

      True enough, Lisa. I certainly don’t believe science has explained everything…not even close.

      Nice to see you here again. Welcome back!

      Reply
  23. Dean K Miller

    I read this for the first time yesterday: “Maybe the light we see when we die is the first thing we see upon being born.” Made me think a bit, indeed. The physical body dies (sooner than it is made to last) but our soul/energy/being/life continues.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s beautiful, Dean. Thanks for sharing it.

      It’s a nice thought.

      Reply
  24. Barbara In Caneyhead

    I honestly don’t know what these experiences are. I do however believe that we all have a soul. That is the “something” of us that will go on after our brain and bodies falter. The Bible tells us that we are all eternal creatures. The question becomes where and how we will spend eternity.

    Reply
  25. Birgit

    I am greatly intrigued by this and I like to believe there is more to our life but we won’t know u til we pass…and I’m not ready yet:). My mom who is sceptical but always intrigued by this had a couple of experiences. When she was 12 years old she woke up to see her favourite Aunt come towards her scaring my mom. That morning, she found out her Aunt had committed suicide around the time my mom saw her. A few years ago, when she was still living with me, she was so thin and dealing dementia ( and still is) she had a dream that she saw her parents, her husband and her grandparents. She was so happy to see them but whe. She went to them, her mother said, “it’s not your time yet, go back”. My mom said she felt so good and that it felt so real. I actually cried when I left her side.

    Reply
    • JH

      Those are incredible stories, Birgit! Thanks for sharing them. That one about her aunt is pretty disturbing.

      Reply
  26. Shelly

    When one of my grandpas was dying, in his last moments he saw his mom. He could see her. He ran away from home at 16 or so and never saw her again, and he never regretted running away. I actually think he “saw” his mom, I think she was there to help him make the transition.

    I think what people see on their deathbed is real. I think they really see what they are talking about.

    Reply
    • JH

      What a beautiful story, Shelly. That’s so moving. Thanks for sharing.

      It’s nice to think your grandfather was able to reconnect with his mother at the end.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Michelle. Thankfully there was very little controversy around here.

      Reply
  27. Mary Aalgaard

    I expect to hear, “Welcome home,” when I die.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow. I have no words.

      You have the heart of a poet, Mary.

      Reply
  28. Random Musings

    I think there is some truth to this. People who report these experiences generally have so many details that they just couldn’t make up. I agree with you that I tend to believe the ones more who aren’t out to make money from their story
    Debbie

    Reply
  29. Ula

    I believe death is just a return to our original state – whatever that may be. Maybe those NDEs are a taste of that state?

    Reply
    • JH

      That could be. I wonder if we’ll ever really know?

      Reply
  30. Heather M. Gardner

    It must be something like alien abduction stories, you hear a lot of the same details.
    🙂
    I hope I don’t find out soon!

    Heather M. Gardner / @hmgardner
    Co-Host, Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    The Waiting is the Hardest Part

    Reply
    • JH

      They have been linked before, for sure. I hope you don’t either!

      Reply

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