15. September 2013 · Comments Off on Death Bed Visions, Pre-Death Experiences and Related Phenomena · Categories: Death, Death Bed Visions, Pre-Death Experiences, Uncategorized

At the October 16, 2011 memorial service for Apple founder Steve Jobs, Mona Simpson, his sister, delivered a eulogy in which she told of her brother’s final words:  “Oh Wow! Oh Wow! Oh Wow!  What do you think he meant by that?  We will speculate on this a little later.

Deathbed Visions (DBVs) usually occur when someone is very close to death and they see visions of deceased loved ones, or angels and the like, who greet them to help them make their death transition.  Many terminally ill people will experience these visitations to help prepare them for when they cross over to the other side. DBVs also occur to family members in the vicinity of a dying loved one to reassure them that their dying loved one will be safe and will live on. According to recent studies, only about 10% of people are conscious shortly before their death. Of this group, 50% to 67% have DBVs.

Early Examples of Deathbed Visions

Sir Wiliam Barrett

Sir Wiliam Barrett

Although DBVs can be found in the literature and lore of all ages, they were rarely mentioned in the scientific literature until the late 1920’s when they were studied by Sir William Barrett, a physics professor at the Royal College of Science in Dublin.

He would never have considered examining such a topic had it not been for an experience told to him by his wife, an obstetrical surgeon. On the night of January 12, 1924, she arrived home from the hospital eager to tell her husband about a case she had had that day.

She had been called into the operating room to deliver the child of a woman named Doris. Although the child was born healthy, Doris was dying from a hemorrhage. As the doctors waited helplessly next to the dying woman, she began to see things. As Lady Barrett tells it:

Suddenly she looked eagerly towards part of the room, a radiant smile illuminating her whole countenance.

“Oh, lovely, lovely,” she said.

I asked, “What is lovely?”

“What I see,” she replied in low, intense tones.

“What do you see?”

“Lovely brightness – wonderful beings.”

It is difficult to describe the sense of reality conveyed by her intense absorption in the vision. Then – seeming to focus her attention more intently on one place for a moment – she exclaimed, almost with a kind of joyous cry:  “Why, it’s Father! Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming; he is so glad. It would be perfect if only W. (her husband) would come too.”

Her baby was brought for her to see. She looked at it with interest, and then said:  “Do you think I ought to stay for baby’s sake?”

Then, turning toward the vision again, she said:  “I can’t – I can’t stay; if you could see what I do, you would know I can’t stay.”

Although the story thus far was compelling, skeptics could still argue that it was nothing more than a hallucination due to lack of blood or triggered by fear of death. Indeed Sir William Barrett may have made that very point to his wife. But then he heard the rest of the story. It seems that the sister of Doris, Vida, had died only three weeks earlier. Since Doris was in such delicate condition, the death of her beloved sister was kept a secret from her. That is why the final part of her deathbed vision was so amazing to Barrett.  She spoke to her father, saying: “I am coming,” turning at the same time to look at me, saying, “Oh, he is so near.”

On looking at the same place again, she said with a rather puzzled expression: “He has Vida with him,” turning again to me saying, “Vida is with him!” (She said with a note of surprise)

Then she said, “You do want me, Dad; I am coming.”

Could all this have merely been wish fulfillment expressed in the form of an hallucination? Barrett considered such an explanation, but he rejected it because among the apparitions of the dead was someone whom Doris had not expected to see. Her sister, Vida, who had died three weeks before. This explains why Doris was a bit surprised when she saw her sister.

This story was so inspirational to Barrett that he undertook a systematic study of deathbed visions. His was the first scientific study to conclude that the mind of the dying patient is often clear and rational. He also reported a number of cases in which medical personnel or relatives present shared the dying patient’s vision.

The work of Sir William Barrett did not contribute to the theory that these visions were a form of wish fulfillment. As proof, the deathbed vision often did not portray the type of afterlife the dying expected. For example, Barrett reported several children who were disappointed to see angels with no wings. In one such case he described a dying girl who sat up suddenly in her bed and said, “Angels, I see angels.” Then the girl was puzzled. “Why aren’t they wearing wings?” If deathbed visions were simply a fantasy of the mind, says Barrett, why did this little girl see something different from her expectations?


Despite our advancements in science and medicine, death remains one of human civilization’s most glorious mysteries. A lot of books have been written on phenomena such as near-death experiences, but research and data is scarce on pre-death experiences. Because of this lack of information, Dr. John Lerma has devoted his career to compiling anecdotal and scientific research on pre-death visions from the countless terminally-ill patients he lovingly cared for as a doctor and director at The Hospice of The Medical Center of Houston, Texas.

The following comes from the groundbreaking book, “Into The Light – Real Stories

Into The Light Book Cover

Into The Light

About Angelic Visits, Visions of The Afterlife and Other Pre-Death Experiences by Dr. Lerma.

Little Jacob’s Story
Jacob was a beautiful little 2-year-old boy, with wild, curly black hair and pale skin. Upon meeting him, I saw a frail, little boy who resembled a rag doll. He was unable to move or open his eyes. He could not cry, swallow, or even smile any longer. Just before his second birthday, he had exhibited signs of muscle wasting and began to quickly degenerate. His illness reduced his muscles to jelly, leaving him in a flaccid state, unable to express.

It was heart-wrenching  to watch this family try to make its little boy’s last days peaceful and filled with love. His older brother, Michael, who was only 4 years old and full of energy and life, did not seem to understand why Jacob slept all the time and couldn’t play with him. He sat for hours on the bed next to Jacob reading him books (or at least that is what he called it). They were mostly picture books, but Michael told excellent stories about the pictures, and he never tired of talking to Jacob as he played on the floor next to the bed.

After spending more than four months at the hospital on life support, the doctors assured them that he had no possible chance of recovery and repeatedly recommended him to hospice. Jacob’s parents finally consented to Comfort Care and he was discharged to Hospice Care in the comfort of his home. The next few weeks were quite difficult but eventually  the family was able to cope. During one of my visits to their home, Jacob’s mother asked me if I believed in heaven. I replied, “Yes. Why do you ask, Sarah?”

“Well, I was contemplating our traditional Jewish belief that souls go to a place called Sheol, a dwelling place of all deceased where they wait for their Messiah to resurrect them. There are many Jews nowadays who have varying beliefs, including Messianic Jews, who hold the Christian heavenly principle. I love my religion, but I want him to go to heaven, so he can run and play and do those things he was not able to here on earth. He deserves that. He’s just an innocent little baby. I spoke with the Rabbi, and he said that I can pray for that. What do you think, Dr. Lerma?”

“I understand your pain and desires for your little one, and I agree with your Rabbi that prayer is powerful.” Dr. Lerma then told the family encouraging stories about the pre-death experiences of other children.  Amazingly, she was comforted and touched by these stories of hope, and began praying to God for a sign to let her know that her little Jacob would be with Him and the angels.

Within minutes of finishing, Jacob opened his eyes, smiled really big, and raised his arms as if he was reaching for someone above him. I was stunned. It was impossible for him to rally that kind of muscle strength (due to his muscle-wasting disease). He smiled, his arms ascended… and then he died. His mother was sitting on the bed. She was too shocked to cry or say anything at all.

As Michael was about to sit on the bed next to his mother he abruptly stopped, and went around and sat on the other side. Curious, Sarah asked him why he moved to the other side of the bed. Michael quickly replied, “There is an angel sitting next to you, so I couldn’t sit there. Don’t you see him, Mom?” She looked flabbergasted, but she felt comforted. Michael suddenly touched his brother’s body and ran out the door crying. Before we could go to him, he turned around and calmly walked back with tears still on his face. He walked up to his little brother and lifted his arm.

His mom asked what he was doing. He said, “They are right.” “Who’s right, sweetie?” his mother asked. He answered, “The angels. They’re in the hall with Jacob, and they told me his body is just a shell. They told me to come and see for myself. They are right.” He lifted the Jacob’s arm again and let it drop. “It’s just a shell. Jacob is with the angels.” Michael said Jacob was smiling, laughing, and doing somersaults in the hallway. Sarah and Michael looked at me, with both questions and hope in their eyes.

I said, “You both prayed for a sign and you were given more than one. Jacob smiling and lifting his atrophied arms was alone miraculous. Also, 4-year-old children have no concept of death, and your 4-year-old is telling you what the angels have revealed to him. I think that’s a big sign.” Sarah and Michael started to cry, thanked me, and hugged little Michael. It was such a beautiful and poignant moment.

Little Michael continued to tell stories of Jacob coming to play with him for the next year or so, and he said the angels would “fly him in and out.” That was further encouragement for their mother, which allowed her to demonstrate a deeper love to Michael.


When Father Mike, a 78 year old well respected Catholic Theologian and Priest was admitted to Dr. Lerma’s Palliative Care wing he was suffering from head, neck and lung cancer and was in great pain. However, during his last few days he absolutely refused any pain medication, believing that his suffering would do much to help relieve the suffering of others in the world.

In Dr. Lerma’s words, ”On the day he died, I was at my clinic across the street, and as the sky darkened, I looked out the window and saw a dark cloud over the hospital where Father Mike was, and it began to storm, beginning with gale-force type winds, then hail, and finally rain. As the storm intensified, I received a page that Father Mike had passed and that I needed to come immediately.

I rushed across the street, getting drenched and Windblown. As I arrived at the hospice unit, the lights on the hospice floor were flickering on and off. There was an incredible sense of peace in the midst of the chaos that was occurring. Several nurses and my secretary were present. They had rushed me there to experience an inconceivable event. Every time the lights turned on and off, little feathers fell from the ceiling, drifting down as if they were snowflakes. One fell in the hand of a nurse and disappeared. As soon as they fell, they disappeared. Father Mike’s call light was going off and on. His door, which had been closed when he died, was now open. The secretary and one nurse saw a bright light shining from his room. They thought the lights were coming back on, but the bright light was radiating from his body or bed. Out of that light came this bright sphere that floated out of his body and circled the bed about three times before it soared out of the closed window. Less than a minute later, the lights came back on, it stopped raining, and all the feathers disappeared. We all had goose bumps.

It was about four in the afternoon when I entered the room to pronounce him. Father Mike had a striking smile on his face, his palms were open, and the eye that had the cataract seemed to have cleared. He looked so peaceful—blissful almost. Some of us questioned his choice to suffer, but that experience, in the end, taught us to respect our patients’ wishes. Everyone who was there that afternoon experienced these miraculous events. We could try to explain that the lights had something to do with the storm, but the feathers were unexplainable.”

Some Final Thoughts

Steve Jobs’s reported last words were, “Oh Wow! Oh Wow! Oh Wow!  While “believers” see Jobs’s dying words as some indication that Jobs was seeing through the veil separating the earth realm from a spiritual realm, the skeptics shrug it off as perhaps a reaction to pain or the ramblings of a dying man. However, such dying words are not unprecedented. Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, in a recent interview on “60 Minutes,” said that in his final encounters with his subject, the Apple founder began to talk more about his thoughts on God and an afterlife. …  Was Jobs’s final WOW! somehow connected?

Inventor Thomas Edison’s last words were close in spirit to Jobs’s reported exit line.  According to various sources, including the book “Edison: Inventing the Century” by Neil Baldwin, hours before his death, Edison emerged from a coma, opened his eyes, looked upwards and said “It is very beautiful over there.”  Which may be another way of saying “Oh Wow.”