Deathbed Visions: The Earliest Accounts (Part 2)

Deathbed visions are a different phenomenon from near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are accounts of extraordinary experiences of those who had close brushes with death, but who recovered to tell the story of their remarkable experiences. Deathbed visions are usually extraordinary observational accounts told by those who came very close to dying, and then actually did die.  The great interest in near-death experiences has caused the different phenomenon of deathbed visions to be overshadowed and overlooked. 

In Part 1 of this two-part post I quoted some of the earliest accounts of deathbed visions, provided in a 1906 paper by Ernesto Bozzanno. I also discussed some deathbed visions described in the 1926 book Death-bed Visions by Sir William Barrett, which can be read here.  Let us look at some more accounts in that book that I didn't mention in my previous post. 

On page 43 we have an account of a Jim who when dying said that he saw three of his siblings who had previously died.  On page 46 we read of two sisters who died of smallpox, Minnie dying before Ada. We read this about Ada's death:

"Suddenly the sick child woke up from a kind of stupor, and exclaimed, 'Oh, look, Mamma, look at the beautiful angels !’ pointing to the foot of the bed. Mrs. G. saw nothing, but heard soft sweet music, which seemed to float in the air. Again the child exclaimed :  'Oh, dear Mamma, there is Minnie! She has come for me ' ; she smiled and appeared greatly pleased. At this moment Mrs. G. distinctly heard a voice say, ‘Come, dear Ada, I am waiting for you! ’ The sick child smiled once again and died without a struggle.” 

On page 48 we read of the death of a son:

"Then he spoke again and said,' Mother, here is Grandmother 
come ! You must see her ! And she is with such a great company, and they say that they are come to take me away with them.' Soon after that he gently breathed his last.”

On the same page we read of another person's death:

"Just before death he raised himself in his bed, resting himself upon his hand and said, ‘ Who is that at the bottom of my bed ?’ His mother, who was sitting by his bedside, said, 'There is no one there, my dear.' He said, ‘ Don't you see Emma'  (a departed sister) 'standing at the foot of the bed ?’ She said, ‘No, there is no one there, my dear‘ 'Yes, there is,' he said, 'it is Emma. I am coming, I am ready’; and fell back and died.”

On page 49 we read this account of a death of a boy from consumption:

“On the morning of the day he died, his mother having left the room to fetch him something, heard him call and hastening back, found him sitting up in bed, looking towards the corner of the room, and he said to her, ‘ There is a nice old man come for me ; he is holding out his arms for me. I must go. Don’t fret, Mother’ ; and he fell back gently on his pillow and was gone, without any struggle for breath, and with a smile of joy on his face, which remained." 

On page 50 we read this account of a death:

'An old man, named John George...lay dying. He and his wife, Mary Ann George, had had a great sorrow that same year in the death of their youngest son, Tom, a young man who had been killed on the railway line on which he worked. The dying man had been quiet for some time as though sleeping, when he suddenly looked up, opened his eyes wide, and looking at the side of the bed opposite to where his wife was, exclaimed, ‘Why, Mother, here is Tom, and he is all right, no marks on him. Oh, he looks fine.’ 

On page 51 we read of the death of a woman:

"She suddenly looked up with such a bright expression of face and said, ' Oh, Emmie, Mother is here ; she has come for me, and is going to take me with her.'  She never lost the feeling of confidential joy, and passed away the day after quite peacefully."

On pages 51-52 we read of the death of a nine-year-old boy who saw his sister who had died fours years ago and others who had died such as a Roy who had died a year ago (the account is taken from this other page):

"Feeling that he was going, he asked his mother to hold his hands until he should be gone. Soon he looked up and said, ‘Mother, dear, don’t you see little sister over there ?’ ‘No, where is she ?’ ‘Right over there. She is looking at me.’ Then the mother to pacify him said she saw the child. In a few minutes his face lighted up full of smiles, and he said, ‘ There comes Mrs. C.’ (a lady of whom he was very fond, who had died nearly two years before), ‘ and she is smiling just as she used to. She is smiling and wants me to come.’ In a few moments he said, ‘There is Roy ! I’m going to them. I don’t want to leave you, but you’ll come to me soon, won’t you ? Open the door and let them in. They are waiting outside,’ and he was gone.” 

On pages 68-69 we read of the death of diptheria of a Hattie:

"She knew she was passing away, and was telling our mother how to dispose of her little personal belongings among her close friends and playmates, when she suddenly raised her eyes as though gazing at the ceiling toward the farther side of the room, and after looking steadily and apparently listening for a short time, slightly bowed her head, and said, 'Yes, Grandma, I am coming, only wait just a little while, please.' Our father asked her, 'Hattie, do you see your grandma ?' Seemingly surprised at the question she promptly answered, 'Yes, Papa, can’t you see her ? She is right there waiting for me.' At the same time she pointed toward the ceiling in the direction in which she had been gazing. Again addressing the vision she evidently had of her grandmother, she scowled a little impatiently and said, ‘ Yes, Grandma, I’m coming, but wait a minute, please.’ ...She then fixed her eyes steadily on her vision but so faintly that we could but just catch her words, said, ' Yes, Grandma, I’m coming now.' Then without a struggle or evidence of pain of any kind she gazed steadily in the direction she had pointed out to us where she saw her grandma, until the absence of oxygen in her blood-stream, because respiration had ceased, left her hands and face all covered with the pallor of lifeless flesh....Her grandmother had died a few years previously."

On page 71-72 we read this account:

"My father died in Germany on March 18th, 1892, and my mother then came to live with us at Odessa. Shortly after she fell ill, and died on May 6th of the following year, 1893....A few minutes before her death she regained consciousness (having been in a state of coma for two hours previously), raised herself in her bed, stretched out her arms, and with a happy smile on her face, cried out, ‘ Papa ! Papa ! ’ just as if she suddenly saw him in front of her. Immediately after she fell back into the arms of my wife, and expired. My mother used to call her husband 'Papa' just as we children did."

On page 74 we read of a deathbed vision apparently observed by multiple witnesses:

"In one case two women watching by their dying sister, Charlotte, saw a bright light and within it two young faces hovering over the bed, gazing intently at Charlotte; the elder sister recognized these faces as being two of her brothers, William and John, who had died when she was young. The two sisters continued to watch the faces till they gradually ‘faded away like a washed-out picture,’ and shortly afterwards their sister Charlotte died."

On page 75 we read this account:

"Miss H., the daughter of an English clergyman, was tending a dying child. His little brother, aged three to four years, was in a bed in the same room. As the former was dying, the little brother woke up, and, pointing to the ceiling with every expression of joy, said, ‘Mother, look at the beautiful ladies round my brother ! How lovely they are, they want to take him.' The child died at that moment.”

The next page gives a similar account of a small child reporting an apparition at the time of someone else's death:

"A little girl of three, Hippolyte Notari, partly paralysed, was in the same room with her little brother of four months, who was dying. The father, the mother, and the grandmother of the two children were present. About fifteen minutes before the death of the infant, little Hippolyte stretched out her arms, saying, 'Look, mother, Aunt Olga.' This Aunt Olga was a younger sister of Mme. Notari, who had killed herself a year previously owing to a disappointment in love. The parents asked, ' Where do you see Aunt Olga ?' The child said, ‘There, there !' and tried insistently to get out of bed to go to her aunt. They let her get up, she ran to an empty chair and was much discountenanced because the vision had moved to another part of the room. The child turned round and said, pointing to a corner, 'Aunt Olga is there.' Then she became quiet and the baby died." 

On page 109 we read of someone seeing deathbed apparitions of two deceased friends of a dying girl:

"The first time that I received this ocular proof was at the death of Laura Stirman, a sweet girl of seventeen, who was a personal friend of mine. She was a victim of consumption....A short time before she expired I became aware that two spirit forms were standing by the bedside, one on either side of it. I did not see them enter the room ; they were standing by the bedside when they first became visible to me, but I could see them as distinctly as I could any of the human occupants of the room. I recognized their faces as those of two girls who had been the closest friends of the girl who was dying. They had passed away a year before and were then about her own age." 

1n 1891 Sara Underwood wrote an account of seeing a very unusual apparition: the apparition of a face appearing over the face of a dying person. Her account is to be found on page 364 of the document here (the Arena, August 1891): 

"I thought I could more easily let her go out into the unknown if I could but feel that her hope would be realized, and I put into words this feeling. I pleaded that if there were any of her own departed ones present at this supreme moment could they not and would they not give me some least sign that such was the fact, and I would be content. Slowly over the dying one’s face spread a mellow radiant mist— I know no other way to describe it. In a few moments it covered the dying face as with a veil, and spread in a circle of about a foot beyond, over the pillow, the strange yellowish-white light all the more distinct from the partial darkness of the room. Then from the centre of this, immediately over the hidden face, appeared an apparently living face with smiling eyes which looked directly into mine, gazing at me with a look so full of comforting assurance that I could scarcely feel frightened. But it was so real and so strange that I wondered if I were temporarily crazed, and as it disappeared I called a watcher from another room, and went out into the open air for a few moments to recover myself under the midnight stars. When I was sure of myself I returned and took my place again alone. Then I asked that, if that appearance were real and not an hallucination, would it be made once more manifest to me; and again the phenomenon was repeated, and the kind, smiling face looked up at me — a face new to me yet wondrously familiar. Afterwards I recalled my friend’s frequent description of her dead father whom she dearly loved, but whom I had never seen, and I could not help the impression that it was his face I saw the hour that his daughter died." 

The case below was reported by a Mrs. Chambers, and quoted in pages 30-31 of Death and Its Mystery: After Death by the astronomer Camille Flammarion (one of the three volumes of a trilogy which you should really read in all three of its volumes here, here and here):

"Tommy Brown was a poor boy, twelve years old, belonging to a numerous and destitute family. His health was shattered; he was stretched on a hospital bed. His father had died, two years before, in a bed near this one. On a certain night he said to his mother, 'Mamma, there's Father.' 'No, dear' his mother answered ; 'there's no one there.' 'Yes there is! Why, don't you see him near the bed? Speak to him.' She saw nothing, and the nurse saw nothing. 'What's your papa doing?' the mother asked, at length. 'He's looking at you.' And, a moment afterward : 'He's looking at me, and beckoning me to follow him, so he can take me away with him.'...Talking in this way, the child lost consciousness. He died some days later."

On pages 309-310 of Volume 13 of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the astonishing account below of a man who saw paranormal sights during the last hours of his dying wife's life:

"My wife died at 11.45 p.m. on Friday, May 23, 1902;  and, after four o'clock upon the afternoon of that day, I became convinced that her death was merely a question of moments...At 6.45 (the reason why I am so positive as to the time is because a clock was upon the bureau in plain sight), I happened to look towards the door, when I saw floating through the doorway three separate and distinct clouds in strata. Each cloud appeared to be about four feet in length, from six to eight inches in width, the lower one about two feet from the ground, the others at intervals of about six inches. My first thought was that some of our friends (and I must ask their pardon for the thought) were standing outside the bedroom smoking, and that the smoke from their cigars was being wafted into the room. With this idea, I started up to rebuke them, when, lo ! I discovered there was no one standing by the door, no one in the hallway, no one in the adjoining rooms. Overcome with astonishment I watched the clouds; and slowly, but surely, these clouds approached the bed until they completely enveloped it. Then, gazing through the mist, I beheld, standing at the head of my dying wife, a woman's figure about three feet in height, transparent, yet like a sheen of brightest gold; a figure so glorious in its appearance that no words can be used fitly to describe it. She was dressed in the Grecian costume, with long, loose and flowing sleeves—upon her head a brilliant crown. In all its splendour and beauty the figure remained motionless with hands uplifted over my wife, seeming to express a welcome with a quiet, glad countenance, with a dignity of calmness and peace. Two figures in white knelt by my wife's side, apparently leaning towards her ; other figures hovered about the bed, more or less distinct. Above my wife, and connected with a cord proceeding from her forehead, over the left eye, there floated in a horizontal position a nude, white figure, apparently her astral body. At times the suspended figure would lie perfectly quiet, at other times it would shrink in size until it was no larger than perhaps eighteen inches, but always was the figure perfect and distinct : a perfect head, a perfect body, perfect arms and perfect legs. When the astral body diminished in size, it struggled violently, threw out its arms and legs in an apparent effort to escape. It would struggle until it seemed to exhaust itself, then become calm, increase in size, only to repeat the same performance again and again. This vision, or whatever it may be called, I saw continuously during the five hours preceding the death of my wife. Interruptions, as speaking to my friends, closing my eyes, turning away my head, failed to destroy the illusion, for whenever I looked towards that deathbed the spiritual vision was there.... At last the fatal moment arrived ; with a gasp, the astral figure struggling, my wife ceased to breathe ; she apparently was dead : however a few seconds later she breathed again, twice, and then all was still. With her last breath and last gasp, as the soul left the body, the cord was severed suddenly and the astral figure vanished. The clouds and the spirit forms disappeared instantly, and, strange to say, all the oppression that weighed upon me was gone ; I was myself, cool, calm and deliberate, able to direct, from the moment of death, the disposition of the body, its preparation for a final resting place."

On page 311 of the same volume we have a Dr. Renz testify to the sanity and stability of the witness who made the previous statement:

"By his friends and associates he is considered an extremely calm, level-headed and strong-willed business man... From my own observations I can most positively put aside a temporary acute state of hallucinatory insanity during the time of the vision mentioned above."

Researching the topic of deathbed visions, Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson conducted research surveys of hospital workers. In a July 1977 paper published in Volume 71, Number 3 of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, they reported 178 cases of dying people who reported seeing an apparition of a dead person (Table 1). The number was much higher than the 68 who reported an apparition of a living person. The majority of these apparitions were described as having a purpose of being there to "take away" the dying person.  In the US there was a very high percentage of deathbed apparitions idenitified as a mother, father, spouse, sibling or offspring, while in India there was a relatively high percentage of apparitions identified as unidentified figures (Table 2). Roughly half of the people reporting such visions were characterized as having a consciousness of "clear," rather than "mildly impaired," "severely impaired" or "fluctuating" (Table 3). 

We read the following on a page of the Psi Encylopedia:

"In 2017, Una MacConville carried out a study with Irish health care professionals. The carers reported that 45% of their patients spoke of visions of deceased relatives, often joyful experiences that bring a sense of peace and comfort."