Deathbed Visions 


by Carla Wills-Brandon, Ph.D.

Family Reunions

Deathbed visions have played a very important role in both my personal and professional life. In my personal life, they have assisted my grief process. Because of my encounter with these visions, I know for certain that life goes on after death. The comfort that comes from understanding my departed loved ones are safe—alive and well on the other side—is boundless.

When someone I know passes away, I am sad that I will no longer be able to talk, hug, sit, have a meal or physically be with that person. My grief isn't related to never seeing them again. My sense of loss is more about not being able to reach out and readily "touch" my loved ones in the here and now. This change in the state of the relationship is what I most grieve.

Over the years I have learned that with death, only the method of interpersonal connecting changes. The dying appear to move on to a new existence, leaving us here to finish out our tasks in this life. In spite of these alterations, love continues to cross all boundaries. Research into this phenomena has proven this to me repeatedly. Knowing what I know about life after death, I often wonder which one of my deceased relatives will greet me at death's door. As I take my last few breaths, who will lovingly extend the hand of comfort to me? I find most exciting and reassuring the prospect of a future family reunion with long-lost loved ones.

My favorite type of deathbed visions have always involved visitation from deceased family members. Such visitations soothe both the living and the dying. They make the death transition easier for the dying and lessen the burden of grief for surviving family members. In some cases, even long-standing family disputes appear to be resolved. Consider the following account.

On May 22, 1972, the Duke of Windsor took his last breath. His abdication of the English throne and subsequent marriage to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson had given his mother, Queen Mary, a great deal of grief. According to an article by Ian Watson, in a November 1986 issue of the Sunday Telegraph, when dying the Duke was heard quietly saying, "Mama . . . Mama . . . Mama . . . Mama" just before he died. Do you think Queen Mary came to escort her son, who had caused her such pain during her time on earth, to the afterlife?


People who are close to death commonly call out the name of a dead relative. To finally reunite with loved ones who have passed on must be a wonderful feeling. Centuries ago, as a man or woman lay dying—surrounded by loved ones, with a favorite pet at the foot of the bed—seeing deceased relatives was viewed as a normal affair. Those at the deathbed would often ask, "Who do you see? How are they? Do they have a message for me?" Today, such events continue to occur, but are we listening? Are we open to the lessons of the dying?

With deaths taking place more often than not in hospitals and nursing homes, DBVs are often dismissed. Periodically, a kind nurse or doctor does take note and offer support. In reading the following DBVs, notice how comforted the dying person is at seeing a familiar face from the other side. Jenny Randles and Peter Hough offer us the following account from their book, The Afterlife (1993).

Sheila Mendoza is a charge nurse who works in the intensive care unit wards of a large hospital in Texas. She has watched many people die and admits that she had become rather hardened to the process. However, nothing prepared her for one night in 1982 when the most remarkable event that she had ever witnessed was to take place.

Sheila was on night shift, paying special attention to a man who had been in the hospital for some days. Although under close care, he was not thought to be in any danger nor seriously ill.

At about 8 p.m. he began talking very lucidly about a loved one whom he longed to see. Sheila could not tell who this person was, but it was obvious that the man had not seen her in many years and never expected to do so again. The impression is that she must have passed away some years before. The man then slipped from his mumbling into a restless sleep.

At about 9:30 he began talking about this person again, and his vital signs also began to fall. Fearing the worst, more medical staff was brought in, but the man slid into a comatose state.

Then the patient became wonderfully alert, as some people do very near the end. He looked to one side, staring into vacant space. As time went by, it was clear he could see someone there whom nobody else in the room could see. Suddenly, his face lit up like a beacon. He was staring and smiling at what was clearly a long-lost friend, his eyes so full of love and serenity that it was hard for those around him to not be overcome by tears.

Sheila says: "There was no mistake. Someone had come for him at the last to show him the way."

Minutes later the man died, in a state of sublime peace and happiness.

From that day Sheila Mendoza looked upon her dying patients with new eyes and dignity. Like so many others who care for the terminally ill, she had witnessed that precious moment when life slips all ties to a battered, broken body and moves on toward who knows where.

Who was this long-lost family member or friend? Only the dying man will ever know. What is important to recognize is that this reunion somehow prepared him for his death. This vision enabled him to easily pass on to the next stage of existence. It also taught the health-care worker a vital lesson about working with the terminally ill.

The medical community—actually, all of us—can learn many lessons from the dying and DBVs. In the following account, a mother hears from a dying aunt details regarding her deceased daughter's existence in the afterlife. This experience brings this mother a sense of joy and relief. Not only is she reassured that her daughter is well, but the mother quickly recognizes that her dying aunt will also be cared for when she passes.

A few years ago my husband's aunt had a serious stroke and was unconscious in the hospital for a few days. My daughter had died a year or so earlier. I was "speaking" (out loud) to my daughter who had passed and told her it looked like her great aunt would be joining her soon and told her it would be nice if she could visit her. Yes, I'm still a typical mother when it comes to my daughter (even though she is dead).

My mother-in-law and several other family members were at my aunt's side when she suddenly woke up. She wanted to talk about my dead daughter. She said she had seen her. My aunt said that my daughter looked beautiful. She added that she was fine and so very safe. She then said my daughter was with God. The family didn't like hearing this kind of talk and they kept trying to change the subject, but my aunt wanted to continue talking about my daughter. It was strange that she mentioned my daughter, because she had lost other people who were much closer to her. She died two days later. I was glad my mother-in-law shared this with me.

Just one of the innumerable gifts of DBVs is that messages from the dying about other deceased relatives can heal old wounds. Sadly, many of these messages go unheard. Society doesn't yet see these visions as normal. As a result, dying individuals experiencing DBVs are often misdiagnosed, disregarded, ignored, heavily medicated or shut away. Unaware family members often have an extremely difficult time understanding why Dad is talking to Uncle Joe, because Uncle Joe has been dead for twenty years. Many health-care workers dismiss DBVs as hallucinations by telling family members things like, "Your father is delusional," or "He doesn't know what he is saying."

Hopefully, as time goes on, our culture will gain greater awareness of this phenomena. When such acceptance occurs, more families will greet DBVs as opposed to retreating from them. As was often the case a century ago, visions and otherworldly reunions will once again be viewed as a benefit to all present at the deathbed. For example, the following deathbed reunion was very enlightening for one of America's most famous spiritual leaders.

Evangelist Dr. Billy Graham was with his grandmother the day she died. According to a quote in George Gallup Jr.'s work, Adventures in Immortality (1983), Graham's grandmother, who had been very weak, suddenly sat up and announced she was seeing her deceased husband, Ben. Dr. Graham's grandfather fought in the Civil War and had lost a leg and an eye during battle. Just before she died, Graham's grandmother said, "There is Ben, and he has both of his eyes and both of his legs!"

The grandmother left this world with a sense of exaltation at seeing her beloved husband whole and healed. The vision must have also been very comforting to Dr. Graham. Today, Dr. Graham is one of the most revered spiritual leaders in the United States. What impact might this particular DBV have had on Dr. Graham's concept of life after death?

When a dying person has a DBV, surrounding family members are often better able to let go of their loved one. One beautiful DBV account comes from a delightful woman named Gladys. In this touching account, Gladys encourages her beloved husband to leave his ill body. Her husband's DBV made the dying process easier on both of them.

My husband Bryan died of cancer on August 29, 1995. With help from the local hospice, he was allowed to come home two weeks before his death. We had been married for forty-four years and had our share of spats, but never once did either of us feel unloved. I like to call that last two weeks (before he died) our last "honeymoon." We were very open with the fact that he was dying, and we talked at great lengths about heaven and if we would know each other when I got there.

An attendant, Morris, was hired to come in and help me on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first thing I asked Morris to do in the mornings was change Bryan's bed. Since Bryan had bone cancer, any movement was painful. During the final hours of his life, I was standing at the foot of the bed while Morris was moving Bryan. As Morris moved him he said, "Bryan, I am trying to be easy with you," to which Bryan responded, "Don't sweat the little things."

Then Bryan looked straight at me and said, "Mama! Mama!" I knew at that time he was not seeing me, but his mother who was waiting for him in heaven. I also knew the moment his body died that an angel had come to take his soul home. He died at 4:15 the next morning. . . . I rubbed his head and told him to please let go and go to God. . . . I had given him the greatest of love by asking God to take his hand and lead him home. . . . (Bryan was) the greatest man that ever lived in my life.

For those preparing to travel to the other side of the veil, recognizing that family members are waiting must be extremely reassuring. Science unfortunately continues to downplay DBVs. In this age of science, popular belief holds that we die alone. My father-in-law was for years a firm believer in the rigid laws of science. When the topic of life after death would come up in conversation, Pop would say, "We become worm food and that is it! Lights out! We just expire! The end!" I bet he was surprised when he ended up in an afterlife world!

Parenting from Beyond

Many of the DBVs I've documented relate to contact with parents and parent figures who have died. The next DBV was taken from Psychic Research and the Resurrection by J. H. Hyslop (1908). This absolutely beautiful narrative was given by a Dr. Wilson of New York. Dr. Wilson was at the deathbed of famous American tenor James Moore. The account is well known among DBV researchers.

It was about four o'clock and the dawn for which he had been waiting was creeping in through the shutters, when, as I bent over the bed, I noticed his face was quite calm and his eyes clear. The poor fellow looked up into my face, and taking my hand in both of his, he said, "You've been a good friend to me, Doctor. You've stood by me." Then something which I shall never forget to my dying day happened, something which is utterly indescribable. While he appeared perfectly rational and as sane as any man I have ever seen, the only way that I can express it is that he was transported into another world, and although I cannot satisfactorily explain the matter to myself, I am fully convinced that he entered the Golden City, for he said in a stronger voice than he had used since I attended him, "There is Mother! Why, Mother, have you come to see me? No, no, I'm coming to see you. Just wait Mother, I'm almost over. I can jump it. Wait, Mother." On his face there was a look of inexpressible happiness, and the way in which he said the words impressed me as I have never been before, and I am (as) firmly convinced that he saw and talked with his mother as I am that I am sitting here.

In order to preserve what I believe to be his conversation with his (deceased) mother, and also to have a record of the strangest happening of my life, I immediately wrote down every word he said. . . . His was one of the most beautiful deaths I have ever seen.

Across the unknown, one more mother comes to escort her beloved child to the next world, as if the maternal instinct to protect offspring continues after the physical body has disintegrated. With the passage of time and boundaries of death, motherly love can continue. I recently received the following DBV account of a one-hundred-year-old woman who had a blessed visit from her mother just before she passed.

My mother died in 1976. Her sister-in-law died a few years later, one week prior to her one hundredth birthday. For about a week before her death (she was not ill and was perfectly lucid at all times), she began giving daily announcements to the family about visits with her mother. This, I say, happened every day. She died peacefully at the end of the week.

A call from Mom from the beyond! Is this only an American phenomena or is it a cross-cultural experience? The next account answers this question. The following DBV comes from Osis and Haraldsson's collection of deathbed visions in At the Hour of Death. Here, a young Hindu boy is passing. The nurses and doctors at his deathbed shared this vision with Dr. Osis.

He often talked about (his mother). . . . He mentioned her . . . very affectionately. The day he died he had no fever but he said, "My time has come" to his father. "My mother is calling. She is standing with her arms open." At that moment his state of mind was clear. He was conscious of his surroundings and talked to his father until the last moment. Then, with one hand holding his father's and the other pointed toward where he saw his mother, he said, "Don't you see Mother? See!. . . Then he died, stretching forward to [her] . . . almost falling out of bed. He was so happy to see her!

Most mothers want to be there for their children, as though the desire to "mother" continues in the afterlife. To see what I mean, read the next account.

My sister had cancer and was living out her last days at home. Every time I walked past her room, she seemed to be talking to someone. One day, I was outside her bedroom door and I heard her ask for a glass of water, so I went to get her one. When I took it into her room, she looked at me and said, "Oh, thank you. You didn't have to bring it. I had already asked Mom to bring me a drink."

Our mother had been dead for years, so I asked her who she had been talking with. She said she had been talking to our mother!

What is so interesting about these visions is not only their impact on the dying, but their effect on those who previously would never have even considered such visitations possible. The dying man in the following narrative appears to be totally surprised with the sudden appearance of his mother-in-law.

My mother lived with us throughout our marriage. A few months ago, my husband—who I must say does not believe in any of these kind of experiences—told me that my [deceased] mom was in the house. It would take something very dramatic for my husband to make such a statement.

As the moment of death draws near, nonbelievers are often surprised with a DBV. The man in the previous example never would have expected his mother-in-law to return from the dead. Imagine his astonishment when he realized his mother-in-law was revisiting her old stomping grounds!

When my time to die arrives, I strongly suspect my mother, who died many years ago, will return to my side, and I have often wondered what our reunion will be like. Knowing my mother, if she does visit my deathbed, she will probably tell me how to die! You think I'm joking? Read the following DBV report, in which a dying woman receives specific directions from a deceased mate on what to do at the moment of death.

On February 14 my mother said to the nurse, "Today is Valentine's Day. Too bad my husband can't be with me. Perhaps I will see him today." She later said my dad came to see her and said that she will see a bright light and to turn right and he will be there waiting for her. Then she said that she needed to get ready to die and began to pray and sing.

My belief is that the personality continues after death. If someone is loving in this life, who's to say they won't be loving in the next existence? If a husband had provided support and assistance to his wife while alive, it only makes sense this pattern of behavior would continue after death.

 From One Last Hug Before I Go, by Carla Wills-Brandon. Copyright © 2000 by Carla Wills-Brandon. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher, Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-441-5569 or click here.