More to dying than meets the eye

martha-atkinsAnyone over a certain age has likely had the kind of experience of a family member having died and being laid out in the poshest room of the house for a couple of days.

These days that’s not how we do it- instead they are whisked briskly away by experts and the laying out is done by more experts in special expert places – we have the witnessing of a person passing into death taken away from the home and taken away from us.

When we took death out of the home we also took away how we learn about dying and how experiences that can often form part of that passage of life are an important part of life and learning how we connect with those who have lived but no longer do, except within us.

It is, though,  becoming increasingly common for people to talk of their experiences of loved ones having “deathbed visions”.

There is something curious and interesting about how as a society we can recognise a need to become comfortable with people who we have already accepted are dying having all kinds of visions, voices and not fill ourselves with fear; yet when people are very much alive and having similar experiences fear is all we allow ourselves.

Martha Atkins at TEDx San Antonio 2013 talking of  “unseens” and other experiences of “deathbed visions”.

As she says, such experiences are very  “real to the person who is experiencing it.”

Atkins is not alone in asserting that deathbed visions are different, very different from “hallucinations”:

  • Those experiencing deathbed visions recognise that the phenomena they were witnessing were signs that death was near.
  • Whereas “hallucinations”, visions – did not have a context and were frightening, “visions” did have context and were comforting

Without meaning to be disputatious but we do wish  to point out that that difference is not one within  the phenomena being observed but in the observer’s ability to place what they observe within a context – or, if you prefer, an error, assumption, or bias in the system of observation.

Just like visions, and for that matter any other experience that gets dismissed as “hallucination”, “delusion”, etc , even the most difficult vision and voice experiences can make perfect sense when we place them within sufficient context.

Indeed if it does not make sense yet then that is a salutary clue that we have yet to include what we observe within sufficient context.

Or, as V.S. Ramachandran says: 

If someone says something I don’t understand,
that doesn’t mean they are crazy.
It just means I’m not smart enough to understand


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