What the Dreams of the Dying Tell Us by Diana Aydin
Q&A with Dr. Christopher Kerr, chief medical officer at the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, New York.
Dreams can inspire us, comfort us, confuse us and even frighten us. But the dreams of the dying, science is discovering, are something else altogether. According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, more than 80 percent of hospice patients reported intense, “more real than real” visions while asleep or awake. These visions often increased in frequency as death approached.
The study’s author, Christopher Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., the chief medical officer at the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga, New York, believes that these end-of-life dreams and visions, or ELDVs, reveal a great deal about death and the hereafter. He talked to Mysterious Ways about his startling findings.
….What is the content of these [ ELDV – end-of-life dreams and visions] dreams and visions?
The comforting presence of someone living or dead is overwhelming—72 percent of study patients dreamed of the deceased.
Animals are important.
Travel comes up often.
A lot of times, patients don’t say where they are going, but they know they’re going somewhere.
Often people relive past traumatic events in a different light so that they are reassured. A lot of soldiers see deceased comrades.
Forgiveness is a big theme. Reuniting with people. It’s absolutely transcendental. We’ve had mothers whose children ended up in jail and their whole identity was in question. Then their deceased friends and relatives come to them and say, “You’re a good mother.” A lot of healing takes place.
Do ELDVs shed light on what comes after death?
They provide a profound level of comfort that those you’ve loved are there. I don’t think it’s random. Little is said in these dreams. It almost can’t be expressed verbally.
There was a 13-year-old to whom a dog came back in an ELDV.
She was left with an understanding that she would be okay; she was going to be loved and it was a good place.
…Were you initially skeptical of your hospice patients’ dreams and visions?
Oh, hugely. In medicine, you’re required to come up with answers to things. It’s easier to blame an ELDV on brain failure or drugs. But there’s this whole other experience that isn’t in front of your eyes that needs to be respected and understood somehow.
If I really wanted to care for people, I knew I had to care for them in totality. Now, of course, I love it. You feel like you’re shepherding them a little bit. Asking them about their dreams is a lot more important than asking what day it is. Because I have patients who are spending way more time in the other world than they are here.
…Could ELDVs simply be the result of delirium? Or made up by the patient?
Delirium doesn’t bring any peace or meaning, whereas ELDVs do. If you’re dying, it makes sense that what you dream about has a broad perspective. But I don’t think patients can orchestrate all the events that happen in this type of dream or vision.
They can’t really orchestrate their own forgiveness. If they could, they would have done it at any point in their life.
There’s so much that happens within an ELDV that can’t be explained. Mothers who get to hold their deceased children—they’ve longed, sorrowed, suffered for that for 50 years. But it didn’t occur as real to them as it does right before they die.