What Does It Mean When Someone Experiences Nearing Death Awareness?

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woman holding hand of man in bed

When a terminally ill person is dying, they may undergo a unique experience known as nearing death awareness. The person may see deceased loved ones, talk to people who aren’t present, and have visions. It’s a deathbed phenomenon that defies explanation. So, what does it mean when someone is experiencing this?

Definition of Nearing Death Awareness

Nearing Death Awareness is a dying person’s experience as their life is ending, believed to be part of the dying process – the transition from life to death. Signs of nearing death awareness include:

  • Having conversations with a long-departed spouse or family member
  • Describing another realm
  • Physically reaching their hands out to non-existent people
  • Knowing when they will die
  • Saying they are going on a trip
  • Hearing things no one else can hear

According to Pallipedia, 50-60% of dying patients could experience some form of nearing death awareness in the days and weeks leading up to their passing. End-of-life caregivers report this to be a common occurrence with patients in hospice or undergoing palliative care. 

Related: The Talk: Discussing End-of-Life Planning with Your Parents and Loved Ones

What the Medical Experts Say

While some people dismiss nearing death awareness as hallucinations due to medications being given for pain and comfort or cognitive decline, medical researchers found no scientific evidence to explain the experiences. Medical experts say that nearing death awareness differs from delirium where patients describe their visions with detail and clarity while fully conscious and that the experience is calming rather than stressful.

Patients are wide awake and completely aware of where they are and of people actually with them at the same time they are experiencing these occurrences. Deaths involving nearing death awareness have been found to be more peaceful than those without the experience.

Medical researchers have turned to spiritualists and religious leaders to help find an answer for these happenings. Some say patients experiencing this are getting a glimpse of the afterlife.

How to Deal with Nearing Death Awareness

Some loved ones and caretakers of patients having nearing death awareness become unnerved, even annoyed, thinking it is confusion or delusions. If your loved one is having this experience, here are a few tips to deal with it.

  1. Stay Calm – Don’t be alarmed when they appear to be talking to their deceased mother or father or even a child who died before them.
  2. Don’t Contradict – As unsettling it is, refrain from telling them that no one is there and don’t be critical of their behavior.
  3. Be Attentive – Just listen, and even join the conversation if you feel comfortable.
  4. Join In – Go along with them as they describe what they are experiencing. This can actually help you feel more relaxed. Quietly ask them what they are seeing and who they are talking to. Be engaging.
  5. Stay with Them – Just being by your loved one’s side will give both of you peace and comfort. 

Related: What to Do When a Loved One Dies & How to Prepare – A Comprehensive Guide

Estate Planning: Get Your Affairs in Order

Losing a loved one makes us think of our own mortality. It should also prompt you to have all your affairs in order before something happens to you. This means creating a comprehensive estate plan that includes a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, a Trust, and – not to forget about our beloved pets – a Pet Power of Attorney, and a Pet Trust. 

Being prepared for the unexpected and the inevitable will give you and your loved ones peace of mind while protecting your choices and wishes.


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