For many of us, an amazing phenomenon will occur in the final weeks before taking our last breath: we will experience an end-of-life dream or vision (ELDV). Experts have typically estimated that approximately 50-60% of people who are dying experience these comforting dreams and visions, and yet, according to a new study which interviewed Hospice patients, those statistics may be even higher, at nearly 90%. The findings are both astonishing and comforting.
For the study, researchers from Daemen College and Hospice Buffalo conducted a total of 453 interviews with 66 Hospice patients over a period of 18 months. The study is the first to document ELDVs directly from patients during their final days.
On a daily basis, the patients were asked to report any dreams or visions they had experienced, whether they occurred while they were awake or asleep, their content and frequency, how real they seemed, and if they were comforting or discomforting. Of the 66 participants, 59 individuals were included in the study. Of these, an overwhelming 88% experienced at least one dream or vision.
According to the findings, 72% of all ELDVs involved seeing and/or communicating with a deceased loved one, with most receiving loving reassurance or guidance of some kind. ELDVs that involved deceased loved ones, or even deceased pets, were reported by patients as being far more comforting than ELDVs of loved ones who were still alive. ELDVs of deceased loved ones became more and more common as patients grew closer to death.
Interestingly, 39% of ELDVs involved a theme of going away or preparing to go somewhere. Overwhelmingly, patients reported that they had gained a sense of ‘personal meaningfulness’ as a direct result of their ELDVs and, when the time came, these patients almost always experienced calm and peaceful deaths.
In one example, a 76 year old patient dreamed about being a boy again, smelling his mother’s perfume, and hearing her soothing voice saying ‘I love you.’ He had another dream about his father giving him valuable life lessons and feeling as though his father approved of him.
Unfortunately, some ELDVs are written off by others as delirium or hallucinations; ELDVs, however, have several features in stark contrast to delirium. For example, ELDVs are often experienced in patients with heightened acuity and clear consciousness; they are also recalled with extreme ease. In fact, many dreams are so clear and intense that the dream crosses from the sleep state and into waking reality. In contrast to delirium, ELDVs also result in a sense of inner peace and acceptance.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care, include the following facts:
- 45.3% of ELDVs occur during sleep
- 15.7% of ELDVs occur while awake
- 39.1%of ELDVs occur while awake and asleep (sometimes starting as an intense dream and continuing as a vision into waking hours.)
- 28% of ELDVs were of past meaningful experiences
- Nearly 99% of patients said the ELDV felt very real; not foggy or imaginary
- There was a notable absence of dreams featuring religious figures
Overwhelmingly, patients who experience ELDVs lose their fear of death and gain soothing insights into their mortality. The experience of dying is transformed from a scary and puzzling event into a natural process wrapped in comfort and complete acceptance.