Canadian author Patricia Pearson has written a book titled 'Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After'. The Sydney Morning Herald has linked to an excerpt from it that I found very interesting. Here's an extract.
Monique Séguin was one of [my sister] Katharine’s nurses. She’s a middle-aged woman with curling dark hair who had seemed bossy to us in our overwrought emotional state. She shooed us out of Katharine’s room one afternoon so that my sister could rest. I even began writing a letter to her at the time, saying that it was none of her business, that no one who was about to sleep forever needed to sleep in the interim. I never gave the letter to her, and I’m glad of that. Hospice nurses and doctors see their patients differently than most families—brand-new to the dying experience—can see their beloveds themselves.
Nurses like Monique have become passionate advocates of creating a hushed, listening space around the dying, because they have learned from experience that the men and women in their hospice beds undergo subtle transformations in awareness and mood.
Resting her elbows on the wooden dining room table, Monique tells me that most of the people she’s cared for over the years have come to know, at a certain point, exactly when they will die. For the nurses, this certitude is uncanny ... Within roughly seventy-two hours of the end of their lives, many dying people in hospice settings begin to speak in metaphors of journey. They are not being euphemistic. They are far beyond the task of making everyone feel better. They often haven’t said a word in days, and then suddenly they say something focused on travel. They sincerely want to know where their train tickets or hiking shoes or tide charts are.
. . .
... hospice staff know that when their patients begin to talk about excursions or travel, they are announcing their departure. They do not behave like perishing actors in Hollywood movies. Instead of offering some eleventh-hour contemplation about their lives, they request tickets, or boats. Some ask for their coats, others inquire about the bus schedule. They’re caught up in the busy preoccupation of leaving, not reflecting on what they’re leaving behind. My sister asked, “When am I leaving?” and expressed frustration about her “hapless flight attendants” in the way I might double-check my flight time to Newark.
. . .
There is no known medical reason for the dying to have such an acute sense of timing about their demise. Palliative-care conferences often devote sessions to how to improve doctors’ ability to prognosticate about death. When patients make their announcements about going off on a trip, rarely are there physical signs of imminent decline, such as a marked deterioration in blood pressure or oxygen levels. On the contrary, the bodily symptoms take place afterward. “I’m going away tonight,” the blues singer James Brown told his manager on Christmas Day 2006, after being admitted to the hospital for a pneumonia that wasn’t considered to be fatal, whereupon his breathing began to slow.
There's more at the link. Based on this excerpt, I think Ms. Pearson's book will make interesting reading, and I've added it to my 'To Buy' list.
I find this subject intensely interesting due to my background as a pastor and chaplain. I've seen the same thing as Ms. Pearson more than once; the dying person suddenly begins to prepare, at least mentally and sometimes also physically, for a journey. I recall one elderly lady who got very annoyed with her husband because he kept trying to put away the overnight bag she'd specifically asked the hospice staff to put by her bed so that she could pack it. He didn't understand at the time, and was confused. Later, after she'd died, I was able to explain.
I'm also struck by the number of dying persons who appear to be met, in their last seconds of life, by someone whom they've been eagerly awaiting. It might be a religious figure, such as an angel, or Our Lady, or even Christ himself: it might be a family member, a deceased spouse or child; or (in the case of military veterans) it's sometimes a group of former comrades in arms. They recognize them, and their faces light up, and they speak their name(s); I've even seen a couple of people sit up in bed, arms stretched out eagerly as if to embrace someone, then fall back dead. It's happened more than once - enough to convince me that there's something to it.
I can't give you scientific proof of life after death. That will forever remain something to be taken on faith by those who believe, because we'll never be able to scientifically prove anything that can't be physically measured and monitored. Nevertheless, I take the incidents I've seen as convincing evidence that something goes on at the point of death; and if the Good Book is to be believed, it may go on forever. I'll live in hope of that . . . and trust in God's mercy (which I know I'll need very greatly) to forgive me my sins and admit me to the right side of the hereafter!