Carla Wills-Brandon, M.A., Ph.D. answers questions in regards to her research of death bed visions, which is covered in-depth in her book:|
"One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions".
What is a death bed vision? Most Hospice workers are very familiar with deathbed visions or DBVs, but sometimes these experiences are difficult to put into words.
A death bed vision is an "otherworldly" experience the dying and their family members encounter just before death. The dying will report visions of angels, deceased loved ones, or religious figures, moments hours, days or even weeks before actual death occurs.
Family members at the deathbed of a loved on will often ask healthcare workers and Hospice care takers, "Couldn't these 'visions' just be the by product of a dying brain?
Death bed visions have been reported by the dying for centuries. In the 1920s, and 70s, several researchers asked these exact questions. These researchers decided to put this phenomenon to the test. What they discovered was astounding. The visitors in the visions were often times deceased relatives who came to offer support to the dying person. In some situations, the dying did not know these visitors were all ready dead.
When DBVs are reported, Hospice workers and healthcare providers are often confronted with a number of questions from confused family members, such as "What about wishful thinking, related to a fear of death? Maybe my loved one is imagining all of this."
The above would be a simple explanation, but the DBV phenomenon isnt that cut and dry. One researcher compared the DBVs of dying Americans with those of India (who were passing). Thousands of nurses and doctors were interveiwed about DBVs they had witnessed as death drew near. Except for a few religious differences, the DBVs of both of these cultures were incredibly similar. The consistency of the experiences between these 2 cultures (which are very different), leads me to believe there is more to the DBV experience than wishful thinking.
Hospice workers and healthcare providers are also often asked, "How about medication? Medications can certainly induce hallucinations."
Many of the individuals who have these visions are not on medications and are very coherent. Those who are on medications also report these visions, but the visions are similar to those who are not on medications. Finally, well, alert, sober family members and friends, of the dying have also reported DBVs. Hospice workers and healthcare providers have also reported DBV experiences.
Are the DBVs of family members, friends and healthcare professionals similar to those of the dying?
Interestingly yes! These individuals can also receive visitations from deceased relatives (in some cases they are not aware these individuals have died) angels or religious figures. Like the dying, dreams of "heaven" or communication with other worldly figures are also common for those at the deathbed.
Hospice and healthcare providers are often asked, "What is s/he staring at? Is this stare a by-product of death? Why is s/he appear to be tracking something on the ceiling or in a corner of the room? Are they 'really' seeing something?
Often times a dying person will fixate their gaze on a particular area of the room. In some cases they will appear to be following something with their gaze. For years the medical profession has told us this is just the by-product of the brain dying. In some cases I agree with this, but in others, this catch all explanation just doesnt cut it. I believe the staring behavior might be connected to DBV experiences.
Why did you decide to write this book?
When my mother passed, I, along with two friends of hers, all had the same DBV. For years I didn't understand this experience. Being only 16 at the time, I found the experience comforting, but confusing. Such things were not discussed in my family. Nor could the healthcare workers at her side shed any light on my encounter. Psychologists ignored me and friends told me, "Carla, you have an over active imagination!" So, for years I remained silent. A little over a decade later, one of the people who also experienced a DBV at my mothers passing validated my own DBV experience. This perpetuated my curiosity in the phenomenon.
Over the years, numerous patients have shared DBVs with me. Sadly, I'm often the first person they ever discuss these blessed events with. Fear of societal keeps them silent and a lack of validation often creates confusions. My job as a healthcare provider has been to validate DBVs for those patients of mine who report them, and to then use them for processing grief and developing a sense of spiritual wellness.
Several years ago, my father in law died. Two weeks before he past, my youngest son had a series of DBVs. Being only 3 at the time, this had a profound impact on his feelings about his grandfathers death and death in general. He was very comforted and matter of fact about just "where" his "Da" was going after he died. This experience is described in great detail in the book. As a result of this, I decided to collect a number of DBV experiences for a book in an attempt to offer comfort to not only those who are dying or bereaved, but to those who have questions, concerns or fears about what happens at the point of death. This is the purpose of "One Last Hug."
After collecting numerous visions and experiencing DBVs with my son and when my mother died, I believe the way our society handles death must change.
Our healthcare system perpetuates "death phobia." Most doctors and nurses continue to see death as a "failure" on their part. In their attempt to prolong life, they often create more difficulties for those passing and their family members. Out side of Hospice, DBVs are a neglected source of peace and comfort to all those involved. This must change. Today, I have no absolute answers regarding life after death, but I do strongly believe the DBV experience must not continue to be ignored.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has understanding DBVs helped you assist those who are in grief?
In many cases, these bereaved individuals will come to me and say, "I had a rather strange experience just before Uncle Joe passed," or "While Mom was dying, she started talking to all of the dead relatives as if they were right there, in the room with her!" For those who have had such experiences, my own personal and professional involvement with DBVs validated their encounters. My sharing of my experiences and of those I have collected, allows these individuals to feel "normal" about their experiences. These individuals usually walk away from my office feeling very relieved to have found someone who understands. For those who are dying, DBV information offers them hope, validates any visions they might have had or may have in the future, and it lessons the fear of death. With individuals seeking answers to questions about death, DBV information often times propels them into resolving their own issues around dying.
This book, "One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions" has been written in a language that is easy to understand and is recommended for the professional healthcare worker and lay person a like. It is strongly suggested that the Hospice professional examine this work. In the back of the book is an Appendix to the Medical professional, Clergy and Mental Healthcare worker, specifically designed to assist professionals in addressing DBVs in a helpful manner.
Many people today fear their own death and have difficulty handling the passing of loved ones. Society, with its obsession with youth, and dread of aging, has perpetuated the fear of death. If we can recognize that death is nothing to fear, perhaps we will be able to live life with more fully. Being at peace with ourselves allows us to have more compassion for others, our community and planet. I strongly believe many of societys dysfunctional behaviors are tied directly to our fear of death. The quest for more materially is an attempt to fill up a spiritual hole deep inside our being. The need for power and control actually stems from feeling afraid of the unknown. Knowing that death is not the end just might resolve some of our fear based societal difficulties
Are Deathbed Visions: A New Phenomenon?
Absolutely not! They have been with us throughout history. For instance, Jewish Hasidic literature is full of stories describing the death bed visions of famous Rabbis. One hour before Rabbi Shmelke died, he saw his deceased father, Rabbi Moshe Leib, standing right next to him! He also saw his deceased teacher, Rabbi Mikhal. Those who buried Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, said they saw his soul leave the earth plane. These followers of this historically famous Rebbe, described seeing a blue flame ascending to the heavens!
In 1923, a researcher brought together numerous accounts of death bed visions and put them in a small book titled, "Death Bed Visions." Sir William Barrett's wife, a physician, had a patient who reported an incredible vision. This account spurred the Barrett's interest in death bed visions (DBV) and the two spent the rest of their lives researching not only the visions of the dying, but other related phenomena.
In his book, Barrett described one very interesting aspect of the accounts he had collected from children. During DBV experiences, children were surprised to see that the angels in their visions did not have wings! Isn't it interesting that even though traditional religion and myth portrays angels as beings with huge, feathered wings, the dying children who actually saw these celestial creatures, reported there were no wings?
Almost 40 years later, another researcher, Dr. Karlis Osis, decided to follow up on Barrett's DBV work with a pilot study of his own. He too found a number of interesting things.
Dr. Osis noted that people who were close to death or dying and had a DBV, typically saw people who had already passed.
He also discovered that these visitors came to the dying person to offer assistance in the dying process. Deceased friends or relatives came to escort the dying person to an after life.
One very interesting finding noted by Osis, contradicts certain religious tenants. According to his research, previous religious beliefs did not appear to determine WHO would have a DBV before dying. In other words, both believers and nonbelievers had powerful DBVs.
In Osis' initial pilot study, patients who had DBVs were not on medications.
In some cases, family members and friends at the death bed, also saw deceased relatives, friends, religious figures or angels.
Though Osis originally set out to prove that Death Bed Visions were only a by product of the dying process (hallucinations of a dying brain) he came away from his research with more questions than could be answered. Dr. Osis, like Dr. Barrett, decided this phenomena could not be so easily explained. In my book One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Death Bed Visions, I not only examine the research of Barrett and Osis, but also take a look at many current day Death Bed Visions. This most fascinating study of the "unknown" has lead me to believe, a.) science cannot explain this phenomena, b.) DBVs have been with us since the beginning of time, c.) these experiences point to an after life existence and d.) we have an awful lot to learn from them.
If you have had a death bed vision experience, you may contact Carla at the following email address:
Carla Wills-Brandon is the author of eight published books and has appeared on the following television programs:
The Geraldo Rivera Show
The Jenny Jones Show
The Montel Williams Show
The Mary Lou Henner Show
The Sally Jesse Raphael Show
Many, many more!
Currently, Ms. Wills-Brandon is working on two manuscripts dealing with spirituality and holistic health. Aside from her work in a private practice with her husband, Michael Brandon, Ph.D., a child psychologist, this author has also lectured across the United States and in the United Kingdom. She and her husband have been married for 21 years and they have two children, Aaron age 13 and Joshua, who has just turned 5.
Ms. Wills-Brandon and her family live in an old historical home in Galveston, an island off the coast of Texas. She and her husband work out of another 100 year old restored historical home in League City, Texas, which is located just outside of Houston. If you have any questions about Ms. Wills-Brandon, please contact by phone at (281) 338-2992 or e-mail at
Purchasing information in regards to Carla Wills-Brandon’s books is available through her website. Our personal thank you and appreciation to Carla for sharing her research with the readers of this website.