A book that rings true

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!



  1. Like you I’ve seen death way too many times, in way too many circumstances and manners, in both the forces (for those who haven't, it is very rarely, even with massive trauma, 'immediate') and as a nurse.

    I didn't recognise the 'travelling' at all (it's not something I have ever heard or noticed) but when you mentioned the 'preparation', it is what I always saw as 'acceptance' (that their time here is almost over). I've lost count of the numbers of those 'lingering' long past any merely human help, often in intolerable pain, who struggle, strain and fight until … either exhaustion, realisation or revelation, they 'accept' and … well, seem to achieve 'a peace', 'a release' (not purely immediately before passing, but often hours or even days before). (I admit, reluctantly since it may be seen by some as unprofessional which I adamantly disagree with, that many, many times I have sat and gently encouraged those struggling and in pain to relax and simply accept what is to come).

    The one thing, which I've never discussed even with colleagues, is, as you said, that almost all seem to 'see and recognise' 'someone' immediately before they pass (and seem both happier, and more at peace for having done so). Oh, the 'realists' have noticed it too and justify it with 'long buried memories', 'wishes' or 'delusions' but … I cannot accept that from what I have seen and experienced. I believe without doubt that there is so much more than mere science can explain (or even recognise) in this passing.

    I, again like you, have travelled widely and (I stand to be corrected) believe it is a common theme/belief in every culture – the peace, the vision and the light. Would (could) there be any other explanation other than it is so?

    (I've lived less than a perfect life, seen things, done things, … but … well, if you who have probably seen/done similar (reading between and behind the lines of what you've written), trust in His mercy, I did already but … well … it helps).

  2. My way of saying it is: IT's now how you stuff up but how you recover that counts. Indeed, God cares about your forgiveness/repentance and salvation more than anything else.

  3. My mother was in a coma following cancer surgery. On the 10th day, she sat up in bed and pointed at the blank wall in front of her and said:"I see Paul (my father who had preceded her in death), he is waiting for me." She passed on about 12 hours later. I look forward to reading this book.
    Gene Small

  4. When my grandfather passed, he had been in hospice care for several months. Lethargic and unable to get out of bed, for the most part (broken hip sent him to hospice), he one day seemed very excited and wanted his razor. He needed to shave. He HAD to shave. (A man of his generation shaved every morning, no matter what. There was no excuse for sloppy appearances.)

    My aunt (a nun) got him his razor and helped him shave. All the while, he talked about his parents, friends and family who had long since died. He began to wave towards a blank wall, in an otherwise empty room. My aunt asked him who he was waving to, and he replied, "My father. My father is here." He rattled off the names of several others, all dead, who were there, waiting for him. They were on the other shore. When my aunt asked him what he meant by "the other shore" he answered, "Across the water. They're all over there, across the water."

    He died a few hours later.

    "…of all things, visible and invisible…"

    Some day, we will see it all, the seen and the unseen. I just pray that I'm found worthy of God's forgiveness and mercy, or I may not like what I'm going to see.

  5. It is the message that have been carried over by centuries since the beginning of time…

    When God created the Human been he said:
    -And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”- (Genesis 2:16,17)

    Then the serpent (Satan) came to contradict Gods message:
    -2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

    4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.- (Genesis 3:2-4)

    I rather believe what God has certainly spoken than what the devil has said. My savior dyed to save all of us from death and give use real life not 'afterlife'. When our savior comes on his second coming he, will resurrect all those that have died believing in him to give them their real defect free body as it was intend when God created Earth and live forever with him (1 Cor. 15:54,52).

    Satan can be 'disguised' as anyone or anything in order to enforced what he said since the beginning, even as an angel of light.
    -And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.- (2 Cor. 11:14)

    But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him (God)? You be the judges! (Acts 4:19)

    Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)

    I rather listen and obey to what God has certainly spoken than anyone else!!

    God Bless!!

  6. This explains something I've felt. When my cousin was dying of cancer, it infuriated me that her extended family, mostly cousins, all tried to stay with her to offer support. The only reason I could come up with to explain my anger was, "Dying is personal." So I told my wife that when the time comes, she could be there, but no one else. Not kids, cousins, brother…no one. They could all stop by to say goodbye, but then leave me to die in peace.

    My cousin hung on as long as people were there. After everyone left, she let go. She was in a coma, but I felt she knew we were all there.

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