Dreaming At The End: The Significance of End of Life Dreams

As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.
– Leonardo Da Vinci

For many of us, death is an inescapable fear that sits at the back of the mind, always present. Now, it might not be on your mind, but it lets itself be known now and again, it’s there when you stop yourself from doing something, and it’s there when those we love pass or are close to passing. However, as we near the end of our journey, something amazing happens. That fear that is part of our everyday life simply goes away. For many of us, the phenomenon of end of life dreams or visions will occur. Experts have said that about 50-60% of people who are dying experience these dreams or visions that help comfort them and remove the fear of dying. So what exactly are these dreams and what does science have to say about them?

What are End of Life Dreams?

Before we can dive into what scientists and doctors have to say about these dreams, let’s dissect what they actually are. People who are near the end have reported experiencing remarkably vivid, yet insightful visions and dreams that bring the person great personal comfort to them in point of time, that for all accounts and purposes, should be terrifying. However, these dreams/visions aren’t considered near death experiences due to the fact that they don’t “come back to life.” Instead, they’ve completed the natural cycle of life and pass into what scientists and physicians call the clinical, or biological state of death, where the nervous and respiratory systems begin to shut down. Additionally, hospice patients that have been observed for studies into end of life dreaming have reported several different styles of dreams, in intensity and how they were experienced. However, many have very similar themes and usually involve: The comforting presence of a previously deceased loved one, or preparing to leave on a journey with a living or dead relative, engaging with or simply watching deceased relatives and friends. Realizing that they hadn’t simply disappeared, and seemed happy and content.

What Do The Scientists Say?

Research done by different organizations such as The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care as well as Hospice Buffalo and Daemen College have come across some very interesting findings. According to the study, patients in the study found these dreams gave them great personal comfort and peace, helping them dissuade their fear of dying and help them with accepting that the end is near. The study also suggested that these dreams should not be dismissed but recognize them as a positive part of the dying process. The study by Hospice Buffalo and Daemen College, was one of the first to ask for descriptions and document the timing of the dreams. The patients reported that the dreams were immensely more vivid and memorable than normal dreaming during REM sleep, and were sometimes so intense that they continued into waking and would be active in more than just visions. One patient described a dream that he was a boy again and could smell his mother’s perfume, and hear her voice. Additionally, the patient described a dream about his father giving him valuable life lessons and feeling his approval of the patient.

Overall, patients who experience these end of life dreams lose their fear of death and gain insights into their own mortality, and help accept that they are passing. The experience of dying is transformed from a scary and puzzling event, into one wrapped in comfort and complete acceptance.