May 20, 2014

“Lovely brightness — wonderful beings” at the Gates of Heaven 'Gates of Heaven

This Thursday, Simon and Schuster will publish Opening Heaven's Door by Patricia Pearson.  CBC radio has an interview with the author who is described as a serious thinker and a rational Scot.  " But when you vow to approach your topic with an open mind, you never quite know where you'll end up"

In an excerpt from chapter 1, What the Dying Know, Pearson recounts how she was inspired to write the book after her cancer-ridden sister had an uncanny experience and vision the night their father died in another city - a vision that helped the sister meet her own death in peace.

The  sense that the dying  might open  a door  to us that leads elsewhere  came first in hushed confidings. During the summer and  fall of 2008, people  began  to tell me  things. Some  were friends and colleagues I'd known for  years; others were people who sat beside me on an airplane or met me for the  first time in a bar. If I told them what I'd witnessed with my father and  sister, they    reciprocated.  Almost  invariably,  they  prefaced  their  remarks by  saying, "I've never told anyone  this, but . . . " Or, "We've  only ever discussed this in our family, but if you think you might do some  research . . ."  Then they would offer extraor- dinary stories about deathbed  visions, sensed presences, near- death experiences, sudden intimations of a  loved one in danger or dying.  They  were all smart, skeptical people. I had  had no idea that this subterranean world existed all around me.
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Mayer needed to completely re-examine her understanding of how the world  worked. After my father and sister died, I felt much the same way. I wanted  to understand what we know and what remains unclear, unexplored, about these  controversial modes of awareness. It wasn't enough for me, as a journalist,  to accept the officially received wisdom. It certainly wasn't enough for me,  as a sister, to ignore Katharine's intelligence and discernment and what she  was willing to put on the line at our father's memorial service in favour of  some information technology guy saying, Oh, she was just making shit up.  Sorry, too much at stake here, in terms of defending her integrity and of  respecting our collective experience.

The following are from excerpts published serially in he Daily Mail.

At the gates of heaven: A new book, drawing on the stories of dying patients and doctors, will transform the way you think about your final days

Despite the concerned obstetrician by her bedside, Doris was unmistakably dying. Her baby had been born safely, but there’d been rare and unforeseen complications.  It was what happened next that stunned the obstetrician, Lady Florence Barrett, and later caused  a sensation.

‘Suddenly,’ Lady Barrett recalled, ‘she looked eagerly towards one part of the room, a radiant smile illuminating her whole countenance. “Oh, lovely, lovely,” she said.

I asked: “What is lovely?”

“What I see,” she replied in low, intense tones. “Lovely brightness  — wonderful beings.”

Then — seeming to focus her attention more intently on one place for a moment — she exclaimed: “Why, it’s my father! Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming, he is so glad.”’  Briefly, Doris reflected that she should, perhaps, stay for the baby’s sake. But then she said: ‘I can’t — I can’t stay; if you could see what I do, you would know I can’t stay.’

At this point, Doris saw something that confused her: ‘[Father] has Vida with him,’ she told Lady Barrett, referring to her sister, whose death three weeks earlier had been kept from her because of her advanced pregnancy. ‘Vida is with him,’ she said wonderingly.

Messages from the dead: The drowned son who returns for bedside chats. The astronaut who spoke to his father's ghost.

Research in Wales, Japan, Australia and the U.S. shows that between 40 and 53    per cent of the bereaved receive some kind of signal or visitation when someone close to them dies.

Usually they sense a presence; sometimes they actually see or hear one. Psychiatrists have labelled these experiences ‘grief hallucinations’, though they have not yet been studied neurologically.

In 2012, the psychologist Erlendur Haraldsson published a comprehensive study he’d done on 340 cases of extraordinary encounters with the dying. Usually people encountered their fathers or mothers — suggesting that the parental impulse to connect and reassure continues past death.

About a quarter of his subjects saw or heard the dead person at the hour of death or within the day it occurred. In 86 per cent of these cases, they weren’t yet aware of the death by ordinary means.
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Other studies of telepathy by University of Virginia psychiatrist Ian Stevenson explored how people could know that someone physically distant was dying or in distress. Stevenson started by analysing 165 meticulously researched historical cases. Nearly 90    per cent had occurred, he discovered, when the person was awake, rather than asleep or dozing.

Two-thirds involved news of an immediate family member. Eighty-two per cent involved death, a sudden illness or accident.

The 9/11 survivors who were guided to safety by spirits… and other haunting stories from people who claim ghostly presences saved their lives

The Third Man. 

Who is the third who walks always beside you?’ wrote the poet T.S. Eliot in 1922. ‘When I count, there are only you and I together, / But when I look ahead up the white road /There is always another one walking beside you.’

These lines in Eliot’s great poem The Waste Land have been assumed to allude to the uncanny experience of Sir Ernest Shackleton, after his boat became mired in ice in 1916. With two of his crew members, he’d made a desperate, exhausted trek across a 25-mile, mountainous stretch of Antarctica. At some point, all three men became aware of a presence — another companion — accompanying and guiding them.

The Third Man — although in reality it was a fourth — then seemed to escort them safely to a whaling station. Yet none of the men spoke about him during the trek itself, each thinking that they alone had sensed the extra companion.
Later, when Shackleton was asked about this, he said the experience had been too transcendent to be the subject of casual ‘Ouija Board chatter’.

His sense of wonder has been shared by many explorers, sailors, divers and mountaineers who have experienced the Third Man in times of duress.  Their companions have sometimes been visible, sometimes not. Sometimes, the presence has spoken aloud to them, other times not. But, always, the presence has comforted them or led them to safety.
Posted by Jill Fallon at May 20, 2014 7:32 AM | Permalink