The Gift of Being
Death is not a medical event. Death is a spiritual one.
Three years ago I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer. One of the most powerfully transformative encounters of my life occurred as I sat with with him during his final weeks. During this time, he underwent an extraordinary series of experiences known NDA, or Nearing-Death Awareness (NDA). NDAs are frequently termed death-bed visions, which typically occur in the last days, hours, or minutes before death. In a death-bed vision, spirits of loved ones appear to the dying individual in order to escort him/her to the other side. As in my father’s case, however, NDAs may occur weeks before death, or as one enters the dying process.
As individuals approach death, they frequently develop expanded awareness, and have remarkable spiritual experiences which bear distinct parallels to NDEs (Near-Death Experiences). In fact, dying people seem to be able to drift from this reality into another and back with relative ease. Their attempts to share the wonders of these experiences by words or behaviors are often thwarted by our lack of understanding of the symbolic language they use. For example, as my father excitedly expressed to me one morning:
Earlier this morning I saw a being, not a person. It definitely was not a human being. We hovered above the foot of my bed. We were looking down at myself on the bed. The glowing being told me to it was time to stop giving away my things. This being of light told me a party was going to be given in my honor, and I was to be the special guest."
Sadly, friends and family members often dismiss this type of figurative language and instead, label it as the ‘ramblings’ of a dying mind or drug induced hallucinations. However, I understood exactly what dad was trying to communicate:
“My loved ones are waiting to celebrate my homecoming!”
Unfortunately, certain family members insisted he was hallucinating, agitated, and required sedation. It is important to stress that not only was my father not medicated at this time, he was engaged in highly lucid conversations with colleagues, visitors, and family members. In fact, these conversations were just as lively, intelligent, and coherent as any during his lifetime.
This lack of understand was frustrating and extremely stressful for dad. However, it is precisely through this dialogue that the dying communicate with us. Deciphering this seemingly mysterious language requires listening with our hearts, rather than logic.
Messages of the dying typically describe what they are actually experiencing or requesting. If we truly listen, we can share in the journey of our loved one’s transition, while simultaneously, helping to facilitate a peaceful, comforting, and reassuring transition. NDErs clinically die, transitioning away from their divine experiences back to physical being. I however, was given the gift of sharing my father’s progression towards this divine state of existence. I suddenly realized that these two seemingly distinct phenomena are actually two aspects on the same continuum.
Being by my father’s side during his final weeks on earth was alternately heart-breaking, overwhelming, and both mentally and emotionally draining. However, it was without question, the most loving, gentle, and transcendent experience of my life-a profound gift. I always loved my father, yet now, my love was deeper. We were able to forge a stronger, more honest, and meaningful relationship during the last weeks of his life. Dad developed expanded spiritual awareness, and was deeply comforted by the transcendent nature of his journey.
I equate my father’s NDA to peeling an onion. Each layer represents an aspect of ego. As one peels away the seemingly endless layers, the inner core, or soul, is finally exposed. The greatest simple, but most powerful gift I was able to offer my father was sharing his NDA experience, or simply being by his side to listen, understand, and reassure him.
(Excerpt from my chapter in The Transformative Power of Near-Death Experiences by Dr. Penny Sartori, Watkins Publishing, 2017).