A hospice doctor with an “aversion to the supernatural” examines the experiences of patients’ end-of-life dreams and visions and proposes that they have profound meaning and impact.
Intrigued by his patients’ nearly ubiquitous reports of healing, restorative, and closure-providing visions in the days and hours before death, Kerr, the chief medical officer for the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Buffalo, embarked on a long-term study of these experiences, and he recounts many of them in this sympathetic and intriguing book. Readers looking for evidence of an afterlife, an eternal soul, or insight into what happens to us after death will not find it here. Instead, as the author takes pains to illustrate, it is what transpires just before death that proves to be profound and meaningful for patients and their loved ones. “These experiences simply give each patient what they need the most,” Kerr writes about the dreams that are more vivid and real than any that have come before and usually boil down to feelings of genuine love: the love of a deceased dog acting as a guide into death for a dying child; the sight of a mother’s arms reaching out from above an elderly woman’s bed; dreams that allow a widow to relive quiet, happy moments doing crosswords with her deceased spouse. Even distressing dreams serve to work out and heal old wounds and bring peace in the final hours. While Kerr’s exclusive focus on patients’ words and experiences—rather than those of caregivers or researchers with their occasionally detached perspectives and potential agendas—is admirable, the presentation of one case study after another, with each patient’s introduction, backstory, and experiences, becomes a little tedious, and some amount of contextualizing data or further description of research findings would have been welcome. (Readers can find some of this information in the author’s TEDx talk along with video footage of selected patients; watching makes a nice companion to the book.)
An uplifting and reassuring work testifying to the deep restorative and spiritual—though not necessarily religious—nature of pre-death visions.