Nearing Death Awareness Experiences (NDA)
People close to death or in a temporary state of clinical crisis
marked by the disruption of heartbeat, respiration, and other vital
signs often report a remarkable experience. Perhaps the most
extraordinary aspect of this experience is that it seems to be very
similar from person to person. That is, no matter what a person's race,
cultural background, religion, or social standing, the near-death
experience tends to follow common patterns: a feeling of profound
comfort, beauty, peace, and ultimately, transcendence. Moreover,
survivors often no longer have a fear of death. They become more loving,
compassionate, and spiritual.
Not only is the Near-Death Experience (NDE) one of the few physical
and metaphysical phenomena that have an absolute life-changing impact on
the experiencer, it also has a dramatic, mystifying impact on
clinicians, families and friends. The NDE is shared after the fact,
sometimes years later, so we cannot actively participate in the
experience at the time it is happening.
Distinction of Nearing Death Awareness
When people dying slowly of a terminal illness are approaching death,
they too, have remarkable experiences and seem to develop an expanded
awareness. This is called Nearing Death Awareness (NDA), and these
experiences bear distinct parallels to NDEs. They occur, however,
without warning and without disruption of vital signs, or other medical
crisis. 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 behavior are often thwarted by
our lack of understanding of the symbolic language they use. But they
are talking while the experience is actually happening.
As they drift back and forth, we understand the language they use for
this reality, but not the language that belongs to the other reality.
Observers are quick to label this communication as "confused" and,
therefore, discount it, or sadly to medicate it. Once caregivers have the
tools for understanding and participating in this verbal communication,
they are afforded the unique and exciting opportunity to actually
participate in these glimpses beyond, while they are actually happening.
In this regard the NDE and NDA differ dramatically.
Healthcare providers and family members are valuable facilitators in
the process of NDE and NDA. Patients may look to both for guidance and
understanding of their experiences, and for support of their emotional
and spiritual needs. On a daily basis, large numbers of patients are
discharged from hospitals after undergoing a Near-Death Experience
during their illness, accident or surgery—many without the benefit of
sharing that experience with a healthcare professional who is often
quick to label the NDE as a symptom of drug reaction, lack of oxygen, or
confusion. Oftentimes when these patients attempt to explain their
experiences to their family members, they, too respond incorrectly. The
presence of an informed and positive person in the support of patients
who have had NDEs and NDAs is critical in offering comfort, support and
holistic care to experiencers. It is also a profound opportunity for the
caregiver, friend or family member to grow themselves.
Providers around the world are hearing patients, especially
terminally ill patients, describe their experiences; unfortunately, many
do not recognize the phenomena. They have the opportunity to be
supportive and take an active role in educating families, friends, and
professional colleagues to become informed listeners who can discuss
patients' experiences in an objective and positive manner. To do so
enriches both the caregiver and the patient.
Books and Articles
Callanan, Maggie (2008). Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for
Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life. Bantam.
Callanan, Maggie and Patricia Kelley (2012). Final Gifts:
Understanding the Special Awareness Needs and Communication of the
Dying. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Kircher, Pamela (2013). Love is the Link. eFrog Press.
Lerma, John (2007) Into the Light: Real Life Stories about
Angelic Visits, Visions of the Afterlife, and Other Pre-Death
Experiences. New Page Books.
Mendoza, Marilyn A. (2008). We Do Not Die Alone: Jesus Is Coming
to Get Me in a White Pickup Truck. I Can Pub Inc.
Mendoza, Marilyn A: Deathbed Visions of Prisoners
(click here to download)
Maggie CalMaggie Callanan, RN
Maggie Callanan web site
Read about Maggie Callanan
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