What exactly is “nearing death awareness”?

The Last Adventure of Life

This is Maria Dancing Heart’s First Book

While growing up in Japan I used to hear the phrase omukae ga kuru, which means “your Welcome,” or “Welcome Wagon” comes.” This reference is to the spirit or spirits, typically those who are known and loved by the dying person, who come to the dying one, usually just some days or even hours before the person is ready to make the journey to the other side.

Doing the work of helping people make their final transition here in the United States, I learned that this Welcome is not just a Japanese or Buddhist experience, but universal one. Often, dying people are greeted and welcomed by those they love who have already made their transition to the other side. And as you can imagine, it is typically a very comforting, healing, and even energizing experience. I now know that this is known as the “nearing death awareness” phenomenon here in the United States.

Once, on our hospice unit, we were caring for a man who had taken very good care of his mother at the end of her life, some years ago. Now, it was his turn to be making the passage across to the other side. Just a few days before making his transition, he began to experience his mother coming to him from the next realm to say “hello.” Altogether he had three visitations from her before he died. He shared these incidents with the hospice team, and we were all grateful to know he was comforted and guided in this way through his last adventure of life.

The following is a story around this “Being in the presence of someone not alive” theme that I found in a beautiful spiritual book by two hospice nurses. In this book, Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley share many mystical things encounters that happened to them while doing hospice work. Final Gifts (1992), is a “must read” for all those who do hospice work.

Martha

Martha was in her early sixties, dying of uterine cancer which had spread throughout her pelvis. A widow, she’d lived for many years with her daughter and family.

Martha’s experience with unseen people was not very dramatic, but her reaction was typical. She wasn’t at all surprised or upset by it, and was even able to express her pleasure at seeing what no one else could see.

Several weeks before she died, Martha said to me, “Do you know who the little girl is?”

“Which little girl?” I asked.

“You know, the one who comes to see me,” she said. “The one the others can’t see.”

Martha described several visitors unseen by others. She knew most of them—her parents and sisters, all of whom were dead—but couldn’t identify a child who appeared with them. That didn’t bother her.

“Don’t worry,” she told me, “I’ll figure it out before I go, or I’ll find out when I get there. Have you seen them?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “But I believe that you do. Are they here now?”

“They left a little while ago,” Martha said. “They don’t stay all the time; they just come and go.”

“What is it like when they’re here?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes we talk, but usually I just know that they’re here,” Martha said. “I know that they love me, and that they’ll be here with me when it’s time.”

“When it’s time…?”

“When I die,” Martha said matter-of-factly.

This story can be found on p. 87-88 of Final Gifts. Another magnificent story tells about a dying daughter who was waiting for a  “necessary reconciliation” to happen with her father before her transition. You can read the true story about Theresa on pp. 142 – 143 in Final Gifts. I was given permission to share these stories in my book, The Last Adventure of Life, too, by the authors. I highly recommend both books – and all the stories and reflections shared in them – especially for people caring for their beloved Loved Ones who are aging or near their end of life.

I would very much like this Column to be relevant for you readers. And this “conversation” is to continue, so please share with us your stories, questions and comments around these topics.

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